Flexible timing, work-from-home option can help women workforce grow in India: Lubeina Shahpurwala

Organisations today have become open to evaluating potential employees based on skill-sets and value-add to the company, moving beyond the gender stereotype, says the vice-chairperson of the Mumbai chapter of FICCI Ladies Organisation

The number of women turning into professionals is on the rise alongside a greater focus on women leadership. On the one hand, there is a change in the mindset of women and their families, and on the other, there are organisations that are increasingly supporting women with the right working environment.

Women are marking their presence in almost every profession, including sectors such as IT, law and manufacturing. A key reason is that gender association with industries is increasingly getting phased out. This makes it imperative for organisations to make a conscious effort to nurture the talented women employees who show traits of leadership right from an early stage.

Lubeina Shahpurwala, co-founder of Mustang Socks and Accessories and vice-chairperson, FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) of its Mumbai chapter, expresses her views on today’s women workforce and the way forward in a conversation with SME Futures.

How has women workforce evolved over the years?

From the last few years, there has been a shift where we can see a number of women have turned into professionals. This number has been on the rise. Education has played a key role in changing the mindsets of women as well as their families. They are now more open to the thought of working while also exploring newer roles. Additionally, there are a lot of organisations that are supporting women with flexible working environment. Lastly, government and various NGOs are introducing several programs towards women upliftment.

Also read: When businesses welcome daughters to lead

Thus, we see an increase in the workforce. These trends have enabled working women to identify newer avenues of industries to work with. They have also provided support to women who had been unable to work, while upskilling others who were not equipped to work.

What are the top verticals where women workforce is making its presence felt and why are women choosing these areas?

Today women are marking their presence in almost every profession, including sectors like IT, law, and manufacturing, among others. A key reason is that gender association with industries is increasingly getting phased out. Organisations have become open to evaluating potential employees based on skill-sets and value-add to the company, moving beyond the gender stereotype. Similarly, women too, see the possibility to fit into multiple roles, and new responsibilities.

Only 27 per cent of educated women in India work in the industry! What is the need of the hour to increase the women workforce?

There are several initiatives that can be taken to reduce gender participation gap. Organisations today must make a conscious effort to nurture the talented women employees who show traits of leadership right from an early stage. They should be considered equally eligible for industry exposure. Additional support, flexibility and a more empathetic approach should be provided for women who decide to have children. To sum it up, flexible timings, work-from-home arrangements and a more accommodating maternity leave policy will give women the ability to follow their professional pursuits without compromising on their family needs.

#MeToo movement made women coming out of the closet of sexual harassment. How do you see the impact of the movement in the corporate sector?

I believe that the movement has led to increased conversations on the subject of women’s challenges at the workplace. Sexual harassment has been an untouched topic due to the discomfort it usually creates. However, with more and more women opening up with their stories, it has become easier for organisations to discuss the problems and thus arrive at effective solutions.

Business chambers have female wings, but women are under-represented in the mainstream structure of the organisations. Do you see it changing?

I may not agree that women are completely under-represented in the current scenario. With more and more women marking their presence in multiple sectors, they no more need an introduction. They have set enough and more examples to prove their skill sets and capabilities to the world.

Today, the number of women in the mainstream structure may be less, but the future will see more of them. Soon, it will not be a gender-biased role, but the organisations will realise the importance of skill sets and that alone will be a deciding factor.

What are the initiatives FICCI FLO is undertaking to encourage women at large?

At the FICCI Ladies Organisation, we have set-up a pan-India support cell SWAYAM. We will mentor aspiring women entrepreneurs, which is the primary objective of SWAYAM. Along with other FLO members of its new executive committee, we will actively drive multiple initiatives towards empowering women in areas of business management, addressing social causes and leadership building. We will also interact with the government and the industry to ensure necessary steps towards the upliftment of women.

What is your message to budding women entrepreneurs?

I believe women are born with all the required entrepreneurial traits, which they tend to implement in their day-to-day life. There is no such role or opportunity that women are not capable of; it is only a matter of identification of each one’s inner strengths and capabilities. Women need to follow their passion, keeping aside the mental or societal stereotypes. So all the women, step out of your closet; the world is waiting to accept you with open arms. Be that fierce wave that can easily cross through all the challenges and, ultimately, achieve your dreams.

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