Educated women in India are managing the demands of their careers and family obligations far better than their peers in the West and Japan, according to a new research report to be released next week by the Center for Talent Innovation, or CTI, a nonprofit New York-based think tank.
In a blog posted on the Harvard Business Review website, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the president of CTI, indicated that India's female professionals are realizing their career ambitions remarkably well.
“In fact, they're not just succeeding at the difficult balancing act that confronts the vast majority of working women around the world; in some critical ways, they are far ahead of their counterparts in the United States, Germany and Japan,” she said.
The report focuses on the concept of “off-ramping” (that is, when a woman voluntarily quits the workforce to deal with family responsibilities, i.e., having children, taking care of elderly parents) and “on-ramping” (the often difficult process of women reentering the workforce after a lengthy absence).
According to a CTI survey, more than one-third (36 percent) of working Indian women quit their jobs to deal with family issues, a rate similar to those found among American, German and Japanese women.
However, on average, the Indian women returned to their jobs in less than a year, whereas their counterparts stayed away from work for much longer period -- almost two years for Germans and nearly three years for Americans.
“Women all around the world face a barrage of barriers -- both cultural and professional, at home and in the workplace -- blocking their ability to pick up their careers where they left off,” according to CTI.
“The most startling figure, however, is not that an overwhelming 91 percent of Indian women want to return to work but that so many succeed in on-ramping.”
Indeed, not only do more Indian women want to return to their careers after a brief absence, but more are successful in finding such jobs. An overwhelming 88 percent of off-ramp Indian women get back into the workforce, more than double the rate for Japan’s off-rampers and higher than rates found in Germany (68 percent) and the U.S. (73 percent).
CTI suggests part of this phenomenon is tied to India’s still-rapid economic growth, in contrast to the stagnant economies found in Europe and Japan.
"The biggest limitation to growth is not market opportunities but finding the talent to maximize these opportunities," Sunil Nayak, CEO of Sodexo India, said.
Nonetheless, women in India face many obstacles in terms of achieving equality with men in the workforce.
According to an editorial in the Hindu newspaper of India, only one-third of India’s women participated in the labor force as of 2008, versus 81 percent for men. For comparison’s sake, more than two-thirds of Chinese women have jobs.
“In India, social factors play a significant role in reducing women’s labor participation,” the editorial noted. “Husbands and in-laws often discourage women from working, while, in many parts of the country, restrictions are imposed even on their movements outside the household.”
The Gallup company reported last year, even among Indian women with college degrees, the rate of labor participation is low -- only one-third (34 percent) of such women are in the labor force (versus 81 percent of Chinese women), and only one-sixth (17 percent) of Indian female college graduates have “good” full-time jobs (versus 53 percent for Chinese counterparts).
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.