By Melissa J. Anderson

According to recent research by Catalyst, managing work life challenges for talent in India means working with in the cultural context of the country, while applying corporate programs that help workers perform at their highest abilities.

The country is undergoing a high rate of change, explains Laura Sabattini, author of the report.

“India is also witnessing considerable demographic, generational, and economic change, including a rapid increase in household incomes and the proportion of middle- class families. As India continues to develop into a stronger economic power, work-life programs are becoming an increasingly important tool for workforce effectiveness and for promoting women’s advancement.”

The study of 200 high potential male and female employees at US and European firms operating in India revealed that individuals of both genders view work-life fit as very important. Nevertheless, women in particular seem to find work-life issues more difficult than men. Companies wishing to attract and retain high potential talent should work to alleviate these difficulties.

Work-Life in India

In many cases, childcare in India is not as pressing a work-life challenge as it can be for individuals in countries. Author of the report Laura Sabattini explains, “In India, it is customary for parents to rely on extended families for support with work-life and family issues. For childcare, the most common arrangements include support by parents, in- laws, and paid help, followed by professional day care services.”

Additionally, the state has enacted a number of laws designed to help new mothers in the workplace. For example, women are entitled to 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, and two additional nursing breaks until their child is 15 months old. Additionally, Sabittini writes, one law says employers with over 30 female workers have to provide childcare facilities for children under six (although, she adds, many companies have found loopholes for this particular law).

Both high potential men and women in India report high levels of interest in career advancement. In the next five years, according to the report, 98% of women and 97% of men say they aspire to get to the next level. The majority also say their primary work-life focus is on work (60% of women and 67% of men) or that they have a dual focus (28% of women and 26% of men).

Challenges for Indian Women

The report points out that while high potentials of both genders are looking to get to the next level, fewer women than men surveyed aspire to become CEO or a senior executive (72% of women vs. 81% of men). One reason for this could be work-life challenges.

The majority of women and men surveyed (95% and 97% respectively) said work-life fit was very important to them, and the majority said their company “provides enough flexibility” (67% of women and 75% of men). Nevertheless, Sabattini continues, there seems to be a gap between this percentage and the percentage of individuals who say their workplace meets their individual needs or expectations for flexibility.

According to the study, 90% of women and 80% of men felt their workplace was not up to par when it came to their own flex needs.

Despite significant work on behalf of companies to meet the work-life needs of high potentials, both men and women are finding it challenging: 52% of women and 38% of men say that managing work and personal life is “not easy” for them. This may account for the gap in c-suite aspiration between men and women as well.

These numbers may also reveal that work-life challenges are not solely about childcare – after all, childcare seems to be less of a difficulty for women in India than elsewhere. Nevertheless, many more women than men find work-life issues difficult.

Additionally, Sabattini adds, another challenge in India is safety. “Safety can affect traveling and commuting to work, which can be a challenge for some women, especially in contexts where it is culturally inappropriate for women to travel alone.”

The study shows that companies wishing to provide work-life programs to attract and retain women will have to look beyond the maternity leave or childcare programs that have been successful in other countries. By focusing in the cultural work-life needs of Indian men and women, companies can work to better retain and advance high performers.