The possibility of launching a new work programme to narrow the gender gap in India
Gender gap in workplaces is the norm rather than an exception (Allen, 2016). While this holds true for both developed as well as developing countries, the latter tend to be on the lower edge of the spectrum. India is a country poised to take off towards new highs. However, the gender gap is a problem that needs to be addressed on a war footing to ensure that the country can achieve its objectives with the least amount of lag. While much has been spoken on the topic of gender gap, the issue is a complicated one. It is not only about the lower number of women workers, particularly in the age group of 25-35; but also about the disparity of pay when compared to their male counterparts (Global Gender Gap Report 2015, 2016).
While there are many who may support the viewpoint that the disparity is primarily due to personal choices, it is important to understand why women lag behind during a very productive phase of their career (How to Become, 2016). Interestingly, this bias is more predominant in traditional male bastions like finance, law enforcement and so on (Ft.com, 2016); while professions that were dominated by women like nursing, teaching and so on continue to thrive. An analysis of this diversity in the workplace is essential before adopting concrete steps to overcome this divide. Unless early measures are not adopted, the corporate peak would continue to remain out of the reach of most women in India (How to Become, 2016).
The cost of such initiatives would he high during the initial phases. However, the public exchequer must be ready to bear the burden for the greater good of the country. Instead of merely providing lip service to the initiative, the government must work towards eliminating the various myths associated with women sharing workplaces and becoming economically independent (Batliwala and Dhanraj, 2004). By ensuring that the skilled woman is provided with the infrastructural support to actively contribute to the global workforce, India would be able to tap into a highly underutilized resource (Global Gender Gap Report 2015, 2016). This would help significantly reduce the net cost of the programme working towards better gender equality in the country. Although the gap between men and women has narrowed down over the last decade, the percentages are still significantly thin and much needs to be done on this front.
Public acceptance is the first positive step that would lay the foundation for better workplace practices that would help eliminate gender discrimination. The disparity in pay as well as attitude between men and women is a major area of concern in India (Das et al., 2015). Despite the high level of education, women still tend to take time off immediately after childbirth. While many do return after a hiatus of 5 to 8 years, the damage done to their career is irreversible (Batliwala and Dhanraj, 2004). Most of their male counterparts and in many cases their subordinates as well, would have advanced significantly in their careers; while the women returning for their second innings are forced to start off from where they stopped or even from scratch in some cases. This means that in the years going forward, the woman worker, would remain at a position below that of her male colleagues despite having started off together, making the entire process of climbing the corporate ladder with a big handicap of the lost years.
While there are women in the present generation, who tend not to take time off from work; their numbers are minimal. These women easily reach the higher rungs of the corporate ladder. Indian women like Chanda Kochhar (CEO-ICICI Bank, India), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Chairman and MD, Biocon Limited) and Indira Nooyi (CEO, PepsiCo) are however, still the exception rather than the norm. While these women are representative of a changing mindset in India, most women tend to take due to the responsibilities of childbirth and rearing. This trend can change only when workplaces foster gender equality and initiate steps for the career advancement of women. This is easily achieved by adopting measures to combat the job segregation based on gender, increasing awareness and information among the public as well as promoting studies into issues dealing with equality at workplaces. Only by garnering public acceptance, would it be possible for women to find their rightful place in modern day workplaces.
Ease of implementation
Implementing these measures would require considerable efforts on the part of women workers, employers, NGOs, state and central government as well as in schools which are the grass root points to initiate change in attitude towards women in all spheres of work. Gender equality is not merely a statement displayed at the reception stating that the organization is an equal opportunity partner. While the right to equality is a fundamental right of all citizens, the ground reality presents an entirely different picture. In India, the gender bias and discrimination against women begins even before childbirth. Female infanticide is a major cause for high infant mortality rate in the country. This discrimination continues all through the life of the female child, who is constantly told that she is a second class citizen. This attitude, particularly among the rural population has resulted in a grossly disproportionate male to female ratio as well.
Interestingly, while women make up more than half the population, gender discrimination can be seen even in highly developed countries like UK and USA. The challenges presented by job creation, career growth and inclusion are interlinked at a basic level and therefore, any impact on one would reflect adversely on the others (Ms. Kalpana Kochhar., 2013). Studies show that not only do women employees tend to be paid as much as 25 per cent lower than their male counterparts (Bertrand and Hallock, 2001); the secrecy surrounding the remunerations makes it easier for the organization to keep a lid on such practices (Ft.com, 2016).
While various state governments, NGOs and the central government are working hard at eliminating this attitude ingrained since birth, the path is not an easy one. Unless the problem is tackled at the grassroots levels, all efforts to bring about job parity and reduced gender discrimination at the workplace would be a failure (Beneri?a, 2003). While these remains significant evidence that the economy can look forward to a significant growth, when women are given the opportunity to develop; social pressure often tends to throw an anvil in the works Ms. Kalpana Kochhar., 2013). Data from the last ten years clearly shows that though a change is in progress it is a slow process and relative in nature. Thus, while the initiates are in place, the impact varies from country to country. While Nordic countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway lead the pack; developing countries like India are found towards the end of the spectrum (Global Gender Gap Report 2015, 2016).
Policy initiatives are the need of the hour. Just as the girl child enjoys benefits like the Ladli Lakshmi scheme; the woman at the workplace must also be allowed opportunity to explore and develop her full potential. Boosting female economic participation alone would pave the way for enhanced social spending, an increase in the flexibility of the labor market as well as overall infrastructural investment (Das et al., 2015). Unlocking gender equality and creating a more gender equal society would mean that efforts must be made to improve women’s access in areas like maternal health, family planning, digital and financial inclusion and education as well as all possible assistance through unpaid care and related works.
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