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India has among the lowest female labour participation in the workforce, at just 27 per cent, which has registered a decline over the past two decades. The world average, as per World Bank, stands at 48.47 per cent. Our neighbouring countries fare much better than India – Nepal has 82.69 per cent of its women in the labour force, Bangladesh has 33.19 per cent, while Sri Lanka has 34.90 per cent of its women working.
One reason for this reduced percentage is the fact that in India, more girls are enrolling into tertiary education, which then takes them out of the workforce and makes them overqualified for a number of the jobs that are available. Similarly, household incomes have also increased, which reduces the necessity for all adults to work in order to provide for the family.
However, other major reasons why fewer women are entering into the workforce are marriage, motherhood and the roles that women are expected to play. “A strong genderisation of roles exists in the society today where women are by default the primary care providers and are socially conditioned to leave their jobs to take care of their families. Combined with the biases against them re-entering the workforce when they are ready to and the lack of flexible options, this problem intensifies,” explains Shreya Prakash, co-founder FlexiBees – an all-woman organisation which addresses this issue.
Founded by three friends who are graduates from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, FlexiBees aims to create a flexible work ecosystem so that women can get back into the workforce on whichever format they wish to – part-time, from home, or full-time, and at their own time.
The journey begins
Between them, the founders Shreya Prakash, Rashmi Rammohan and Deepa Swamy have 30 years of cumulative experience across a variety of fields such as Strategy, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Digital, Consumer Insights, Software Development, Learning & Assessment and with multiple organisations. However, it was after one of the founders, Deepa, had to quit the workforce due to family priorities that she realised the lack of flexible opportunities and biases against a returning mother when she tried to join back a couple of years down the line.
The three friends then got talking and decided that it was time they addressed the issue. “Today a lot of women are excluded from the workforce due to a lack of flexibility in work, which hampers their ability to balance their careers and family priorities. And those who manage to stay on, often stretch themselves too thin and feel that they are not able to do justice to either responsibility. We realised how critical flexibility in work was, to returning mothers and to all women no matter what their career status, to be able to have sustainable high-impact careers and to feel happy and fulfilled with their choices,” Shreya explains.
The team zeroed in on start-ups that were looking for experienced, highly qualified talent but did not have the ability to hire them full-time. The business then took off organically as they pitched women who had registered with them to startup companies looking for talent. “Our initiative is very business friendly, and with a lot of thought and market feedback, we have designed our offerings such that they help businesses be more agile and competitive, via access to our flexible models and our highly qualified talent pool,” adds Rashmi.
Over the last two years, FlexiBees has grown to a 14 member team, with every woman in the team working flexibly. “We have created flexible work options for hundreds of women in that time-frame, helping them return to work on their own terms and sustainably. These roles and projects have been career relevant and meaningful, across functions and industries, spanning jobs that no one could have thought could be done flexibly i.e. part-time or remotely in this case,” Shreya explains.
Beyond creating an ecosystem that enables women to get back to the workforce after a break, FlexiBees has also managed to bring about awareness among businesses and people in general that work can be done in this manner. “In fact, in our bid to solve a problem for women, we have ended up solving multiple problems for businesses – be it the lack of good affordable talent for startups or the need for specialised skill-sets for project-based work for enterprises,” Shreya states.
Adding on to the flexibility pie
Over time, FlexiBees has managed to create a growing roster of clients, with nearly 70 per cent of their business coming from repeats. And, while earlier many of the roles were short durations ones on an experimental basis, many have become integral full-fledged roles which span 1.5-2 years, all done flexibly. “Organisations are also waking up to the fact that integrating remote work into their work structure is not just smart but also becoming increasingly critical if they want to attract and retain top talent,” Shreya explains.
The successful and happy women that form a part of the wider FlexiBees team are a testimony to the support that the organisation has provided them. “Not only does our venture enable qualified women to lead fulfilled lives doing the work that they are skilled and passionate about, but their career come-back also makes for happy families and positive role modelling for the next generation,” adds Deepa.
With the gig economy in India set to grow up to around 20-30 billion in size by 2025, and globally with 20-35 per cent of the workforce already engaged in gig work, FlexiBees aims to enlarge the pie, by adding many more functions, skill-sets and industries to the gig economy definition. “We want to create a flexi-economy, that goes beyond even the gig economy, and helps integrate returnship women into flexible roles across organisations,” Shreya says.
According to Shreya, women should realise that their time is now. “Keep your eyes and ears open for the new skill-sets needed for your field and upskill yourself, keep your connections alive if you are on a break, and work hard to make yourself into the best hire that any organisation can possibly have,” is the success mantra that Shreya would like to share with all the women out there.