Women in the Red

An article in Financial Chronicle talks about ‘despite the tall claims corporate India has been making in terms of ensuring gender diversity at the workplace and being gender neutral in terms of opportunities, the depressingly simple fact is that women are paid less than men’; along with inputs from Sonal Arora.
Despite tall claims, India Inc pays women less than men

Who says it’s a fair world? India Inc? Forget it. Despite the tall claims corporate India has been making in terms of ensuring gender diversity at the workplace and being gender neutral in terms of opportunities, the depressingly simple fact is that women are paid less than men.

Consider some statistics that a recent study by Monster.com has put out. As far as India Inc is concerned, on an average, men earned Rs 288.7 per hour in 2015 whereas their female colleagues earned just Rs 215.5, which is 25.4 per cent lesser. This pay gap was 27 per cent in 2013 and 24 per cent in 2014, the study points out.

While traditional sectors like manufacturing are still taking time to usher in the gender paradigm, surprisingly, in new-age information technology (IT), India’s trump card in its claim to economic fame, women are paid lesser than men.

Gender pay gap occurs in two ways — when men and women working at the same level get a differentiated pay as in the case of construction and healthcare sectors. In most other sectors, men and women with the same years of experience get different pay because women lag behind men while scaling up the career ladder, which offers better salaries at each step.

Says Suman Rudra, India HR leader, NCR Corporation: “At the entry level, most organisations do not make a distinction between men and women in terms of pay. But over a period of time, this distinction widens as women are not able to move up in a career as fast as men, for several reasons.” Predictably, societal and familial pressures take a toll on the woman’s career at some point of time while men are left with the freedom to pursue a steady flight in their career.

“Studies have shown that 25 per cent of women in the corporate sector drop out of a job after childbirth as taking care of children and other members of the family and household chores are primarily women’s responsibilities. In many cases, consciously or not, job takes a backseat. Even if a woman gets back to work, her priorities shift in favour of fulfilling family responsibilities. In the process, she is not able to give enough time at work and take up lucrative assignments, affecting promotions and increments,” says Sonal Arora, vice president, Teamlease.

It leads to situations, not uncommon, when women decline a promotion when it requires relocation and extensive travelling. They are also hesitant to move organisations in search of better job prospects, being tied down to family responsibilities.

Despite efforts to redress the balance, it is evident that gender can affect an individual’s earning potential. Points out Sanjay Modi, managing director, APAC and Middle East, Monster.com, “It is disappointing to note that the gender pay gap is evenly reflected across sectors in India. According to many critics, the occupational and personal choices women make explain a significant proportion of the pay gap. Women are constantly faced with tough choices to balance work and personal life. However, many forget that doing so is not her sole responsibility; rather it’s a choice that they end up making.”

When it comes to salaries, women brought up in the Indian cultural milieu are trained not to ask what they need. “During promotion talks and salary negotiations, men are found to be better than women. Men are also demanding when they join new organisations. Women are taught not to be demanding and wait for things to happen in their due course. This has much to do with their cultural upbringing,” explains Arora. This is one of the reasons why women in some sectors like healthcare and construction are paid lesser than men even at the same level.

There are also few sectors which prefer male to female employees, going so far as to even favouring them for promotions to supervisory positions. These sectors have traditionally been male-dominated. Many companies tend to judge performances by the hours an employee spends at the workplace. Men, who hand around for longer hours, are considered better workers compared to women who finish their work and leave early.

Women too find comfort in certain jobs, the selection of which have less to do with career betterment and salary prospects and more with the comfort level they offer in striking a good work-life balance. There are a few factors that are common to women across sectors, the challenges in each one as diverse as the sectors themselves.

Information technology

In case of IT, a sector seen as the most progressive in terms of human resource practices, this gender gap was shockingly high at 34 per cent in 2015. In median, men earned Rs 360.9 per hour whereas women earned only Rs 239.6. While men’s wages have increased marginally between 2013 and 2015, remuneration for women has recorded a significant drop by Rs 55, finds Monster.

IT is also one sector that carries less historical baggage. The companies have a global clientele and are more aware of international best practices and importance of gender diversities. Being a people-driven industry, the management of human resources too is key to the success of an organisation. The employees are largely younger compared to other sectors and the men-women ratio too is much better balanced than in other sectors.

