When it comes to pay, promotions, second careers or work conditions for blue-collared women workers, there is still a long way to go.
On the same day that the State Bank of India (SBI) announced that its employees - especially women - can work from home, a top management executive from Kerala was overlooked for a C-Suite position because of her gender.
While India Inc has made efforts to make life easier for working women, glass ceilings are yet to be shattered. When it comes to pay, promotions, second careers or work conditions for blue-collared women workers, there is still a long way to go.
Sanjay Modi, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific & Middle-East at Monster.com, said that in India, the gender pay gap story holds true and the overall gap across India Inc is at 25 percent.
“This [the gap] primarily is a manifestation of the underlying diversity challenges that organisations currently face,” he said. "There is a dire need for tangible initiatives to bridge this pay gap with removing structural impediments to women's growth providing access to skills training, jobs; and decision-making."
Human resource consultants are of the view that however progressive companies may be, whether it is in terms of work-life benefits or flexible conditions for women, some biases do creep in. For instance, a pregnant woman is often discouraged from taking up crucial projects for fear of her quitting or ignoring office duties.
“Unless you have a strong mentor, be it your top boss or woman supervisor, it is indeed a task to get back with the same dignity and at an equal post," said a senior HR official. "Many companies do have policies, but they only exist on paper.”
There is also an inherent belief that the male member is the sole earner in most middle class families, an opinion echoed by recent studies. A survey conducted by Apollo Munich Health Insurance in collaboration with AC Nielsen revealed that more than 80 percent of men and women polled believe that the breadwinner should be the first to be insured against life and health related risks.
As per the Monster Salary Index on gender, despite conversations on equal pay and initiatives being taken to create a more inclusive environment, 62.4 percent of women feel that their male counterparts get more promotion opportunities and gender continues to play a role in deciding promotions along with other parameters.
It is shocking to note that only 14.7 percent of women stated that their organisations have regular gender diversity programmes for all employees. Modi said that unexamined conventions of women’s commitment to work, distractions of family commitments, and societal perception of women who work for long hours are the challenges that constrain women’s progress.
Some steps are being taken to make women feel more included, though HR experts feel that it is not adequate.
Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has an all-women branch (AWB). This was conceptualised in 2014 as a startup pilot and implemented in 2015. These branches are run by women employees who hire, recruit and train women to sell general insurance products.
The AWB today has a network of 31 branches in both metros and tier 2 cities with 1,300 women agents associated with it and 200 women employees running the show.
The company plans to expand the AWB initiative to 50 offices in 2018-19 pan-India.
Private sector lender ICICI Bank, had a year ago launched iWork@home, to enable employees to work from home for a long period of time, up to a year, initially. This period is further extendable.
Origins of the Gap
Saundarya Rajesh, Founder, President, AVTAR Group, which is a diversity advocate, said that in the Western countries, women entered the workplace for the first time in large numbers, due to the Second World War.
This caused all the jobs on the shop-floor in all the manufacturing and production plants, which were a result of the Industrial Revolution and were handled only by men till then who had to suddenly leave to fight the war, to be handed over to women. This meant that women were all of a sudden handling the heavy-duty hard labour-intensive jobs till then done only by men.
As such, more women were required to perform the jobs and company management felt that pay had to be reduced since more women were doing lesser amount of work. According to her, thus was the beginning of the gender pay gap.
With respect to India, there is a gender wage gap. She said that this is because more women (48 percent of all working women under the age of 30 years) take a career break at least once. If you were to compute their hypothetical earnings, which could have accrued to them had they continued working, then a wage gap does arise.
However, if you take the case of the Best 100 Companies for Women in India (an initiative run by AVTAR & Working Mother), Rajesh said that you will find that not a single company has a wage differential.
Though slow progress is being made with diversity and inclusion being made part of board-approved policies, the glass ceiling has just begun to crack. Breaking it will still need a stronger force and commitment from the organisations.