Moving Towards a Digital India, Why Are Women Still Facing Pay Gaps? Authored by – Keyuri Singh, VP-HR, Infogain

Gender pay gap or discrimination between the salary of women and their male counterparts is as real and true today as the unequal representation of women at senior level. These two are closely related to each other: often in large organizations, starting salaries are the same for men and women, the differences grow due to women dropping out of the workforce, or moving up the ladder slowly due to their challenges in balancing their work with their family priorities.

For a long time, it was believed that women are paid low salaries because they are not as qualified as men. In the last decade, we have seen a remarkable change in this belief, with larger numbers of women completing their basic educational qualifications and even opting for higher education. We see a huge surge in the number of women joining the workforce or going for professional qualifications. The level of women’s education in India witnessed a sharp rise between 2001 and 2011, with 116% more women passing out as graduates or above compared to a just 65% increase among men. What is more surprising is that women engineers grew by 326% in these years. In 2001, there were only about 4.8 lakh women engineers. This has exploded to over 20 lakh in 2011. Unlike in the west, where women taking on STEM subjects is a challenge-in India many women take on such subjects. I am sure that with the progress we have made in the last few years and the move towards digitization, we will have even more women going for higher degrees and joining the workforce.

Despite such a progressive growth, why do we see a drop in women in the workforce at later stages of the career? Why do they still feel discriminated whether it is a promotion, equal pay or getting a challenging project? According to World Bank data, women workforce fell from 35 per cent in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2014. India is ranked 130 in terms of gender-equality index. Indian women’s contribution to GDP is 17 per cent as against the global average of 37 per cent.

There are multiple factors and the major impact or influence comes from the social or cultural aspects of our society. Some of these are:

a. Percentage of Women opting for Professional Courses is still low

We have seen a remarkable rise in the number of women enrolling for engineering or science courses. In India, there has been a 64 per cent increase in the enrolment of girls in science and engineering courses over the last five years, according to the data released by the ministry of human resource development. However the number of women opting for general courses is still high – 85 lakh students in 2015-16 as per HRD data. Unfortunately in India today, a bachelor’s degree is a generic course has no meaning in the job market – and a lack of qualification in a professional course ( CA , MBA etc ) acts as a bar to start their career with a good role, compared with men with professional degrees from reputed colleges who get placed at higher levels and start their career with a better pay package. This results in a difference in salary at the beginning of their career. The other challenge is that with basic qualifications( B Com, BA, BSc ) , women may not be able to join some of the better paying  industries like Consulting and Investment banking , and may be pushed to an industry where disparities are high and survival for women difficult.

b. Marriage at an early age

In Indian families, the timely marriage of a girl is of prime importance and something that takes precedence over their career.  Getting married at an early age and without suitable family support, women often stick to the same job, or give up their jobs altogether due to pressure from their spouse/ in – laws. Family responsibilities often deter them for upgrading themselves by learning new skills or getting new certifications or enrolling for higher education

c. Maternity and Child-Birth

The most difficult phase for women is post child birth, when we see a majority of them dropping off from the workforce and failing to join back the workforce in time. And even when they join after a break, they join at a lower compensation and position than what they deserve. According to a 2012 Booz & Company report, though an estimated 5.5 million women join India’s workforce every year, many of them leave soon after having children. The study ranked India 115th out of 128 countries when it comes to empowering women at the workplace. The challenge still remains with lack of flexibility at the workplace, poor child care facilities, lack of family support and social pressure, a mother is expected to be the prime child- career. There is a lot of positive movement in this direction, with maternity leave extended to 6 months and other flexible policies, like work from home or flexi- time, that companies are offering to welcome back women employees. What matters most is tremendous family support physically and emotionally, an understanding and  flexible work environment, an open mind from the colleagues and peers who do not underestimate or judge a women’s capability based on her taking some amount of flexibility due to her other responsibilities. Strengthening these factors will definitely help women to sail through the difficult time.

d. Change in Mind-Set

What is required is a change in mind-set both for men and women. Men often view women as less competent and lacking in leadership potential.  They feel that women do not want to take on positions of responsibility and that they often give more prominence to personal goals like taking care of the child or elderly people, managing their homes, etc. This is most often not true – often women are unable to take up responsible positions which demand more time and commitment, due to the fact that they have little support from their families at home.  A recent survey by Grant Thornton revealed that just 15% of leadership roles in India are held by women, an abysmally low figure that ranks the country third from the bottom in the list.

Way Forward

  1. Any change needs collaboration between the Government, Corporates, academia and NGOs working on Diversity/ women empowerment issues. Corporates should formulate a robust career strategy that can encourage Indian women to build a successful career, and make informed choices. Governments, businesses, and NGOs should provide women with adequate guidance through mentors, who can inspire and counsel them to manage a work-life balance, balancing their careers along with their parental responsibilities, so that women can stay in the workforce even after having children.
  2. More companies should introduce flexible working hours, family-friendly practices, maternity leave, lactation rooms for nursing mothers, and similar other policies that can help women to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Today only very large companies/ multinationals provide these facilities. Such measures will prevent productive women workers from quitting their job for the sake of managing their family, besides helping them to achieve their career goals.
  3. From the school level to the workplace, men need to be sensitized  to support their wives more –both physically with housework and child raising and emotionally.
  4. Corporates must work closely with the government to see how to help the education system evolve so that more women can be encouraged to finish their education and get skills which are useful in the workplace.
  5. Corporates should develop tie ups with day care centers so that women can continue working.
  6. The government must draw out an action plan improve the transport systems in big cities to make it more easy for women, especially those with small children, to get to work.
  7. More gender sensitization is required for men in the corporate world to not discriminate against women when it comes to promotions and pay increases just because they have been on a maternity break. There should be no gender-based discrimination when it comes to family or caring responsibilities.
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