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5 Ways Workplaces Can Shatter The Glass Ceiling, And Close The Gender Pay Gap

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By Shambhavi Saxena:

When PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi was named one of the highest paid CEOs in the world, it quickly turned our attention to the thunderous successes of many women in the corporate world. Last month, three women bankers from India made it to a Fortune Magazine power list, and there was some celebration once more about how far working women had gotten. But even as more women enter the corporate workforce, these instances are only a few chinks in that big ol’ glass ceiling.

Breaking the glass ceiling has been such a major concern for our times, that it’s made its way into our pop culture with musical hits like Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” or those clever Comedy Central sketches. But what exactly has it meant for women in the corporate world?

Women in the Workplace 2016” is a report compiled by eight authors from the McKinsey and Company consulting firm, and the non-profit organization Lean In. Surveying 34,000 employees from 132 companies in the USA, the report builds on some earlier research regarding Human Resources practices and experiences, and here’s what it found:

While men and women acquire entry-level jobs at close-ish figures – 63% and 56%, respectively – and see a more or less similar rate of increase at manager-level positions, women undergo a dramatic dip as we move up the ladder.

The report was very clear in stating that not only were there very few women in the pipeline to the C-Suite (meaning the most senior executive positions) but that they faced major pushback for trying to negotiate raises and promotions, while their male coworkers did not. In fact, women who negotiated or held their ground in the same way that men did were even called “bossy” and “intimidating.”

It confirms that it’s a male-dominated arena – of the 90% promotions from line roles to CEO, 100% were men. It also notes how there were simply more instances of men being given opportunities to participate, to give inputs, and to take on high visibility roles.

With regards to general attitudes, the report also found that employees don’t view gender diversity as a personal priority, and when it came to giving employees feedback, many managers fell prey to the stereotype that their female employees would feel bad or have an emotional breakdown.

Yet another problem area arose concerning women of colour in the workplace. While they make up 20% of the population in the USA, they’re only 3% of the C-Suite, despite having higher aspirations for top executive posts than white women do.

Clearly, there is a disparity, and the glass-ceiling is layered and overlapping. But the report also made several recommendations on how to address this. Some of the biggest ways in which we can make corporate culture more equal begin with small structural changes, and this is what companies need to do:

1. Why Gender Diversity?

The reason why gender diversity matters to only 38% of senior leaders surveyed, is because its importance has not been broadly communicated. The very first step has to be the one where companies commit to realizing a gender-equal workplace. Imagine what impact that could have, even with just 132 companies that employ some 4.6 million people? That’s like a workplace with the population of Paris and Chicago combined – basically a lot of people who, by virtue of working in a gender-equal environment – will carry some of that thinking into their everyday lives.

2. Root Out Gender Bias

The logical follow up to the first step would be to hold employee trainings where gender-biased language and behaviour is systematically removed. Sensitization programmes for persons of all departments in a company can foster better understanding of current roadblocks to gender equality, and also develop dialogue on how to creatively arrive at solutions for gender-based problems.

3. Disclosing Gender Metrics

When there are more CEOs named Peter and David than there are women in the C-Suite, you have to start asking why. Only 41% of the companies surveyed in the report reveal their gender metrics, but more should. This reveals how many men and women occupy which positions, get which promotions, are hired when, where, how frequently, and at what salary. At one level, this will show companies where they’re failing. And if disclosed to all members of the company, bad or undesirable metrics will also build pressure on leaders to rectify those failings.

4. Demanding Results And Accountability

Once you have the gender metrics out in front of you, you can start a process that ensures level-by-level gender representation. When we demand equal pay for equal work, this holds employers accountable. When hiring, review, and promotion processes are made fair, that’s companies showing initiative. And finally, when we see an equal number of men and women getting bonuses, promotions, and high visibility projects, we’re seeing results. Companies should be holding themselves to newer and gender-equal standards, and employees should be insisting on those results as well.

5. Make Work Flexible

Different gendered circumstances lead to different modes of working. Gender expectations for men require them to be putting in longer hours at work, and even doing more ‘demanding’ kinds of work, while gender expectations require women to balance less vigorous work with their unpaid domestic labour. Currently, two out of three companies surveyed offer flexible work programs, which can certainly help remedy the sexual division of labour, and make both the home and the workplace more gender-equal environments. However, most people don’t opt for these for fear of being penalized, stunting their own careers, or a lack of support from team members. Flexibility of work is most important for both the sexes, especially if childcare is also a significant part of their lives, and companies need to create a work culture that accommodates this too.

The recommendations from “Women in the Workplace 2016” certainly sound very reasonable and actionable, and might also be applied to contexts outside of the United States.

Women in India make up 48.5% of the population, but make up only 13.4% of people with regular salaried jobs. According to Catalyst, a data non-profit, even that tiny workforce of women earns only 56% of what their male colleagues do. And of that already small number, only 14% have made it to top executive positions. While corporate America’s challenge is to begin equalizing the women that are already in their workplaces, ours will be to equalize the number of women entering the workforce in the first place. Even so, the report will be a helpful guide.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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