Why is Women Employment in India Low? Answers TeamLease Study

Key highlights:

  • Only 12% of the women are engaged in the labour workforce as part of the contractual staff.
  • The study reveals some shocking findings about women’s participation at work.
  • High involvement in household duties and unpaid work remains to be the primary reason behind the low rate of women’s participation at work.
  • The study recommends some necessary steps to improve women’s participation.

As women’s fight for workplace equality and equal wages continues to gain traction in India, a recent report by TeamLease Services reveals a shocking fact: only 12% of the women were employed as part of the contractual staff by the end of 2021. The number is significantly small because there are nearly 150 million female workers in the country. This shows the real picture of women employment in India.

The TeamLease Services study named ‘No Women Left Behind’ shed light on the current state of female participation at work, challenges faced by most female workers across all sectors, and what strategies can help them do better in the world of work.

Reasons behind the low rate of women employment in India

According to the study, one of the reasons for the low rate of women’s participation at work is their high involvement in household duties and unpaid work. Supporting this reason is the Economic Survey, 2018-19, which found that the rate of women’s participation in domestic duties is as high as 59.1% in urban areas and 55.7% in rural areas.

Another survey conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, ‘Time Use Survey’, revealed that Indian women spend nearly 5 hours a day on domestic duties or unpaid work or thrice as much time as men. Besides, pandemic-induced job market stagnation has also put women out of the work as it has done for a significant portion of men.

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Work environment is discouraging women employment in India

The study ‘No Women Left Behind’ also suggests that the work eco-system of India is also not optimised to improve women’s participation at work, discouraging women from taking a step further towards contributing to the work culture.

Regardless of the type of work, the majority of employed women in India do not have a written job contract, plus nearly half of the salaried women employees are not eligible for paid leave. The study also reveals that a considerable portion of the working women in India either don’t have access to or are not eligible for social security benefits.

Other reasons behind low women employment in India are the low participation of urban women in the labour force, giving up on career progression and educational opportunities to fit into their household or family responsibilities, mobility challenges, workplace safety considerations, and other restrictions mentally put by their society.

All of this snowballs into a baffling imbalance in the work ecosystem, with many women, especially well-educated women, left behind or forced to engage in domestic duties.

The U-shaped relationship between education and women participation in the workforce

Besides all the reasons mentioned above lies the U-shaped relationship between education and women employment in India. While educated women face little to no constraints from their families when it comes to working, they choose not to work in a sector or workplace where they are not given justified benefits.

Educated women would rather work where their skills are given equal value as men, and they get a work-life balance so that they can also engage in household duties as and when required. Apparently, this type of work culture in India, especially in Tier 2/3 cities and rural areas, is hard to find. This is why there is an urgent need for some type of reformation for the women workforce, allowing them to have better career opportunities and income as per their skill levels.

Women with extremely low levels of education and no means of income have no choice but to join the labour force to support their families. However, the number is small compared to their male counterparts, driving gender inequality at work.

What the study recommends

To improve women’s participation in the labour force, the TeamLease Services’ study recommends reforming the labour code or including some necessary and accurately analysed provisions in the labour code to help women with upskilling. It also suggests setting up a complete gender-sensitive tax rebate across some or all types of financial transactions such as income tax, stamp and transfer duties when transferring properties. Presently, the tax exemptions provided under section 88C are not of much use as only 4% of the economically active women are in the formal sector.

The other recommendations the study offered include setting up a gender-transformative and gender-sensitive skill development framework, reshaping the role of the National Skill Training Institute to encourage gender diversity, providing incentives to MSMEs, and streamlining the process of engaging female employees and apprentices. It also suggests improving public investment in infrastructure for small towns, semi-urban areas, and tier-II and III cities. Another crucial recommendation is to encourage and support companies to partner with women-owned businesses and dedicate a significant portion of their procurement budgets toward such businesses.

What else can put more women to work in India?

Providing personalised tools to women, such as communication support and doorstep services, promoting collaboration with non-governmental microfinance institutions, streamlining approval processes to minimise their visits to branches, offering subsidies to women in farming, and creating an ecosystem for self-help groups can also improve the rate of women employment in India.

While the current situation of women employment in India is a matter of concern, policymakers should include some special women-centric reforms in the labour code to make the work ecosystem favourable for female workers. The recommendations provided by the TeamLease Services’ recent study ‘No Women Left Behind’ will also play a vital role in increasing women’s participation at work, given they are implemented timely and correctly across all the sectors. 


  • Only 12 pc of contract staff were Women at 2021-end: TeamLease Services | PTI | 8 March 2022
  • No women left behind: Why only 12% of the women are part of contractual staff in India | Ajnikya Salvi | 8 March 2022
  • ‘Only 12% of the women workforce in India employed as contract staff’ ’ | Team Opportunities | 9 March 2022

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