It is no secret that gender disparity in the Indian workplace is a growing concern that needs addressing. Women’s participation in India’s labour force has seen a decline by about 10% since 2005, according to an ILO study. Among the several reasons that have been cited for this decline, socio-political factors constitute a large chunk. So, we decided to find out what is it that Indian women across different backgrounds are being denied in the workforce.
“Everybody is an engineer in my house. [I] had to become an engineer, though I was wanting to come into journalism or some creative style of work, but this was kind of discouraged in my family. In the sense that, work[ing] off-hours or erratic timings, wasn’t very open to my family,” says Neha, an engineer.
For many women, elders citing familial responsibilities and safety as concerns for not taking up male dominated careers such as IPS officers, pilots, defense, etc. is also an an all too familiar reality.
“Indian companies still expect women to be clones of men,” says Sangeeta Robinson, senior CSR advisor at ThinkThrough Consulting. “Their differences are still perceived as disadvantages rather than advantages. And women are still considered to be seen in more traditional roles than as hard-core sales professionals, or as authorities in the manufacturing and technology sector.”
Sangeeta’s words are a reality for many women who are constantly required to choose between having families and careers. Those that choose the former, end up without opportunity for professional growth.
In India, women with salaried jobs earn only 56% of what their male colleagues do. This needs to change immediately.
Anita, a TV producer, said that during her campus placement, her classmate – a man – was offered twice as much as her and it was for the same job role. “I wondered – is it a gender thing, or if he’s just a better negotiator? Either way, it’s unfair,” she recounts.
“Despite India Inc’s best intentions on a good gender balance and bringing progressive policies – dealing with sexual harassment has at best remained a lip service. There is also a more implicit way that sexism is showing up – which is only now beginning to get some attention,” says Nidhi Taparia, founder of Kacima Digital.
Sexism and sexual harassment can be hard to deal with and can even ruin women’s careers. We not only need to instate sexual harassment policies, but also generate better awareness about women’s workplace rights.
For many women in India, career wings are clipped even before they can start a career for themselves, because of lack of economic and social support when it comes to education and training. Poverty, familial prejudice and other socio-cultural factors often get in the way of their ambitions.
Says Mamta, a domestic worker, “It was my childhood dream to become a nurse. I wanted to do a GNM [General Nursing and Midwifery] course, but my mother didn’t have enough money for it.”
This is also the story of millions of Indian girls.
Says Rammawi, a primary school teacher, “I only studied till Class XI, but I want to complete my Class XII. My parents said that I could not continue studying, that’s why I stopped going to school. I have been working as a primary school teacher for the last one year. But I want to pursue higher education.”
Women constitute a significant chunk of the labour that goes into the informal sectors of work, such as construction work, street vendors and farmers. However, their work remains largely unrecognised and opportunity for personal growth and economic welfare remain rather slim, because of unfair wages and long working hours. This needs to change.
Says Neelima, a CISF security official with the Delhi Metro, “So many women in rural areas don’t even have working opportunities. Many of them work several hours just to earn 100-200 INR a day. The government should do something for them.”
Many occupations in India are treated as too ‘unconventional’ and lacking ‘security’. Women interested in such fields are often discouraged from taking it up as careers, resulting in them taking up jobs they’re not interested in. One such example is professional gaming.
Says Saswati Chatterjee, an avid gamer, “It would be great if gaming would be taken more seriously in India and not just as ‘time-pass’, both for men and women.”
Many women are forced to quit their jobs after attaining motherhood. Despite the fact that they are willing to put in the hours of work required, they are phased out of important conversations, meetings and tasks, leading to stunted professional development.
Says Vinitha Ramchandani, consulting editor of the Economic And Political Weekly, “In the last five years that I have resumed full-time work (I worked part-time after the birth of my second child), even telling my prospective employers at the time of joining that I would leave dot on time, meant first dealing with my own sense of shame, and then being prepared to see the look of disappointment in their eyes. Despite having reiterated multiple times that my work output will remain unaffected– whenever I leave work, I feel everyone is watching me.”
For women working as domestic workers in India, caste and class bias means that even basic respect, humane treatment and dignity are not options.
“Those who I work for treat me very poorly, as if I am inferior to them. If my employer gives me some tea, then it is not in the cup they use. They keep a separate cup for me,” says Reena, a domestic worker.
For women in the workplace, whether formal or informal, the challenge is not just making it big in their careers, but also getting due support at home.
Says Asleen Anand, a public relations professional, “When you get married it gets tougher to manage your career and home. I work in a corporate and timing is always an issue. Yet, no matter what time I reach home, I am expected to enter the kitchen, slice onions, fix a meal and be a good homemaker!”
Why has the female labour participation dipped in the Indian workforce? Join the conversation at an important event hosted by ILO-India with the Feminist Economist Saturday Discussion Group on Wednesday, 1 March, from 2- 5:45 p.m. Find out more and confirm your participation here.