TomorrowMakers

If you believe Indians tend to hold a woman’s professional capabilities in high esteem, think again – or better, look at the cold numbers.

Where are all the women at the workplace

When a public prosecutor questioned the intelligence of the investigator probing the Kathua rape incident because the person is a woman, social media was awash with scorn. But let us be honest and ask ourselves: did the man say anything contrary to what a sizeable number of people in India believe? Do we consider women to be intellectually and physically fit for professional jobs, or do we see them as below par? Going strictly by employment trends, doesn’t it seem the latter is an uncomfortable truth?

Falling numbers

If you believe Indians tend to hold a woman’s professional capabilities in high esteem, think again – or better, look at the cold numbers. According to an April 2017 World Bank report title Precarious Drop: Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Participation in India, India had the lowest rate of female employment in South Asia in 2013 – the latest year under that review – to stay ahead of just Pakistan. 

We were lagging behind even Bangladesh, a country that perhaps ironically would not have come into being in 1971 if it weren’t for a woman who then led India – Indira Gandhi. What’s worse, the number of Indian women finding jobs has been falling steadily since 2005, according to the World Bank data.

Where are all the women in the workplace?

When we compare ourselves with fellow members in the more developed G-20, we fare even worse: we are ahead of only the Saudis. What’s truly alarming is what India Spend (a non-profit data journalism initiative) tells us: 25 million women have left the workforce in India in the decade since 2006. 

Urban trends

People may see a connection between the low female participation in India’s labour force and its vast multitudes of poor people, but if poverty were a factor, Nepal and Bangladesh, both poorer than India, would not have fared so well in this area. And even in India, more women are being employed in the rural areas than in the cities. 

As per data provided by Catalyst, a New York-based organisation promoting inclusive workplaces for women, almost 27% of the total number of vacancies filled in rural India was accounted for by women, compared to only 16.2% in the urban centres. 

If not poverty, is it a lack of literacy among women that’s behind their low employment figures? Intriguingly, it seems literacy has got nothing to do with it: Catalyst’s data shows 80% of women in urban India were found literate in a 2011 survey compared to 59% in rural areas. In fact, the Catalyst report showed that women accounted for almost 47% of undergraduate students enrolled in Indian colleges that year, and about 41% of PhD students. Clearly, education among city women has not boosted their employability. 

Could it be that health issues prevent Indian women from being employed in responsible positions? But even that is far-fetched, as has been shown by IndiaSpend. In a data-backed report on its website posted on April 9, 2016, the organisation showed that strangely, employment for Indian women fell from 36% to 27% between 2006 and 2012 even as they got healthier and more educated. 

Stepping out

Why are so many Indian women quitting their jobs, or forced to remain unemployed? One of the main reasons, says IndiaSpend, is limited mobility; while the country has augmented both its road linkages and public transport in recent decades, infrastructure improvements are not translating into substantive gains in women’s mobility and ability to get work. Also, women do not travel as far to work as men. According to the report, the further from home the opportunity, the less likely women are to access it. 

Another major reason is that Indian women are kept on a leash by the men in their families. Almost 80% of female respondents in a survey that IndiaSpend studied said they were not allowed to visit a health centre without the permission of their husbands or other family members. The same rule of patriarchy applied if they wanted to visit relatives or even the grocery store.

To top it all, incidence of sexual harassment such as groping are commonplace during travel and are major deterrents; there’s a constant apprehension among women themselves about leaving home to work. One survey revealed that as many as 62% of unemployed women were willing to migrate for jobs, though a bigger chunk (70%) felt unsafe working away from home. Unfortunately, when women do take the plunge, a different set of challenges crops up at her workplace.

Workplace challenges

India boasts of a glorious list of female CEOs and managing directors, but in spite of all the hard work they put in, women have to overcome everyday discrimination to rise above their current positions. The discrimination manifests in myriad ways: basic work norms safety for them is non-existent, and fairness at work is often treated as a non-issue. A few examples:

There are other issues too, one being unequal pay; the Monster Salary Index 2016, for instance, says that for every Rs 100 earned by a male employee for a particular job in 2016, a woman earned Rs 75; in other words, she earned 25% less. That apart, there is sexual harassment (at work too, in addition to what’s encountered when travelling to work), and the conceptual glass ceiling.

