Inclusion and diversity are among the two most trending hashtags on LinkedIn. Corporate India has also embarked on a mission to be more inclusive and diverse in its hiring and policies. In this editorial, I look at the areas where our laws work, and those which can do with improvement.
In the first place, it necessary to define ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’. In many conversations, the scope is restricted to gender. It is indeed critical for our country to work on allowing our biggest latent resource to thrive, our women. This topic is covered brilliantly by my friend in his book . We need more women on boards, we need more women in leadership positions, we need more women in workplaces, we need these women to be paid equally and last but not least, we need more women on panels and webinars that discuss women’s inclusion.
I would also however like to extend the scope to encourage the inclusion of disabled people, people with mental health issues, people who do not conform to male or female genders and people of alternate sexualities. It is hard to see the law extending positive discrimination to the rest of these categories. However there is no reason corporates cannot work at equal opportunity employment and making their workplace more friendly and inclusive.
I would first like to lay out the various areas covered by our laws that relate particularly to working women.
- Maternity Benefits
- Prevention of Sexual Harassment
- Physical Safety and Security
- Working conditions
- Domestic Workers
- Not hiring due to potential maternity: Paid
Maternity leave has the unfortunate consequence of discouraging
employers from hiring women. It is impossible for the law to police intent.
However, the law can criminalise this form of discrimination and insist on
active communication from employers to discourage managers from engaging in
- Adopted Children: This is a fairly absurd
provision. Employees are allowed 12 weeks leave if they adopt a child less than
3 months old. As an adoptive parent, I can confirm that is practically
impossible to adopt a child that is less than 3 months of age in India. Why
this provision has not been contested and changed, I do not know. In my
opinion, this limit should be extended to children of up to 3 years at a
- Post-maternity attrition: . The biggest reason for this is a mismatch of post-maternity career expectations between women and their employers. This is a colossal loss of trained capability. This is probably not a subject that can be addressed by law but corporates can and must put programs in place to reduce this number.
Prevention of sexual harassment
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, (POSH Act) is a landmark legislation.
- The definition of harassment is clear and all encompassing.
- The actions required under the act provide for communication and redressal of issues.
- The repercussions of non-compliance for an employer are also strong.
- This law has actively discouraged such acts and forced corporates to act rather than sweep issues under a carpet like earlier.
What could be better:
There are a few special provisions for separate working conditions for women
- Prohibition of pay and recruitment discrimination between genders
- Prohibition on women working at night
- Provision of crèches or day-care facilities
- Separate restrooms and canteens in certain workplaces
- Separate toilets and washrooms
- Prohibition on the engagement of women in certain hazardous occupation
Most of these are basic hygiene factors of course.
What could be better:
- still persist although declining. The law seems to lack intent and teeth.
- Encouraging and incentivising STEM education for girl children to address any perceived technical gaps
- Given the disproportionate allocation of home and care duties on our working women, corporates could provide support and concierge services that make the lives of working women a little easier.
- Not much
- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, and Rajasthan have introduced minimum wages for domestic workers.
What could be better:
- The law does very little for the estimated 4-5 million domestic women workers in our country.
- Minimum Wages – only 7 states have minimum wages in place. Enforcement of this is non-existent.
- The Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act drafted in 2010 by the National Commission for Women has not been passed yet.
- The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 was meant to develop schemes for welfare measures for this sector. However it does not receive all the funds allocated and . There was no welfare measure visible during the lockdown migrant issue.
- Violence and sexual harassment of domestic workers is a real issue. While these are criminalised, in law, there aren’t adequate efforts to ensure that victims can receive legal advice and help.
- While domestic workers do come under the ambit of laws such as the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, they have gaps and cannot address all their issues.
In conclusion, this huge workforce is critical to enabling gender diversity in corporate India. Many a woman’s career has been built on the reliability of their domestic help. It is a great pity that they suffer a woeful lack of protection themselves.
I mentioned the inclusion of disabled people, people with mental health issues, people who do not conform to male or female genders and people of alternate sexualities. These categories have become an important part of the corporate diversity conversation. There are many employers who solicit people from all walks of the wood and make them feel welcome.
It is hard to see the law extending positive discrimination to the rest of these categories. However there is no reason corporates cannot go ahead and beyond. They have to work at equal opportunity employment and making their workplace more friendly and inclusive.
It is indeed heartening to see the desire of the more forward organisations to set the trends and go well beyond what is prescribed by the law in terms of diversity and inclusion. This is a trend that can only spread and move in the right direction.
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