Bridging The Gender Gap in Employment & Pay

Bridging The Gender Gap in Employment & Pay

By Diya Uday, 
Legal Researcher and Policy Analyst, 
Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai

World over, human rights groups and feminists are raising concerns over seemingly apparent gender gaps in employment. Amongst them is the cry to bridge a gender pay gap. 

First, there seems to be general confusion about what a gender pay gap means. Many identify it with equal pay for equal work. Equal pay for equal work essentially is a demand that men and women, doing similar work, be remunerated equally. A gender pay gap is a larger issue and is essentially data collected on the difference between the average earnings of men and women.

While the two concepts may appear the same, data for the latter, is collected with the aim to also shed light on other employment related issues. Disparity in employment patterns, natures of contracts and unequal gender distribution across a sector or multiple sectors can be deduced.

Second, and quite naturally, the logical thing to ask is if a Gender Pay Gap exists in India and if so, is there hard data to back this claim? Data reveals that the average gender pay gap in India is approximately 54% for years 2006 to 2011(Source: Statistics are vital to answering concerns and the numbers seem to indicate that there is a growing one over equal pay.

Apart from the the actual variation in the pay gap, the data collected has revealed interesting trends. First, it reveals that the gender pay gap has narrowed over the years. The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) released by the World Economic Forum has also indicated a positive leap for India from being ranked at 98  (out to 144) to 87. More recent data also indicates that this gap is now at 25%(Source:Monster Salary Index).

So what is the fuss about?

Well, a closer look at GGGR data collected under the broad head of “economic participation and  opportunity in India” reveals that India ranks a dismal 103 (out of 144) when it comes wage equality for similar work.

This is also in-line with national data, which reveals a gender pay gap despite equal work experience.

Further, the data also reveals that the pay gap increases at senior levels, possibly indicative of that ever eluding, politically incorrect glass ceiling. It could also be indicative of differences in the number of hours spent working and level of educational qualifications.

Another interesting fact, is the sector wise difference in the Gender Pay Gap (Source:

Now, a lot of naysayers argue that choices that women make may account for differences in pay. A man might put in more hours at work, or be better qualified. To my mind, those are also signals that divulge many telling features of society as a whole (not necessarily relevant to India only).

Traditional gender roles might dictate a lot of the choices that women make regarding employment. Among these, is the notion that a woman must ideally work a limited number of hours to take care of domestic and other activities (a notion I am happy to see fast changing among young professionals).

Another is that domestic chores are a woman’s responsibility.This is especially unfair where both partners work same or similar hours. Yet another notion is that there are a set of ‘appropriate’ career choices for women, that allow women to manage their personal and professional lives. The bottom line is that this sort of thinking does not allow a woman to make a free choice about the path she wants to follow. The fight therefore, must be for women being allowed to make free choices with respect to employment, regardless of whether her decision is to pursue a career or stay home.

While set norms and unspoken rules are always difficult to change, rules at a work place are not. It is entirely possible for employers to allow women (and men who also see domestic activities as their responsibility) flexible timings, provisions for on-site child care and adequate maternity and paternity leave and still have a very productive and loyal workforce. There are companies with  proven track records that provide employee benefits such as these. Facebook Inc. for instance is known to grant a well-deserved and generous four-month maternity and paternity leave to all employees and a reimbursement of day-care facility fees. Other companies like Google are also known to grant maternity leave with pay and allow flexible hours.

In addition to directly helping women employees, this will also reinforce the idea of shared responsibilities in society. Currently, our laws do not necessarily reflect this concept. For instance, the recent Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2016, states that employers may permit a women to work from home if it is possible for her to do so. While it is a progressive step towards bridging gender gaps in work places, it also ignores some important aspects such as paternity leave or corresponding flexibility for male employees with new born babies. When asked why these were not included in the amendment, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development said, (that) “Paternity leave can be considered only, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave. We find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

This sort of thinking reflects our values today and clearly needs to change. And change will come. But until then, maybe it is time that employer’s shouldered some amount of this responsibility in bridging these gender gaps.

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