Women's Day 2024

As we celebrate Women's Day 2024 with the theme of "Inspiring Inclusion", it's imperative to highlight that the financial inclusion of women in the workforce is crucial for their economic empowerment, as it enhances their contribution to the economy, drives innovation, and fosters sustainable growth, ultimately leading to a more inclusive and prosperous society.

According to a study by the National Family Health survey, despite comprising nearly half of India's population, Indian women contribute a mere 18% to the country's GDP, a sobering statistic that represents an enormous untapped reserve of human capital, innovation, and economic dynamism. For corporations, this disparity is not merely a social issue but an economic imperative demanding urgent attention. Another study by McKinsey & Company reveals that advancing women's equality could propel India's GDP by a staggering $770 billion by 2025, underscoring the transformative potential of empowering women economically.

The Corporate Imperative

A December 2023 study conducted by Russell Reynolds Associates underscored the ongoing efforts needed to enhance gender diversity within Indian corporations, especially at senior levels. The study revealed that while progress has been made, with 27% of independent directors being women, there remains room for improvement, as only 10% of executive directors among the top 200 listed companies were female.

India's G20 Presidency and Women 20 engagement group offer corporations a chance to promote women's economic empowerment globally. By integrating gender considerations into policies, fostering entrepreneurship, bridging the digital divide, and supporting education and skilling.

The Economic Imperative

The Women in India's Startup Ecosystem Report 2023 highlights significant progress, with the proportion of women-led startups in India increasing from 10% in 2017 to 18% by 2022. Notably, the percentage of women-led unicorns also saw a notable rise, climbing from 8% to 17% during the same period. This upward trajectory reflects growing opportunities and recognition for female entrepreneurs in the Indian startup landscape.

India's vision of becoming a developed nation by 2047 requires equal economic participation of women. Corporations promoting women's economic empowerment through financial inclusion drive sustainable growth and inclusive prosperity, aligning with PM Modi's statement that "When women prosper, the world prospers."

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Entrepreneurship presents a powerful catalyst for women's economic emancipation, and India boasts an impressive ecosystem of 13.5 million to 15.7 million women-owned MSMEs and agribusinesses. India's female labour force participation rate has shown an upward trend, reaching 25% according to Periodic Labour Force Survey Report 2022-23, showcasing progress towards greater gender inclusion in the formal workforce. This growing representation of women in the labour market is crucial as India strives to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

However, these enterprises often face challenges like limited market access, inadequate business skills, and lack of mentorship. By promoting a nurturing environment, corporations can unlock innovation, job creation, economic growth, and drive their own sustainability agendas.

The Financial Inclusion Catalyst

The gender gap in financial inclusion remains a significant challenge, hindering women's access to affordable finance, credit opportunities, and banking services, hindering their ability to start businesses, invest in education, and secure economic independence. Government initiatives have made progress, but corporate sector efforts are needed to bridge credit gaps and promote financial literacy among women.

India's Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was launched in 2014 to promote financial inclusion by offering basic banking services to all households. Since then, over 460 million bank accounts have been opened, with 67% in rural and semi-urban areas and 56% owned by women. Average deposits have tripled.

The Multiplier Effect

Women's economic empowerment not only benefits economics but also promotes social justice, human rights, and inclusive development. Financial independence empowers women, challenges gender norms, and contributes to community well-being, breaking poverty cycles and improving educational outcomes.

Stakeholders, including government, philanthropies, civil society, and the private sector, must collaborate to improve sustainable solutions. Improving infrastructure and public services, especially in education and livelihood support, is crucial for enhancing women's workforce participation, as nearly 50% quit due to childcare responsibilities as per a 2022 survey.

Skilling for the Future Economy

A 2023 Research from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad reveals that women aged 15 to 60 spend 7.2 hours on unpaid domestic work, while men spend 2.8 hours, indicating a significant disparity in time allocation. Even among wage-earning individuals, women dedicate twice as much time to tasks like cleaning, meal preparation, and caregiving compared to men, as highlighted by the Time Use Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office.

While India has improved girls' access to education, bridging gender disparities in STEM fields remains crucial. Corporations can collaborate with stakeholders to develop gender-inclusive curricula and upskilling programs, ensuring women thrive in high-growth sectors.

Building an Ecosystem of Opportunity

Sustaining momentum requires a whole-of-society approach where corporations, governments, civil society, and individuals jointly dismantle barriers, challenge mindsets, and create an enabling ecosystem for women to thrive. Corporations must embrace DEI strategically, ensure pay equity, implement family-friendly policies, invest in leadership development, forge partnerships, and leverage CSR to empower women.

As we move ahead, Corporate India must promote a culture of inclusivity, valuing diverse perspectives and empowering women to actively participate in shaping policies and initiatives. This will help achieve true gender parity and unlock the potential of India's talented and resilient women, paving the way for a more equitable society.

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