Before the industrial revolution, women were effectively excluded from well-paid high-status occupations. This was due to the lack of access that women had to higher education. A case in point was Cambridge university which only fully validated degrees for women in late 1947.
The change has long been coming and the largest growth has happened in the 20th century. The labour market shifted as more women sought higher education and entered the workforce.
Specialized higher professions saw women becoming doctors, lawyers and scientists and carving out long-term and successful careers for themselves. It has been a boon for the industrial society as governments realized that women in the workforce contributed to a higher GDP by increasing the labour supply in the country.
The 2001 World Bank report titled “Engendering Development” clearly states the connection between women’s involvement in the economy and the resultant growth –
‘While disparities in basic rights; in schooling, credit, and jobs; or in the ability to participate in public life take their most direct toll on women and girls, the full costs of gender inequality ultimately harm everyone…ignoring gender disparities comes at a great cost—to people's well-being and to countries' abilities to grow sustainably, to govern effectively, and thus reduce poverty.’
Gender vs. Profession
There are a wide number of economic, social and cultural variables that impact gender distribution in a different occupation, within a particular region or country or even in a society as a whole.
As a result of gender clustering, women and men often participate in economic sectors in sharply different proportions. Professions which are demanding physically or require physical strength are, traditionally, considered male-centric. Recently, this view seems to be shifting, albeit slowly.
The Delivery Service Industry
This is a part of the service industry and does exactly what it says. It delivers everything from mails, packages, food etc for commercial and consumer use by road, ship and air.
There are deliveries via specialized networks as well – e.g., pipelines for liquid goods and power grids for electrical power. It is a fundamental necessity of trade and commerce. Like every other industry, the delivery service industry has also seen changes over the years, and more so in the post-pandemic world.
Typically, it has been considered a male domain job, until recently. Challenges such as longer schedules, lack of adequate restrooms, unavailability to own vehicles, incomplete documentation and the risks associated with visiting strangers and communicating with them have hitherto kept women from taking up such jobs. The industry has a dismal 1% of its total delivery agents as females.
What is Changing?
Paradigms are shifting. Ideologies are changing. And ground realities are changing. Delivery companies are facing higher attrition. According to one estimate by a staffing solutions company, the delivery industry has a very high attrition rate of almost 8% per month.
There is a rush to hire women delivery agents at India’s leading online delivery companies. There are several reasons for this demand.
- There is a need to rapidly ramp up manpower.
- Women have a better retention rate.
- Women are seen as more efficient and disciplined.
- Women are also highly focused.
- There is a demand to improve diversity numbers.
The Companies That Are Empowering Women Delivery Riders
Ecom Express has about 2000 women working at its delivery hubs and about 100 women are in active delivery roles. The company currently has women-delivery facilities in Delhi, Ludhiana and Jaipur and aims at starting ten new all-women centres in the country this year.
The Chief People Officer of Ecom Express, Saurabh Deep Singla says – “Hiring women riders is one of our several efforts to strengthen the participation of women in the workforce. We hire women not just to improve diversity numbers but because their retention rate is higher. Women associates are sincere, diligent and highly focused and they are also very efficient.”
Shadowfax Technologies is another delivery company that works with online marketplaces like Flipkart and BigBasket and employs around 6500 female delivery partners. This constitutes approximately 60% of its entire workforce.
Says Abhishek Bansal, the CEO of Shadowfax Technologies – “We are witnessing a growing demand for women as delivery partners with a considerable increase month-on-month across tier-1 and tier-2 cities and intend to grow this multifold. The entire hyperlocal delivery segment is contributing significantly to the increase in demand.”
Swiggy is another company that is taking an active interest in attracting female delivery agents to its last-mile fleet.
It is allowing delivery by bicycles for short distances. The food delivery startup is exploring partnering with electric mobility partners to facilitate electric cycles and bikes for rent.
Swiggy currently has 22% of its female delivery agents delivering on bicycles. Mihir Shah, Vice-President of Operations says – “Several women either lack access to personal motor vehicles or don’t have a driver’s license.”
The Friendly Changes in the Delivery industry
Although delivery companies have realized the importance and value of including female delivery agents, there is a need to make some drastic changes in policy in-house, to make the eco-system more women-friendly. Some steps implemented by the companies to attract more women to join their workforce are,
- Access to hygienic restrooms.
- Allowing menstrual leave.
- Various safety measures to safeguard its female delivery agents.
- Providing safety training.
- Designing and implementing SOS alert System.
Women are ready, able and willing to take on such roles. It is the industry at large that has to overcome its gender bias. It is the industry that has to create a working atmosphere that is women-friendly. It is the industry that stands to gain maximum but making these shifts and allowing women within its folds.
Why are female delivery agents scarce?
Lack of adequate restrooms, unavailability to own vehicles, incomplete documentation and the risks associated with visiting strangers and communicating with them are some of the reasons why there are fewer women riders.
How are companies encouraging women riders to join their delivery fleet?
As many women lack their own vehicles, Swiggy is allowing delivery by bicycles for short-distance orders.