Gender Commute Gap: How Distance Gets in the Way of Women’s Ambitions

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Gender Commute Gap: How Distance Gets in the Way of Women’s Ambitions

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

There are few things more nerve-wracking than taking the plunge to quit a job and look for greener pastures. Last year, I found myself in that unenviable state that comes to every young professional: the dreaded job-hunt, which itself is a full-time job.

In the midst of finding my dream job, I realised, I had been horribly spoiled. For nearly two years, my office was only a five-minute walk from my house and I avoided the hideous commute that eats up hours of so many Mumbaikars’ days. All that comfort would be gone in the blink of a notice period.

When I was finally offered a better opportunity, I thought twice about what I would say. Sure, it was the exact thing I’d been looking for and I knew I could handle the demands of the job. But how would I handle the late-night commute, taking the train or bus at odd hours?

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in factoring in the commute into my decision to take a job. According to census data from 2011, 45 per cent of Indian women don’t leave their homes to work — not that the statistics are so much more promising for those who dare to venture outside. Despite public transport and special compartments for women, three in five women still choose their workplace based on where they live. They limit their opportunities to only a kilometre from home, and many women are more likely to give up higher-paying jobs in favour of a shorter commute.

When working women have to dabble between home and work, a long commute is out of the question.

Living in a metro like Mumbai, I hadn’t thought about what’s known as the gender commute gap until I had to choose, too. Most working women are forced to stay close to home because, despite working the same hours as men, they are also expected to shoulder the burdens of household chores and childcare. When they have to dabble between home and work, a long commute is out of the question.

For the minority like me, who are encouraged to focus on their careers, it doesn’t matter how much equality we have within our homes. My mother, a bindaas working professional since Mumbai was Bombay, would nevertheless call in the evening to ask me how I’m getting home safely, my father would call every few minutes to check where I have reached. But they seem to be more at ease now that they know I depend on an Uber to get me home

Parents will always be concerned, you might say, and maybe they’re right to be. But what about employers who put out these job postings in hopes of finding the best candidates? When 60% of working women won’t consider a job that’s further than a 15-minute walk, it’s not just the women who are at a disadvantage. The gender commute gap has a serious impact on women’s labour force participation, already at an alarming historic low. Businesses are automatically choosing from a greatly diminished pool of applicants, leaving qualified and capable women stuck in workplaces that don’t use their full potential.

If I didn’t have the option to travel each day with peace of mind, I might have been one of those women. But services like Uber are bankable; women can fall back on them as they are safe, reliable and affordable. They are #WithinHerReach. They play a big role in  helping working women bridge the gender commute gap that threatens to confine them to jobs in their own neighbourhoods. As long as employers and society can step up and acknowledge the unique challenges their female employees face, women will no longer have to worry about unsafe, inconvenient commutes. After all, why should distance get in the way of their dreams?

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