Enigma of Missing Indian Women from Workforce

There are some startling findings in the report published by World bank on women employment which has shaken our conscience and has gotten us into self- introspection mode. In the study it has been found that percentage of working women in India has dropped to 27.4% from 43% some ten years ago. This mind boggling drop has been analyzed by our social scientists and economists. A number of articles dwelling on predicaments of working women in India have also featured in editorials of leading newspapers. Some journalists and statisticians tried to make sense out of these numbers whereas others have gone to the extent saying, data is wrongly interpreted and figures reported are incorrect and do not reflect the correct picture of Indian workforce.

Even though our GDP is increasing at a rate of 7% per annum and we have leapfrogged into middle income country from a lower income country in terms of per capita income and the number of school going girls have also increased by leaps and bounds but why is it not reflecting in workforce is still a mystery which remains unresolved.

There are many professions in India which are female bastions, completely dominated by women, it is hard to fathom that still that there are only 27.4% of women in India’s burgeoning work force, much lesser than that of Nepal which has 80% of women in workforce and Bangladesh also has more than 56% of women in workforce. This has been the topic of discussion across various forums and as there are many women readers of my blog, I thought of taking up this nagging issue. We cannot imagine a male nurse in India. Can we? Similarly, school teachers are mostly women and very new men venture into these professions. In a report published in Times of India on 24/09/2017, it was mentioned that number of girls have already over taken boys in PG courses and the numbers are almost equivalent in under graduate courses. So what is it that is preventing our women from entering into the workforce. It can be attributed to various factors but it is not hard to imagine why a country which boasts of the proud legacy of having a former women Prime Minister and a woman President has suddenly fallen of the cliff in employing its women folk. I tried to analyze the issue and came with some plausible explanations of dwindling number of women in workforce in India:

Culture and Social Beliefs: In India it is generally accepted that women will handle household chores, raise children and take care of family members whereas role of men is often restricted to make lucre. There have been drastic changes in our society since the late 90s but underlying belief is still the same. Women are not discouraged to work but they are not encouraged either resulting in abysmally low number of women in workforce.

Business Families: India’s GDP has grown rapidly in the last twenty years so has the wealth of business families in our country. There is lot of awareness among these families and there is keenness to provide quality education to their daughters as better education means better marriage prospects. Even though these highly educated girls take up the jobs before marriage but after marriage their roles are mainly confined to managing the family and taking care of house hold chores. Some enterprising ones though take up bigger challenges in family business. Even though their contribution might be significant but these numbers are often not reported as they are not in formal employment. Some top notch business families have employed their daughters in their businesses like daughter of Mukesh Ambani, Shiv Nadar, Adi Godrej all have all joined their respective fathers in family’s business.

Better opportunities abroad: There is sea change in attitude of people with respect to going abroad vis-à-vis ten years ago. Going abroad for work and study is no longer a taboo for Indian women. Lot of highly educated women are no longer averse to go abroad and try their luck there. Families are also comfortable sending their daughters abroad as there are ample opportunities outside India and Indian women have been found to be doing exceedingly well in all spheres. Foreign universities and organizations are unequivocally wooing Indian girls as they are sincere and have high emotional quotient. Some women who are working here, leave their highly paying jobs to accompany their spouses abroad and end up taking up jobs in foreign countries. This number is not reflected in any survey.

Slump in Overall Job Market in India: Job market in India in not lucrative. Promise of creating millions of jobs has come a cropper and there are lot of people chasing fewer jobs resulting in overall slump in job market and most of the times companies prefer men to women. This is not to suggest that women are in any way inferior compared to men but working in shifts, longer office hours, odd timings, going on tours etc. makes it difficult for women to cope up as there are other responsibilities as well.

Promotion Prospects and Relocation: Working in a corporate sector or even in informal sector is lot of hard work and one has to put in lots of effort to grow. In the initial years it is much easier to grow but as one climbs up the corporate ladder things get worse as there are people breathing down your neck. At times it becomes difficult for women to handle so many responsibilities and they find quitting, rather easier than staying put. Some jobs require relocation to different cities or even countries and for women with dependent children and families, it becomes almost impossible to continue in their present roles.

Comfort Zone: Many women who take maternity from work during pregnancy find it extremely difficult to join back for they want to take care of child. After a gap of more than two to three years it becomes increasingly difficult for them to rejoin the workforce as they get into their comfort zone and they are unwilling to take additional stress of a job. Especially with rising disposable income in affluent families it is considered as a better option to quit rather than to continue.

Law & Order: India is a country wherein hundreds of crimes against women are reported every day. There have been several cases reported of women employees being assaulted by unscrupulous elements while returning home from work. This acts as a deterrent to many parents who worry for the safety of their daughters. It is really regrettable that we have not been able to provide a safe working environment to our women even after seventy years of independence.

Even though it is virtually impossible to pin point the exact cause and to establish clear factors for decrease of women in work force in a country as diverse and as culturally different as ours, but above mentioned are some of the broader factors one could think of.

If you go to North East part of our country, you will find women everywhere, right from vegetable market to shops to restaurants, women are everywhere. Even so many women from North east have migrated to metros and have taken up jobs there which shows that this phenomenon has not bedeviled entire country and there are still some bright spots wherein this regressive thinking in not encouraged.

Our women are equally competitive, intelligent and ready to take on the world. What they need is congenial atmosphere and a positive outlook towards them. As it said that no country can progress without it’s women entering the labor force. We also cannot expect to grow as a nation if number of women entering the workforce continues to dwindle.

So women What are you thinking ?? Put on your corporate attire, your work sari or whatever cloths you can lay your hands on, There’s a job waiting for you, surely!!


  1. Very well analysed.There could be many more factors. Since the problem is very complex, it requires much deeper study. Good effort.

  2. This is an eye opener. Most of us are still under the impression that the number of working women in Indian subcontinent has increased over the years while actually it’s the other way around as written by Siddhartha if the figures hold true. Well captured.

  3. Well written! Even in this century Indian society measures the success of their daughter’s life with the kindof groom she gets! Sad but true. I know how difficult it is to convince a middle class conservative family to let their daughter go abroad or a different job which is not widely accepted by the society as I have been through the similar situation and struggled hard to convince my parents to let me go for my dream job. Proud that an Indian male has come up with this post! good job😊

  4. Amazing amazing insight siddharth…I’m glad I came across your writing, you have superb blog, so much to learn from you 🙂 all the best and keep writing!!!

    1. Some technical error.
      Plesse read other posts as well. Would love to hear from you.

    2. Thanks for such lavish praise. I am truly overwhelmed. Probably the best compliment I ever got.
      Please check other posts as well and follow the blog if you want to read m

  5. This is really a great post.. things are well analysed… My point of view on this would be:
    Indian woman should become much more smarter. Corporate world is not the only place that one could think of. Those who are capable of managing corporate worlds and as well as households should definitely go for it. Others could think of some smarter options like work from home. She could try giving online coaching. She could work as a freelancer. She could be a writer. There of ways which a woman can utilise her education in the best manner. I also feel woman should not be judged for how much she earns.

    I liked the phrase ‘woman are not discouraged to work but also not encouraged’ . For this i would say men need to get more awareness so that every father encourages his daughter and every husband encourages his wife to get successful in life.

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