The coronavirus pandemic has impacted lakhs of Indians, especially women when it comes to job prospects. The crisis has exposed the challenges faced by women attempting to balance family commitments with careers, said Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran. He said that the future of India lies in the hands of its women, more precisely, how the country cares for its women.
Speaking at a webinar, Chandrasekaran said that nearly 120 million Indian women - more than double the entire population of South Korea - have at least a secondary education, but do not participate in the workforce today. Besides, 26 per cent of women with graduate medical degrees do not work. Overall, only 23 per cent of all who could work are currently employed, he said.
The IT industry veteran said that the pandemic has made the situation worse for women, especially primary caregivers, as they were forced to left jobs to look after children and sick relatives.
"In India the response should start with easing the burden of domestic care. A thriving economy of care centres would help Indian women pursue careers. It would also create millions of jobs," Chandrasekaran said.
He said that India's care industry has the potential to absorb 10 million women into the workforce and create another four million jobs, a vast majority also for women. Progressive legislation like the Maternity Bill can be simplified and improved. Above all, we need to break the stigma and stereotypes that discourage young Indian girls from thinking certain jobs, certain lives are not for them.
"If our efforts are successful - if we realise a vision of female electricians, architects, engineers; of commercial districts bustling with highly skilled women - our prospects in the 2020s will be transformed," he said.
By bringing into employment half the 120 million women with secondary education, who are not working, could add $480 billion to GDP. Educated women will solve shortages of skilled labour, while families facing economic uncertainty and disruption will have an additional source of income.
Stressing on the importance of a culture of entrepreneurialism among small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs), he said that a crisis of the magnitude of coronavirus cannot be overcome by one industry, one sector, or one government, working in isolation.
"Just as important as large businesses like Tata, if not more so, are small and medium sized businesses. These businesses are the lifeblood of our community. They are the restaurants, health clinics and salons that fill our neighbourhoods," he said.
Citing an example of the United States, whose economy is built on its smaller and medium sized enterprises, he said that these SMEs helped America get back on its feet after the financial crash of 2008. The SMEs created 60 per cent of net new jobs between 2008 and 2013, while they employ 40 per cent of the country's workforce today. Across the developing world, SMEs account for over a third of private sector employment, he said.
In contrast, only a little more than 10 per cent of employees are in similar enterprises in India. "We have millions of micro-enterprises, but these are neither job-creating, nor resilient. Those who work for them do so informally, with little protections or security. For operations like these, the pandemic was a grave challenge. Many will not survive as they operate outside formal procedures of protection," he said.
He said that India needs a new culture of entrepreneurialism in line with other developing countries. Unlocking small business growth would boost the stability and resilience of the country's labour market, while it could shift 45 million workers into more productive employment.
"We need to give SMEs access to the services enjoyed in India's entrepreneurial hubs. To do this, we should create a national digital platform that aggregates and localises business services," Chandrasekaran said.
"We must ensure all our SMEs - in every corner of our country - have access to the financing and technological knowledge required to succeed. It is something we have needed to do for many years," he added.
In his conclusion remark, Chandrasekaran said that India can solve twin challenges of access and jobs by using technology in a right way. By opening up a world opportunity for women and entrepreneurs, we can strengthen our economy and transform the lives of millions. And by embracing sustainable growth we can ensure our newfound success endures, he said.
By Chitranjan Kumar