The Mckinsey study states that India can add $770 billion to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2025 by achieving gender equality. This has certainly got the attention of many people including government and corporations. After all, money is powerful and when it is in billions it is definitely attractive.
Except, there's one small catch - this is possible only if gender equality is achieved.
So, what is required if we are to achieve gender equality?
- Safety - Traditionally in many cultures including India, women are expected to stay at home and/or conduct their work within or close to their home. Under the guise of safety, it has been convenient for far too long to restrict women from stepping out of the homes and thereby curtailing their access to education, careers, economic opportunities, financial independence and more. This also means lower participation in society, poor quality of life and an inability to fully exercise their fundamental rights. But by providing a safe work environment, safe options for transportation and safe public spaces, women can be encouraged to participate in the workforce and contribute officially to the economy.
- Security - Women's roles in the workplace are seen as secondary to their place at home. This means that men are favoured over women in job applications and in career growth. Women who choose to become mothers are seen as an inconvenience and are often sidelined when it comes to promotions or even high paying jobs. Also, mothers may drop out of the workforce to provide care for their children, resulting in a setback to their careers. This creates a sense of insecurity. But policies that are inclusive and factor in all these scenarios can hugely benefit women.
- Account for unpaid domestic work - According to Melinda Gates, Indian women do more than six hours of work at home whilst men do less than one hour. This is unpaid work and does not get accounted for. Therefore, the contribution of women in society is looked down upon and it is easy to dismiss them and not take them seriously.
- Quality Child Care and Support Systems - Most women opt out of the workforce because of lack of quality child care and also because they do not have adequate support systems. The burden is on the women to provide for this care. Maternity policies should be changed to family care policies and men must be forced to take leave to look after their children. Studies have shown that fathers who are actively involved in child rearing have healthy relationships with their children who also grow up to be well adjusted human beings.
- Increase in women leaders - We need to have more women leaders in politics, boardrooms and corporations. We cannot be what we cannot see. Today there are plenty of women at the entry level jobs but the pipeline tends to taper towards the top. Women also opt out because it can be tedious trying to fight the system constantly. So, it should be the responsibilities of institutions to have a fair representation at all levels and strengthen the talent pipeline with inclusive policies, mentoring programs and quotas till the numbers are met. Many people think that quotas are not necessary but I believe they are as there will never be an effort to fill in the numbers otherwise.
- Men as allies - Finally, none of this can be achieved without men agreeing to make space for women, give up some of the power and actively find ways to include us. The #MeToo movement has highlighted how hard it is for women to speak up, break the silence and challenge the power dynamics at the workplace and beyond. The onus is now on men to make it right, challenge their toxic peer culture and change the traditional ways of doing business.
Everyone loves a win-win situation. What can be the biggest win than adding more money to the kitty and improving the quality of life for women and men and society at large!