“Women, as in other sectors, face challenges when it comes to taking care of their children and family. But IT companies have always tried to get them back to work. They are proactive in taking steps to provide better work-life balance to their employees, especially women,” explains Hema Parikh, director HR, Ajuba Solutions.

IT companies always claim to adopt women-friendly policies and measures to provide a better work-life balance, but it comes at the cost of pay, increments and promotions. Most companies are flexible in their timings if women have other responsibilities to meet, with some providing options like work from home. Women are also allowed to opt out of overseas assignments, odd-time projects and extensive travelling. But being a constantly evolving sector, employees have to keep pace with changes. There have been occasions when women who take a break find themselves outdated when they join back.

“In IT, performance alone matters. A person who runs around, takes up additional responsibilities and assignments, is going to grow. Women are encouraged to take more responsibility at work with passion. But at the end of the day, women who seek more work-life balance will be recognised accordingly, not equivalently,” admits Parikh.

That’s why, the strength of women staff tapers down as people move up the career ladder. At the junior and mid-level, the ratio between women and men is almost 40 to 50 per cent in IT. But when it comes to the top-level, it is just 10 per cent. Parikh adds: “It was four to five per cent a few years ago, but has moved up to 10 per cent now.”

Says Teamlease’s Arora: “The percentage of women in leadership roles in IT is much better than the entire industry, which is around 5 per cent. But the salaries are significantly higher in the top positions in IT. When you take the weighted average, men will be earning more, as 90 per cent of the highly paid employees are men. This increases the disparity in pay between men and women and hence we are seeing such a gender pay gap in IT.”


In manufacturing, where the women workforce constitutes hardly 20 per cent, the gender pay gap in 2015 was pegged at 34.9 per cent. The average hourly wage for men was Rs 259.8 and women Rs 192.5. This is a difference in wages of Rs 67.3. Men’s wages have increased slightly over the years (a yearly average of Rs 2.45), while women’s wages have slipped from 2013 to 2014, but has picked up slightly in 2015.

“Manufacturing is an old-economy sector with a traditional mindset and heavily dominated by men. In most of the segments, including auto and ancillaries, power and capital goods, we would largely see men across different levels. The mindset is that women are not capable of doing heavy jobs in the sector, though most of the companies have become fully automated,” says Arora.

Manufacturing also does not figure in the list of sectors traditionally preferred by women. “Women find manufacturing less attractive than services. There is a perception that women are inflexible to the needs of the sector like doing night shifts, odd hours and reaching factories away from the cities,’ adds NCR Corporation’s Rudra.

In addition, labour laws for the manufacturing industry do not allow women to work in night shifts, as it is not considered safe. But women in IT and ITeS work on night shifts and odd hours and travel far to get to their offices. The industry has understandably been seeking labour reforms to change some of these archaic perceptions.

Indeed, finding women on the shop floor is difficult in India. Most of them get employed in support functions like administration, finance and human resource management. Even within the manufacturing sector, women employment is different is different segments. Textiles, especially garment manufacturing, employs a lot of women. But textiles have always been driven by cheap labour and women are inadequately paid for the work they put in.

Adds Rudra: “The number of women is slowly increasing in segments which need patience and fine motor skills like electronics, hardware, telecom products.”


A 26 per cent gender pay gap exists in this sector, as men earned Rs 240.6 per hour in 2015, but women only Rs 178.3. In healthcare, women constitute a healthy 22 per cent of the workforce. The numbers, naturally, come down to 16 per cent in mid-level and four per cent at the top level.

The bulk of this women workforce is concentrated in the role of nurses. A nurse takes home a salary, which is a pittance compared to what goes into the pocket of the doctor. In cities, a starting salary of nurses would be Rs 6,000-Rs 8,000 per month, while doctors take away Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh. While the salaries of nurses would have gone up 20 to 30 per cent in the last 10 years, that of doctors have risen by 10 to 15 times. Unfortunately, the number of women doctors in India is a lot lesser compared to men. Due to the rock-bottom salary structures, every year a large chunk of Indian nurses move out to West Asia, the US and the UK, despite scarcity back home.