Sadly, there is also an issue unrelated to the workplace, and it happens at home. Often, women might not always have their family’s support when it comes to working. To them, her career and ambitions are irrelevant. If women don’t have the support of their family, they may not be able to perform their jobs properly and this will directly affect performance. More often though, women themselves quit, stating that family matters such as raising their children takes precedence over their careers.

Bright spots

Fortunately, many companies are increasingly becoming cooperative with maternity leave, allowing women employees to plan their entire first year after their first-born as per their HR policy, including granting up to six months of paid leave. 

Positive developments – although in pockets – have been recognised, as in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, the latest in the series from the World Economic Forum (WEF). The report says hirings rose by 6% across 12 industry segments in India; those showing a surprising upward change were energy and mining, and manufacturing and real estate, while the traditional ‘fortress’ for women – education – slowed down on recruiting them, bringing down India’s position by 21 places to 108 in global rankings.

Newly available data reveals the scale of India’s gender gap in women’s share among legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as professional and technical workers for the first time in recent years, highlighting that continued efforts will be needed to achieve parity in economic opportunity and participation, the report noted.

Diversity gains

If only India recognised the ability of women to contribute to the national economy, it could augment its GDP by an estimated $700 billion to $2.9 trillion by 2025 – an increase of 16%-60%, according to a study released in September 2017 by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report, titled The Power of Parity: How Equality for Women Could Drive $12 Trillion in Global Growth, covers 95 countries and 93% of the world’s women. But it cautions that full participation in the workplace cannot take place without gender parity in society. According to the report: Economic development enables countries to close gender gaps, but progress on four indicators in particular – education level, financial and digital inclusion, legal protection, and the reduction of unpaid care work – could help accelerate progress.

Last words

Women are generally – and unfairly – judged more in the workplace, and not merely because of the so-called ‘Indian mindset’, but because they stand out more in male-dominated workforces that are so typical of Indian companies. Everything about them is scrutinised and speculated upon – their attitude, behaviour, and personal life. Unfortunately, the judgement comes from both men and women. The scenario is unlikely to change till meritocracy takes roots in people’s psyche to its fullest; the faster it happens, the better it is for the company, the society, and of course the country as a whole. 

When a public prosecutor questioned the intelligence of the investigator probing the Kathua rape incident because the person is a woman, social media was awash with scorn. But let us be honest and ask ourselves: did the man say anything contrary to what a sizeable number of people in India believe? Do we consider women to be intellectually and physically fit for professional jobs, or do we see them as below par? Going strictly by employment trends, doesn’t it seem the latter is an uncomfortable truth?

Falling numbers

If you believe Indians tend to hold a woman’s professional capabilities in high esteem, think again – or better, look at the cold numbers. According to an April 2017 World Bank report title Precarious Drop: Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Participation in India, India had the lowest rate of female employment in South Asia in 2013 – the latest year under that review – to stay ahead of just Pakistan. 

We were lagging behind even Bangladesh, a country that perhaps ironically would not have come into being in 1971 if it weren’t for a woman who then led India – Indira Gandhi. What’s worse, the number of Indian women finding jobs has been falling steadily since 2005, according to the World Bank data.

Where are all the women in the workplace?

When we compare ourselves with fellow members in the more developed G-20, we fare even worse: we are ahead of only the Saudis. What’s truly alarming is what India Spend (a non-profit data journalism initiative) tells us: 25 million women have left the workforce in India in the decade since 2006. 

Urban trends

People may see a connection between the low female participation in India’s labour force and its vast multitudes of poor people, but if poverty were a factor, Nepal and Bangladesh, both poorer than India, would not have fared so well in this area. And even in India, more women are being employed in the rural areas than in the cities. 

As per data provided by Catalyst, a New York-based organisation promoting inclusive workplaces for women, almost 27% of the total number of vacancies filled in rural India was accounted for by women, compared to only 16.2% in the urban centres. 

If not poverty, is it a lack of literacy among women that’s behind their low employment figures? Intriguingly, it seems literacy has got nothing to do with it: Catalyst’s data shows 80% of women in urban India were found literate in a 2011 survey compared to 59% in rural areas. In fact, the Catalyst report showed that women accounted for almost 47% of undergraduate students enrolled in Indian colleges that year, and about 41% of PhD students. Clearly, education among city women has not boosted their employability. 

