Work From Home Revolution Is a Surprise Boon for India’s Women

(Bloomberg) — The coronavirus pandemic has hit women worldwide with job losses and closures of childcare centers. Yet a surprising bright spot is emerging: India’s $200 billion technology services industry, where new rules are expected to provide female workers with a broad swath of flexible work arrangements and fresh employment opportunities.


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On the outskirts of New Delhi, Teena Likhari, 45, quit her job running operations for the Indian back office of a Silicon Valley company in 2018 because of a family medical emergency. Looking to rejoin this year, she expected a market stunted by lockdowns. Instead, the pandemic had made work-from-home mainstream in her industry, which had long shunned the practice.

Not only did the operations manager quickly land a job with Indian outsourcer WNS Global Services, but working from her home in the city of Gurgaon, she began overseeing a 100-member team in the city of Pune about 900 miles away.

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: Unemployed Mom Now Leads 100-Person Team as Covid Changes India

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Unemployed Mom Now Leads 100-Person Team as Covid Changes India

Teena Likhari working at home in Gurgaon last Friday.

Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg

Likhari is one of the early beneficiaries of India’s decision to lift decades-old restrictions on remote work in back office firms because of the pandemic. The tech services industry — one of the country’s most important financially — can now allow employees to shift from traditional offices to work-from-anywhere arrangements, permanently if needed. Indian women, who have often had to sacrifice for their husbands’ careers or other commitments at home, have much to gain from the policy change.

“Even a year ago, an operations leader working remotely would’ve been unimaginable,” said Likhari, who has seen scores of women quit work after childbirth, marriage or when a family member fell ill. “The change will allow so many career women like me to do what we do from home, it’s a game changer.”

India’s large numbers of English-speaking graduates and cheaper costs relative to the West have spawned a sprawling industry that’s often called the world’s back office because of its global reach. The broad outsourcing sector, which includes technology services in addition to business processes, employs about 4.5 million people. Foreign banks from Deutsche Bank AG to Barclays Plc run wholly owned centers handling everything from global payrolls to technology infrastructure maintenance for themselves and customers. Local outsourcers Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and WNS offer everything from data analytics to support on financial and accounting processes to international clients.

The pandemic has changed workplaces globally but the new norms are particularly significant in India. Social conventions that required women to move to their husband’s locations or stay with family in small towns, or simply be available inside the home to care for elders and children have shut out millions of qualified female workers. Greater flexibility and the opportunity to work from anywhere would give them choices they’ve never had before.

Also, India’s old rules – originally designed to prevent misuse of leased telecom lines – had prevented permanent work from home arrangements in

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The COVID-19 Crisis Could Be A Bane Or A Boon For The Inclusion Of Women In The Workplace

There is no denying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the workplace. The negative effects of this disruption are readily evident. According to the Pew Research Center, unemployment has grown higher in the first three months of COVID-19 than it did in the first two years of the Great Recession. The number of unemployed in the U.S. was 20.5 million in May of 2020, compared to 6.2 million in February of 2020.  However, women’s unemployment rate rose by 12.8 percent between February and April – compared to men’s unemployment rate increase of about 9.9 percent. One explanation for this disparate outcome is that the recession has hit hardest on so-called pink collar jobs, such as retail, or the restaurant industry – after all, many shops and restaurants are closed because of social distancing regulations.  Several experts note, however, that the biggest factor has been childcare. With schools and daycares closed, many parents (and the reality is overwhelming mothers) now have difficulty commuting to work or trying to complete work at home, while caring for their out of school children. One conclusion then is that this pandemic will be the bane of women who work outside the home. Indeed, one survey found that in September of 2020, more than 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce. However, I believe that this pandemic-fueled recession could also become a boon for the future inclusion of women in the workplace for three reasons. 

First, the pandemic is prompting many corporations to rethink flexible work arrangements. This pandemic has proven that with technologies like e-mail, video meetings, e-sign,  etc., it is possible to carry out most, if not all work, outside the physical confines of the office. This means that women who can’t commute to work because of their childcare drop-off and pick-up times could foreseeably still hold down jobs outside the home. In addition, flexible work arrangements that afford freedom from the 9-5 office clock mean that the national 2PM or 3PM school end hours which had prevented women who can’t afford childcare from working could be circumvented.  In sum, flexible work arrangements enable women, who shoulder so many other personal responsibilities, to work professional jobs. 

Second, the pandemic and the resulting school and daycare closures has prompted a recognition of the importance of childcare for the economy. Thirty-two percent of the U.S workforce have a child under the age of 14. In 30 percent of those families, the children are all under six year old. Notably, there are many more single mothers than there are single fathers. In 2017, 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived with a single mother, while only 5 percent of children lived with a single father. Even among heterosexual married couples, mothers typically provided 60 percent or more of the childcare before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, a survey of workers working from home found that men increased their childcare time by 4.7

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