Points out Ashwajit Singh, managing director, IPE Global: “Nurses work long hours, do night shifts and their working conditions are far from desirable. But their pay is not even comparable to doctors. Even among nurses, male nurses are paid better than their female counterparts. Hospitals, which pay differentiated salary to male and female nurses, justify that men are made to do nursing jobs which need more strength like lifting patients and heavy equipment. Men also get easily promoted to supervisory roles.”

He adds: “The differentiation is evident even among specialised doctors. Generally, women are found in specialties like gynaecology and paediatrics. Cardiology, orthopaedics and neuro surgery, which are the forte of men, are better paid than gynaecology and paediatrics in many private hospitals.”

Missionary hospitals have always propagated the perception that nursing is a social service and hence looking at it as just another job and demanding salaries, is not proper. Women getting into the service are expected to be meek, never demanding salaries due to them. The absence of workers’ unions among nurses too adds to the problem.

In the biotechnology and pharma sectors, which are also part of healthcare, the presence of women is strictly limited. “One has to dedicate more years to education in order to get into research and the job too requires extended hours at work. So women tend to opt out of research,” admits Teamlease’s Arora.


Wage discrimination is rampant in the construction sector as well, which is also highly unorganised. Organised players account for hardly 10 to 15 per cent of the industry. Women in this sector are unskilled labourers at the worksite. For years, their wages have been at least 50 to 60 per cent lower than that of men. Wages go up for skilled labour like masonry, carpentry and plumbing, but these again, are men’s domains.

In supervisory roles too, there are hardly any women. Even within construction companies, women take up support functions like finance and accounting. “Educated women hardly prefer construction-related jobs, as they are expected to deal with labour unions, liaison with government departments and on several occasions, pay a bribe as well. There are very few at leadership positions in construction companies, apart from those women who belong to the promoter family,” points out Arora.

Way ahead

Studies indicate that only 33 per cent women in India are part of the workforce. The contribution of women to the country’s GDP is 17 per cent and India can add at least 16 per cent to the national income if women joined the labour force in proportionate measure, finds a study by Teamlease. Achieving this requires the country to recast its outdated societal outlook substantially. Outdated attitudes and beliefs perpetuated through decades of cultural sanctions and patriarchal hierarchies have set gender roles that hinder equal opportunity.

Says IPE Global’s Singh: “Lower the workforce, lesser will be the salaries. We need to get more women into the workforce and this will automatically raise the pay levels.” He has a point. But typically, efforts to get more women into the workplace needs initiatives from different levels — the government, industry and family.

Extending maternity leave is one such recent initiative to encourage women to get back to work after a break. The recent Model Shops and Establishments Act allow women to work late hours in stores. It will also push up their employment in the retail sector.

“The government should undertake labour reforms for the manufacturing sector, allowing women to work in night shifts. This will increase availability of labour in this sector, especially textiles. Initiatives like startup India should reserve a portion of their funds for women entrepreneurs and also help them with mentoring,” opines Rudra.

Adds Singh: “The government has to fix a minimum wage structure for nurses in order to avoid exploitation by hospitals and drain of nursing talent.”

A proactive industry can bring back the women workforce, which drops out after the proforma maternity break. Some IT companies are beginning to provide creche facilities, flexibility in timing and training to keep women updated, post a break.

When women too find that they are not being discriminated against for bearing a child and taking up family responsibility, they will be motivated to get back to work. Some multinational companies have been setting such examples for others to follow in the industry.

Points out Vinita Shrivastava, senior director, Harman India, HR & global mobility: “There have been occasions in our office where women who had returned from maternity leave were promoted within a week. Also, there are women on our shop floor. There was a glass ceiling a few years ago, but it is breaking at least in the top cities and among companies like ours. Women account for 22 per cent of our workforce and we expect this to go up to 30 to 35 per cent in the near future.”

Companies have also been conducting programmes to sensitise employees about gender diversity at the workplace. “These sensitisation programmes should also be conducted for families of the employees. If families are willing to share household responsibilities, women can dedicate more time and energy for their work,” says Arora. If all goes according to plan, hopefully, this gender-gap would get a lot less narrow than it is now.

This article was published in Financial Chronicle

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