The current landscape for women in business in India and future opportunities


On 9th May 2019, the everywoman team hosted a Thought Leadership Breakfast in Mumbai, India with female business leaders to discuss the current issues facing women at work in India. Below is an extract from the White Paper we produced as a result of this discussion

Executive Summary

The everywoman team was honoured by and grateful for the passion and readiness shown by our Ambassadors who gave their time and provided us with insights and stories around gender parity for women in business in India. The drive to elevate women and conquer barriers to gender equality in India is inspiring and we are proud to have the opportunity to partner with this extraordinary group of women.

Our research has determined that there is a large uptake in India for e-learning and organisations have a growing focus on D&I and with some programmes that are established and delivered in association with local partners.

However, the feeling is that there is much more work to be done and the D&I programmes are not being implemented as widely as they could be. There’s an added complexity of work culture in Metropolitan cities differing from the rest of India. The current approach to rolling out D&I programmes across India seems to be quite adhoc.

According to The Economist, the female employment rate in India, counting both the formal and informal economy, has tumbled from an already low 35% in 2005 to just 26% in 2018. In that time the economy has more than doubled in size and the number of working-age women has grown by a quarter, to 470m. Yet nearly 10m fewer women are in jobs. A rise in female employment rates to the male level would provide India with an extra 235m workers, more than the EU has of either gender, more than enough to fill all the factories in the rest of Asia and the world’s biggest democracy would be 27% richer.

There have been notable efforts taken to promote women in the workforce with employers willing to pay a higher commission to recruiters to place women and programmes to persuade returners. The women already in the workforce are more aspirational than before. However, there is still room for improvement, and this is where everywoman and the Ambassadors can help accelerate the process. everywoman has a 20-year heritage of delivering tried and tested methodology to advance women in business.


India is the world's 7th largest country by area and the 2nd most populous country. India's 2019 population is estimated at 1.37 billion based on the most recent UN data. 1 of every 6 people on the planet live in India.

In 2011, India had a literacy rate of 74%: 82% for men and 65% for women. The literacy rate varies widely by state.

India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.

The Status of Women in India1

The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. Women in India now participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc. 

In recent times, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors. Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for a combined period of fifteen years, is the world's longest serving woman Prime Minister.

Women's rights under the Constitution of India mainly include equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination. The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian citizens, within the territory of India, equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws without discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Article 14), no discrimination by the State on the ground of sex (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity for any employment or office (Article 16(2)), equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)) and provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief (Article 42). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)) and renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)).

However, women in India continue to face numerous problems such as sexual assault, gender inequality and dowry.

There is a need to educate men and women about the benefits of gender parity - socially and economically.  This is not going to be an easy task because of India’s cultural diversity and every effort should be made to be sensitive to these differences.

The Indian government signing on to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2023 - one of the goals is diversity and inclusion and the Maternity Benefits Act passed by the government are some of the positive step towards gender parity.

The growing number of millennials and women in the workforce means that organisations need to provide a diverse and inclusive workplace to attract and retain the best talent.

“I am delighted to see everywoman championing the role of women in business - developing careers and building a workplace that is diverse & inclusive. everywoman offers female role models from a cross section of cultures and locations to create a sustainable legacy of gender parity.”

Crispin Simon,

HM Trade Commissioner, India & South Asia, and Deputy High Commissioner, Mumbai

Discussion Summary

The aim of the everywoman Thought Leadership Roundtable was to analyse the current market situation of women in business in India. To understand the needs and areas for improvement, with the purpose of delivering the right inspirational and practical content to help advance women in business across India.

The following questions were discussed:

4.1 Where are the biggest pools of aspirational women in your businesses?

There has been an increase of women in the workforce and they have bigger aspirations than they had 10 years ago.

The biggest pool of resources are women on the cusp of becoming managers/ mid managers and this is also where the biggest challenge lays, as personal pressures supersedes ambition.

Mid management is where the largest number of women leave the workforce. The long hours at work conflict with responsibilities at home.

