TomorrowMakers

The economy is on a downturn, and unemployment is at an all-time high. But if you play it smart, your job can be safe.

If you’re an employed woman, here’s how to beat the economy slowdown

The New Year has been celebrated, parties attended, and greetings exchanged; 2020 is already several weeks old and it’s time to get back to the real world. For the working woman, the real world could pose a challenge, and this is why: broad economic indicators point to a major slowdown, and unemployment rates are reaching record levels. 

Naturally, this is impacting India’s female workforce as well.

Slowdown snapshots

First, let’s consider the economy. Indicators point to a slowdown, which Forbes found “parallels that of the early 1990s”. The magazine based its conclusion on a number of factors, the prime one being the rate of real GDP growth; it’s dropped to 4.5%, “the lowest in the last five years”.

One big factor dragging down GDP growth is the steady fall in savings since FY12, which has meant fewer funds for the rest of the economic system to borrow or invest. Consequently, manufacturers have been forced to cut down on production over the last few months, which means that the manufacturing sector has flatlined.

Data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) shows that 7 out of 8 core industries saw their output fall in September 2019. As per CMIE, this is one of the worst performances by the eight core industries, with the infrastructure sector – one of the biggest employers for unorganised labour – contracting 5.2% on a year-on-year basis.

Related: How has India fared in terms of the economy since Independence?

A dip in hiring

This brings us to the next point – the job scene. One of the first casualties of the slowdown is the job sector; it has resulted in higher joblessness among daily wage earners or contractual workers. At the same time, it has led to a fall in hiring in the organised workforce. 

Last October, CMIE data indicated an unemployment rate of 8.5%, the highest since August 2016. Worse, a government report leaked in May 2019 said joblessness had reached a 45-year-high in 2017-18. Hiring has been especially grim for graduates in the 20-29 age group, who face a much higher unemployment rate of 42.8%. 

These, according to Forbes, are “dismal numbers for a large emerging market economy, which was growing at brisk rates a couple of years ago”.

So, where does that leave the professional woman?

Related: How India's economy has progressed through the years 

The female workforce

In 2018, researchers at Azim Premji University analysed government employment data and found that Indian job givers hired fewer women that year than it did in 2012. As per the government data, the percentage of women in salaried jobs went up to 52.1% in urban areas in 2017 from 35.6% in 2004. 

However, despite this increase, the researchers found that women were still under-represented when compared to their presence in self-employed or casual work. Interestingly, the share of self-employed women in the workforce in urban areas actually fell from 47.7% in 2004 to 34.7% in 2017. Yet, the researchers said, they were still over-represented. 

Commenting on the data analysis, two researchers from Azim Premji University noted in an article in Business Standard: “When women do work, they are more likely to work as self-employed or casual workers.” Needless to say, gender pay gap remains a constant at the workplace; for every Rs 100 a man earns, a woman earns Rs 20-30 less, depending on whether the workplace is in an urban area or a rural one.

Future scenario

A recent study from McKinsey Global Institute, covering some 10 economies including India, predicts that working women globally will have to retool themselves by 2030 to adapt to new occupations.

India will see its women’s workforce erode by up to 12 million over the next decade, thanks to an increasing use of automation in several sectors. The total loss of jobs for them will be smaller than that for Indian men – almost a fourth of the 44 million male labour force that will become redundant over the next decade. In urban areas, women employed in transportation and warehousing will be affected, the study said. 

So what, according to McKinsey, will women be required to do be gainfully employed? They will have to “upskill themselves and gain secondary education.” The reasoning: this will prepare women to move up the skill ladder so that new economic opportunities would open up. 

Related: Your savings can boost India’s growth; here’s how

Focusing on ‘now’

Okay, so the economy is bad and working women are not guaranteed jobs in the near future, but what about the present? Surely there are work habits that can be developed and practices followed that will not only ensure retention but also help progress on the job front?

Of course there is. True, there are sectors such as media and advertising where gender is of little issue and talent is of foremost concern, but there are also areas such as sales that are male-dominated, primarily because of the nature of the job.

Yet, even in those areas where women are outstripped by men in terms of numbers, they can still hold their own if they have their wits about them. Here are some tips that can help an ambitious woman succeed when the management is looking to retain the right personnel:

  • Forget your gender: First, forget the fact that you’re a woman – it is not important. Ultimately, it is your work that will be considered, not your sex. A workplace throws up similar challenges for men and women that determine their success: coming up with ideas, being motivated, their sense of teamwork etc. Focus on these and you will stand out.
  • Ignore stereotypes: You’re likely to be bombarded with stereotypes at the workplace, especially if the place where you are employed is a male-dominated one. There are going to be sexist remarks, and there are bound to be preconceived notions of what a woman is capable of – or more likely, not capable of. Take it in your stride, do not take things personally. But do stand up against sexual harassment, even if it is subtle.
  • Find a mentor: A mentor can take you places, especially if they have seen the ups and downs of an industry; at times like this, it would be a big help if you get the guidance to meet challenges. If this person is a woman, so much the better.
  • Network more: Men excel at this – which means you should too; do not undervalue networking. Building a network of the right people will provide key breaks when you need them, helping you perform your job better.
  • Play the woman card: And why not? There are some things women can do better. For instance, a woman has naturally more empathy than the average man, and can put people at ease during interactions. Use this trait to become a leader; a leader who is respected irrespective of gender.
  • Be assertive: Learn to differentiate between assertive and aggressive behaviour; the former is acceptable in a work setting, the latter is not. If you believe in something, don’t be diffident about pitching your ideas, but take care not to be unpleasant about it. As they say, respect has to be earned. If you earn that respect, there’s only one way ahead: up.

Last words

Being in a minority at the workplace can be daunting, but unfortunately many sectors are still largely male-dominated. If you find yourself in such a situation, try not to fixate on it. Rather, hold your head high and let your work speak for you. After all, at the end of the day, it’s your determination to succeed that will matter; if you work hard enough, gender barriers will blur and what will be left will be a successful worker – you.

So, believe in yourself and your dream, and then pull out all stops to achieve it. You can do it! Here's a good read about 5 Economic concepts that you need to know.

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