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Here’s How Nirmala Sitharaman’s Maiden Budget Can Help Women-Led Businesses Grow in India

In an online survey for women restarters, 38 per cent cited childcare as one of the biggest challenges to restarting their careers.


Updated:June 10, 2019, 10:43 AM IST
Here’s How Nirmala Sitharaman’s Maiden Budget Can Help Women-Led Businesses Grow in India
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present her first Budget in July. (PTI)

According to the Sixth Economic Census released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, women constitute a meagre 14 per cent of the total entrepreneurs in India, that is, 8.05 million out of the 58.5 million entrepreneurs. This indicates the dearth of women entrepreneurs, which could be due to many reasons such as the lack of role models and resources and the many ecosystem biases.

In the run up to the Union Budget 2019, especially with India's first woman Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, consumers and businesses alike will be expecting an alleviation process to begin.

How can the government help with recruiting/retaining women at the top, considering there are only few spots at the top and mid-level?

In India, women make up 42 for per cent new graduates, but only 24 percent entry-level professionals. Of these, approximately 10 per cent reach senior-level management roles and only 1 per cent reach the CEO level.

Data from the ministry of corporate affairs shows that nearly 21 per cent of publicly listed companies have not complied with the provision of appointing a woman director to their boards. So, clearly, there is a dearth of top-level women managers due to lack of policies that aid in widening the talent pool and measures to retain and promote women at the higher level.

The change, however, is slowly seeping in. JobsForHer, a consultancy, is asking companies to set aspirational goals to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles, focus on unconscious bias training, initiate mentoring programmes, call for internal reviews-all with the intention of strengthening the pipeline of women leaders. They are seeing a change in attitudes and mindsets, although slow.

For real change, however, there needs to be government intervention to mandate a wide variety of measures such as compulsory annual diversity reports, leadership trainings for women, diversity training programs for corporates, mentor networks and programmes and reconstruction of internal hiring operations, etc.

What should we expect from the government for women empowerment in this Budget?

A scheme to enable women entrepreneurship and employment, called STEP or Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women, saw a stark reduction in allocation from Rs 40 crore in the previous Budget to Rs 5 crore in 2018. The collective hopes to see a revival of this scheme in order to enable more women to enter the workforce.

Budget 2018 also saw Rs 60 crore allocation made towards promoting safe and convenient accommodation for working women. But there needs to be more accountability on the implementation level. The government needs to ensure more safety measures for all working women.

The National Creche Scheme saw a reduction in allocation from Rs 200 crore to Rs 128 crore last year. It is crucial that more allocation of funds is provided towards this scheme. In an online survey for women restarters, 38 per cent cited childcare as one of the biggest challenges to restarting their careers. With the Indian government’s Rs 400 crore proposal this year to reimburse employers for 7 of the 26 weeks of extended maternity leave, one would hope to see an increase in female participation in the workforce.

Outdated skill sets are yet another reason women are keeping out of the workforce. Thirty four percent women who were part of the same survey mentioned reskilling as a necessity for their career restart, progression and job role changes.

One would hope to see Budget 2019 focus on skills development programs for women, a focus on reducing or eliminating hiring biases, family leave policies that include both parents, diversity and inclusion initiatives, equal pay policies to close the gender pay gap, recruiting more senior women leaders and board members, and compulsory anti-harassment training to ensure safer working environments.

The only benefit Budget 2018 did to promote women’s employment was a change in the rate of EPF from 12 percent to 8 percent, which increased their effective take-home. But is this enough of an incentive for women leaving the workplace by the millions?

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