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India - Women tooling-up in Chennai

14 May 2013

Marketers who pay close attention to the Census will seriously consider a key demographic in Chennai and its working women, according to the Times of India. According to the 2011 Census, Chennai beat Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai to own a higher proportion of working women, with 20% of its female population earning a salary. This compares with 11%, 18% and 19%, respectively, for the other three cities.  

Recruitment experts acknowledge the recent flowering of the city's workspace, citing a transformation of its professional landscape from a manufacturing base to a service-oriented hub. "Chennai is fast becoming a centre for IT and the knowledge economy," says Sangeeta Lala, senior vice-president (Sourcing) at TeamLease Services, a Bangalore-based HR consultancy. "These are sectors that hire many women because the skill-sets required are gender-neutral. Moreover, many of the new companies are MNCs with strong diversity policies that look to maintain gender balance at the workplace," she says.

The conservatism long associated with Tamil Nadu — which women perceived as an impediment to their professional progress — is slowing losing its grip. "Tamil Nadu is often mistaken as a conservative society in terms of social attitudes to women's attire and their conduct, but in the matter of education and career, women have lately been given more licence," observes Dr Kala Shreen, a sociologist in Chennai.

Chennai is also safer than Mumbai and Delhi. "It's not just the evidence, but also the sense of safety that puts women here at ease about late nights and unthreatened travel," says Lala. A survey by Avtar Career Creators and Flexi Careers India, a social enterprise campaigning for women's workforce participation, revealed that security, apart from the provision of basic amenities, ranked among the most fundamental factors that influenced women job-seekers. Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of the company, points out that it isn't only Chennai's score on safety, but its adaptability to global best practices and even its traditional social setup that encourage women employment.

"Though Chennai appears to be outwardly slow and resistant to change, I have always found organisations here quick to pick up best practices," says Rajesh. "In addition, if women take a career break to raise a child or care for their elders, they're able to return to the workplace much sooner here. Even joint families — typically considered modern setbacks — have actually been found to help women sustain their careers." 

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