Volume IconWFH: Can it add more Indian women to the workforce?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently asserted that flexible workplaces are the future. We ask if the hybrid work culture is the solution to our historically low women labour force participation

The 2022 study, “Women, Business and the Law”, has taken into account legal reforms in the period from October 2, 2020, to October 1, 2021.


One of the five pledges that Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed Indians to adopt during his Independence Day speech was equality, specifically equality for women.
He called for full participation of the nation’s woman power, so that India can achieve its goals faster.

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The PM followed this up with another proclamation last week at the National Conference of Labour Ministers of all States and Union Territories. 
He strongly backed the work-from-home ecosystem and flexible work hours, calling them the future. This, he said, will encourage a higher number of women to work. 

Modi’s remarks assume significance as India has one of the world’s lowest female labour force participation rate, or LFPR.
The rate is a measure of the proportion of a country’s working-age population that engages actively in the labour market, either by working or looking for work.

The gender ratio in workforce has gotten more skewed towards men despite more women getting educated. Women’s net enrolment in schools and colleges has increased and reached near parity with men.

It has dropped steadily in the last decade and a half, from 32% in 2005 to just 19.2% in 2021, although the latest data reflects a slight recovery from 18.6% – the lowest in 32 years – in the first year of pandemic in 2020.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a private think-tank, says male LPR was 66% in January-April 2022 while the female LPR was only 9%.
In this metric, India fares worse than countries like China, Brazil, UAE, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

According to a recent analysis from Bloomberg Economics, closing the employment gap between men and women could add more than 30%, or $6 trillion, to India’s GDP by 2050. 
Having said that, the International Labour Organization, or ILO found that a significant proportion of women usually reported their willingness to accept work if assignments were made available at their household premises. The ILO report indicates 34% of rural Indian women and 28% in urban areas were willing to accept work at home. 

So, is the trend of Work From Home, which caught on during the pandemic, the solution to reverse India’s falling female labour participation?

Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, IWWAGE, WFH would partly resolve the problem of falling FLFPR, women in the 25-35 age group always prefer working from home. Companies should not differentiate between pay for WFH and WFO

The flip side is, women working from home are also carrying on their household work or taking care of their children. Therefore the length of the workday and burden of work, including both paid and unpaid, increases substantially for women. Here, corporates can help by adopting policies where that allow women to work different hours. 

Ashwini Deshpande, Professor of Economics, Ashoka University, WFH should be allowed for jobs where it is possible. The bigger problem is job creation for all. Govt should talk about sharing the load of domestic chores.

While PM Modi’s remarks are a welcome first step towards tackling the issue of the declining workforce participation rate of women, it is time for India Inc to step up to accommodate the demands of the female workforce. The ball is now in the employers’ court. 



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First Published: Aug 29 2022 | 7:05 AM IST

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