Could it be that health issues prevent Indian women from being employed in responsible positions? But even that is far-fetched, as has been shown by IndiaSpend. In a data-backed report on its website posted on April 9, 2016, the organisation showed that strangely, employment for Indian women fell from 36% to 27% between 2006 and 2012 even as they got healthier and more educated. 

Stepping out

Why are so many Indian women quitting their jobs, or forced to remain unemployed? One of the main reasons, says IndiaSpend, is limited mobility; while the country has augmented both its road linkages and public transport in recent decades, infrastructure improvements are not translating into substantive gains in women’s mobility and ability to get work. Also, women do not travel as far to work as men. According to the report, the further from home the opportunity, the less likely women are to access it. 

Another major reason is that Indian women are kept on a leash by the men in their families. Almost 80% of female respondents in a survey that IndiaSpend studied said they were not allowed to visit a health centre without the permission of their husbands or other family members. The same rule of patriarchy applied if they wanted to visit relatives or even the grocery store.

To top it all, incidence of sexual harassment such as groping are commonplace during travel and are major deterrents; there’s a constant apprehension among women themselves about leaving home to work. One survey revealed that as many as 62% of unemployed women were willing to migrate for jobs, though a bigger chunk (70%) felt unsafe working away from home. Unfortunately, when women do take the plunge, a different set of challenges crops up at her workplace.

Workplace challenges

India boasts of a glorious list of female CEOs and managing directors, but in spite of all the hard work they put in, women have to overcome everyday discrimination to rise above their current positions. The discrimination manifests in myriad ways: basic work norms safety for them is non-existent, and fairness at work is often treated as a non-issue. A few examples:

There are other issues too, one being unequal pay; the Monster Salary Index 2016, for instance, says that for every Rs 100 earned by a male employee for a particular job in 2016, a woman earned Rs 75; in other words, she earned 25% less. That apart, there is sexual harassment (at work too, in addition to what’s encountered when travelling to work), and the conceptual glass ceiling.

Sadly, there is also an issue unrelated to the workplace, and it happens at home. Often, women might not always have their family’s support when it comes to working. To them, her career and ambitions are irrelevant. If women don’t have the support of their family, they may not be able to perform their jobs properly and this will directly affect performance. More often though, women themselves quit, stating that family matters such as raising their children takes precedence over their careers.

Bright spots

Fortunately, many companies are increasingly becoming cooperative with maternity leave, allowing women employees to plan their entire first year after their first-born as per their HR policy, including granting up to six months of paid leave. 

Positive developments – although in pockets – have been recognised, as in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, the latest in the series from the World Economic Forum (WEF). The report says hirings rose by 6% across 12 industry segments in India; those showing a surprising upward change were energy and mining, and manufacturing and real estate, while the traditional ‘fortress’ for women – education – slowed down on recruiting them, bringing down India’s position by 21 places to 108 in global rankings.

Newly available data reveals the scale of India’s gender gap in women’s share among legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as professional and technical workers for the first time in recent years, highlighting that continued efforts will be needed to achieve parity in economic opportunity and participation, the report noted.

Diversity gains

If only India recognised the ability of women to contribute to the national economy, it could augment its GDP by an estimated $700 billion to $2.9 trillion by 2025 – an increase of 16%-60%, according to a study released in September 2017 by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report, titled The Power of Parity: How Equality for Women Could Drive $12 Trillion in Global Growth, covers 95 countries and 93% of the world’s women. But it cautions that full participation in the workplace cannot take place without gender parity in society. According to the report: Economic development enables countries to close gender gaps, but progress on four indicators in particular – education level, financial and digital inclusion, legal protection, and the reduction of unpaid care work – could help accelerate progress.

Last words

Women are generally – and unfairly – judged more in the workplace, and not merely because of the so-called ‘Indian mindset’, but because they stand out more in male-dominated workforces that are so typical of Indian companies. Everything about them is scrutinised and speculated upon – their attitude, behaviour, and personal life. Unfortunately, the judgement comes from both men and women. The scenario is unlikely to change till meritocracy takes roots in people’s psyche to its fullest; the faster it happens, the better it is for the company, the society, and of course the country as a whole.