Despite important gains in the formal education of girls in the last decade and half, women in India are conspicuously missing from the workforce. The country achieved universal girls’ enrollment in primary education in 2003, secondary-school enrollment currently stands at 74.5 percent, and in higher education, women participate in close to equal numbers as men. Yet, between 2005 and 2019, India’s female labor force participation fell from 32 percent to 21—a loss of more than 1 out of every 3 formally employed women.

Many factors are behind the decline: family-enforced social norms that place women predominantly in caregiving roles, deeply ingrained stereotypes around occupations that stymie aspirations, traditionally low levels of self-confidence, and information and network asymmetries. With so many job sectors that are traditionally male-dominated, women do not have access to the same amount of information and opportunities.

Mentor Together, the organization I founded in 2009, created a virtual mentoring program in 2018 for university students across India—with the goal of supporting workforce readiness through soft skill development, career planning, and network building. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced education institutions in India to close on-campus classes for the better part of 2020, we conducted virtual townhall meetings through which we onboarded 8,000 students from more than 10 states. We were heartened that more than 60 percent of our new sign-ups were young women. Female mentees also outnumbered their male counterparts 3 to 1 in accessing our six-month mentoring program!

Read the full article about mentorship by Arundhuti Gupta at Brookings.