Sidelining Women From The Workforce Is Keeping India From Developing

Despite India’s rise as the world’s fifth-largest economy, a glaring issue persists – the shockingly low participation of women in the workforce. Only 1 in 10 working-age Indian women are formally employed, a deplorable statistic that lags behind even Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As per the World Bank, only 28% of Indian women engage in paid work (paid work does not equate to formal employment) – one of the lowest rates globally. This chronic marginalization and underutilization of female human capital profoundly undermines the country’s aspirations for a more prosperous future.

Here are the 6 ways sidelining women from the workforce is keeping India from developing

1) Wasted Human Capital and Brain Drain 

With over 676 million women, India has an immense pool of human capital that remains largely untapped. Millions of educated and capable women are barred from contributing their skills, knowledge, and productivity to the workforce, predominantly due to safety concerns, patriarchal attitudes, and lack of opportunities. This brain drain translates into substantial economic losses as potential innovation, creativity, and expertise go unrealized.

2) Slower Economic Growth 

Study after study has demonstrated that increasing women’s labor force participation rates boosts economic growth and per capita incomes. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute suggested that if India achieves gender parity in the workforce, it could add a staggering $700 billion to its GDP by 2025 – an 18% increase. That went unrealized. Sad.

3) Perpetuation of Poverty Cycles 

The lack of financial empowerment and independence stemming from low female workforce engagement traps many households in intergenerational poverty. When mothers cannot earn and contribute to household income, families struggle to invest in education, healthcare, and improved living standards for their children, particularly daughters. This vicious cycle impedes progress toward gender equality and keeps impoverished communities from achieving upward socioeconomic mobility.

4) Hindered Business Growth and Competitiveness 

As corporations worldwide increasingly recognize the benefits of gender diversity, India Inc. suffers from a shallower talent pool due to the dearth of women employees, especially in leadership roles. This lack of female representation hampers innovation, decision-making, and organizational performance, putting Indian companies at a competitive disadvantage compared to global counterparts that better harness the economic dividends of gender parity.

5) Lost Opportunities in New Sectors 

The technology revolution sweeping India has catalyzed the emergence of new industries and business models like e-commerce, fintech, and the gig economy. However, the minimal participation of women in these sunrise sectors translates into a missed opportunity to influence their development trajectories and capture the gains. A more robust female workforce could shape the evolution of these industries, fostering greater inclusivity and aligning them with the needs of half the population.

6) Entrenched Gender Norms and Biases 

Perhaps the most pernicious impact is sociocultural: Low workforce participation reinforces the notion that a woman’s primary role lies in domestic duties and caregiving rather than as an income earner and contributor to the national economy. This regressive mindset perpetuates patriarchal gender norms, biases, and prejudices that hold back Indian society’s advancement and relegate women to being second-class citizens.

Clearly, increasing female labor force participation rates must be a national imperative for India to realize its economic and social potential. While the central and state governments have implemented policies like skills training programs and gender budgeting, bolder reforms are needed to overturn deep-rooted cultural attitudes, enhance workplace safety, and create accessible childcare options. The private sector, too, has a vital role in promoting gender parity through inclusive hiring, mentorship initiatives, and family-friendly policies.

For an aspiring global powerhouse, empowering its 676 million women with the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the workforce is not just a matter of rights and equity, but an existential necessity.


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