Women feel societal pressure to conform to established gender roles. There are conflicts and checkpoints at every milestone of her life between career and family.

  1. Female employees worry about what will happen when they get married? There is tension between business & personal life, leading women to question what they need to give up in order to achieve their ambitions.
  2. Men are still considered the primary breadwinner and women are expected to shoulder the lion share of domestic responsibilities.
  3. A woman’s primary role is seen as that of a caregiver and there is no support system for working women caring for children and aging parents.
  4. Flexible working is still not widespread in India. If you are in a senior position or have a good personal equation with your manager, it could be an option.
  5. Returning after a career break is challenging, women often have no support at work to reintegrate to the workplace and face difficulties in getting their partner to share responsibilities at home.
  6. The reluctance to share personal issues faced at work. The right action or advice cannot be provided unless the issue is raised.
  7. Women are being empowered but they don’t know how to use that power to progress their career. There is a need for sponsorship and mentorship.
  8. Women in urban areas have better career support than women from smaller towns

An elite few have built a successful career in urban cities, this is an exception, the majority of other women do not share the same opportunity which keeps aspirations in check.

4.2 What could best support the aspirations of Indian women in business?

There are not enough stories and visibility from senior women leaders. And yet we know that these stories will help women at all stages of their careers. You may not be able to help a large group at one time but if you can change perceptions and inspire a few that will have a cascading effect in the future.

  1. There is a need for female role models from non-urban regions. The women in these regions are also actively considering careers but the mindset and work culture is completely different to the big cities. They need local heroes to look up to. Everybody’s story is unique.
  2. Bring men into the conversation. For women to succeed, men must be brought into the conversation. Awareness, sponsorship, mentorship and advocacy are crucial for female empowerment in the workplace.
  3. Work life balance is not something that is only relevant to women, men can also benefit from it.
  4. The lack of flexible working and not having the confidence to say ‘no’, puts tremendous pressure on women to juggle their responsibilities to their families. Men and women compete for progression within the business at all levels. This competition is unequal as a woman is still mainly responsible for childcare and domestic tasks. This affects her ability to fully commit to a career and family. Culturally, although gender roles are changing it will take time to cascade naturally. Companies can help by becoming less reliant on a face-to-face culture and implementing flexible working policies for both genders. This will also help male colleagues understand the challenges faced by women.
  5. Women should have the choice to take a break or sabbatical from work if they want to concentrate on their family life. When they return to the workforce they should be provided with support and tools to transition back to work. The benefits to an organisation when hiring returners include an untapped potential of highly skilled and engaged workforce ready to take the next step in their career.
  6. Companies should strive to build an inclusive ‘ideas culture’ where all employees are encouraged to bring their ideas to the table and to speak up. Women shy away from raising their hand and will only do it if they tick all the boxes. They need to be given the confidence that it’s okay to make mistakes, take their time and that they don’t need to be perfect from the start.
  7. A confident woman is an asset to her family and employer. Women must change their perception of working; the purpose of a job isn’t just to generate extra income. A working woman has several facets to her life. A career can increase her net worth and her sense of purpose in life and within the community. Some of the benefits are intangible and not always monetary. Building a career helps psychologically and garners respect from peers and family. In turn the confidence it fosters helps a woman to contribute more at work and to the community.

4.3 Have you seen any gender focussed work that has had significant impact?

Flipping the situation around and engaging men has worked for some organisations. Engaging the 65 – 70% of men in the workforce will help in creating new policies and solutions to include women in business.

  1. It has been attempted before where more women were included as a part of the decision-making team. Initially there were remarks about the female opinions being louder but eventually the group settled, and conversations were more around the topics of the taskforce than the make-up of the team.
  2. Initiatives within some organisations asking men to stand by female colleagues working in the office or from home have been well received. The men are equally eager to be diverse and inclusive.
  3. Addressing biases and offering flexibility to both men and women has helped create better understanding and empathy. Having open conversations help to bring about awareness and change.


1 World Population Review, [1] CIA.Gov/library, 1MOSPI.gov.in