Is employer-sponsored childcare key to India's economic growth?

By James Tugendhat, Managing Director, International, at Bright Horizons 

India Prime Minister Nerendra Modi made a bold statement of intent recently: to grow India’s economy from $2.8 trillion to $5 trillion by 2024.

It’s an exciting but arguably ambitious goal. While the economy is certainly growing, in order to reach the target the economy would have to grow at over 12% a year, a sharp increase from its growth of 6% in the last quarter.

Having said that, it’s right that India should aspire to double-digit growth: not only will this benefit businesses and address the talent shortage, it will be significant in its impact on the people of India too – reducing unemployment and increasing quality of life.

Central to economic growth of any country is the empowerment of women. Where more women work, economies grow and companies gain talent and leadership, which increases organisational effectiveness and growth. However, women’s labour force participation in India is steadily declining with women making up just a quarter (23%) of those in India either working or seeking employment.

Across the world, childcare remains a primary responsibility of women and many are juggling responsibilities at work with caring for children and families. And without access to quality childcare support, women are forced to choose between work and family, causing many to make hard sacrifices, quite often at the peak of their careers.

The 2017 Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act provides a significant opportunity for India. The Act enables families and particularly women, who are often the primary carer, to enter or remain in the workforce and to have access to reliable childcare. The Act also enables businesses to benefit from a workforce that is focussed, engaged and productive.

Crucially, accessibility and affordability of childcare are not the only benefits of the Act: the early years of a child’s life are especially critical to brain development and the importance of a quality early education environment can’t be over stressed. Not only does childcare support families and employers, it enables children to experience high-quality early education today – and to become our future leaders, tomorrow.

How to make this happen? At Bright Horizons we were delighted to collaborate with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to identify how employers can implement a crèche strategy to not only meet the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act but to also support working families, children and employers coming together to be their very best. We surveyed many leading employers to hear how they have seen this as an opportunity to make childcare an important part of their employee effectiveness strategy. The result of which is significant positive impacts to their recruitment and retention efforts as a result – with 86% of respondents reporting the Act will have a positive impact on women’s advancement and 89% reporting it will have a positive impact on women’s ability to return to work.

I am so proud of my organisation’s partnerships with leading employers in India who provide onsite childcare for their employees – enabling over 350 parents to return to work and prosper, with peace of mind that their children are close by.

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act has provided the catalyst for employers to take timely action to support their working parents – but the impact and benefits for people, businesses and the economy will I believe be long-lasting and meaningful. In the event that Prime Minister Modi’s 2024 target for growth is achieved, I am sure that employer-supported childcare will have played a significant part in that success.

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