IN ITS FY23 ANNUAL report, Tata Consultancy Services, the largest employer in the IT services space, made an interesting observation about the attrition of women employees at the company. To set the context, the company had over 2.2 lakh women employees at the end of FY23, making up for 35.7% of the 6.14 lakh workforce, compared with 2.1 lakh a year ago, where women made up for 35.6% of the 5.92 lakh workforce. TCS' overall attrition rate for FY23 stood at 20.1%.

That may not seem unusual. But a look at disaggregated data by geographies throws up some interesting observations. In FY23, women under the age of 30 employed in India were just 22.6% of the workforce, compared with 25% in FY22, a decline of 240 basis points. In other geographies such as Europe, North America and the U.K., their share (under 30 years) fell to 6.5%, 5.3% and 9.8% of the workforce, respectively, in FY23, against 9%, 7% and 10% in FY22.

CHRO Milind Lakkad says though historically the attrition rate of women v/s men has been similar or lower, the attrition during the year seems unusual, though, he admitted there could be other factors as well. "I would think work from home during the pandemic reset the domestic arrangements for some women, keeping them away from returning to office even after everything normalised," he adds.

While the pandemic changed the work landscape in the context of the Indian social fabric, women found themselves juggling home, caregiving and office work, adding to the stress. Most IT services companies have asked employees to get back to offices. For those still operating on a hybrid model, work from home is restricted to a couple of days in a week only.

"This transition poses challenges for women as they strive to adapt to the demands of the office environment while continuing to manage their familial responsibilities. Many of them who do not have the support mechanism are choosing to quit," says Kartik Narayan, CEO, staffing, TeamLease Services.

For even those looking for a new job, the preference is for roles that provide the option of work from home. With some roles proving to be effectively doable even remotely, "employees are keen to explore those opportunities. The preference arises from the desire to balance professional commitments with caregiving responsibilities, thereby addressing specific challenges," says Kartik.

While women employees at the lower end of the pyramid seem to be affected the most, those over the age of 40 and presumably in higher/leadership positions seem to be thriving. In FY23, TCS' women workforce in India in the age group of 40-50 years was 1.5%, compared with 1% a year ago. The metric has improved in other continents as well. In North America, for instance, it was 7.5% in FY23, against 6% in FY22. In Europe and the U.K. it was 6% and 11%, respectively, in FY22. However, while Europe saw a rise of 0.6% in FY23, in the U.K., the number declined by 100 basis points. According to TCS, of the leadership positions that were filled up with internal candidates in FY23, women made up for 23% of the selected candidates, even though they accounted for only 14% of applicants.

While companies seem to be embracing an empathetic approach, for roles that involve fieldwork, office-based responsibilities or in-person collaboration, back to office is becoming a norm. With FY24 likely to be a challenging year for the sector, IT firms need to embrace flexibility to retain their women workforce.

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