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Women & Work - what we’ve been reading in Apr 2023
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
To everyone who is new here: At the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), we are working on an ambitious project to understand and find ways to overcome the demand-side barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce.
We are curating ‘Women & Work’ with the hope that it can provoke, stimulate and amplify conversations about women’s participation in paid work in India.
You can access previous editions of this newsletter here.
Please do share this edition on your social media, and with your friends, family and colleagues. Thank you!
🗞️In The News
The month of April began with a notable milestone. Shefali Goradia became Deloitte India’s chairperson effective April 01, 2023. This is the first time a ‘Big Four’ firm in India is being led by a woman. We’d say it was high time, wasn’t it?
What does Shark Tank India tell us about women’s entrepreneurship in India? A fascinating analysis in Mint looked at the 320 startups pitched on the popular Indian TV series, and found that start-ups with women-majority teams constituted less than 15 percent of all the pitches made on the show. Further, just nine pitches came from all-women teams that belonged to a Tier-II or Tier-III city. In addition to numbers, there was also a gender-skew in terms of what sectors the pitches were from, the analysis found. Nearly all the pitches made by women-majority teams were for products in the beauty, clothing, and home furnishing categories, while men dominated technology, electronics, and media industries. Read the full analysis here.
Five among the NIFTY100 companies did not have a woman director on their board as of March 31, 2023, an analysis of corporate governance data by Excellence Enablers has found. The five included four public sector units (including one bank) and one private company. The Companies Act, 2013 mandates all listed companies to ensure there is at least one woman independent director on the company board, yet each year, analyses such as these throw up a few companies that have all-male boards. We wonder when that will finally change?
The gender wage gap remains wide and skewed in favour of men nearly everywhere in the world. Two reports published earlier this month looked at the pay gaps in two advanced economies - the United Kingdom and Japan. In the UK, the median female employee earned 9.4 percent less than her median male peer in 2022-23, a BBC analysis found. The gap was the widest in two sectors - banking and finance and in construction: in both, women earned 22.1 percent less than men on average. Read the full analysis here.
In Japan, women’s earnings have doubled in the past two decades, but the average woman in the country earns only a fourth of what an average Japanese man earns, a Bloomberg analysis revealed. On average, women earned 83,896 yen each month, while the average male worker earned 3,45,645 yen every month, household survey data showed. Read more here.
And lastly, here’s more evidence of how Covid-19 pandemic had a disproportionately debilitating impact on women’s work. An analysis published in The BMJ shows that compared to 2019, women’s publication output dropped by 15 percent in 2020. Of the three million submissions to major health and medical journals in the first half of 2020, just 36% were from women, the analysis finds. And this was true across research, non-research articles and across journals.
Notes The BMJ:
“The top medical journals, all of which have made public commitments to gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, nevertheless shrank the perspectives they provided during the world’s global health emergency, prominently elevating male authors.”
Read more here.
Between 2014 and 2019, Rwanda’s female labour force participation rate fell from 84 percent to 52 percent. What could have happened in a matter of five years that led to such a drastic drop of women out of the labour force?
If you’re thinking “data”, “measurement”, “methodology”, you’re right!
A paper by Isis Gaddis and others (2022) gives the context for this.
In 2013, at the International Conference of Labour Statisticians, the standards and definitions of labour-related statistics underwent a change. The concept of “employment” was changed – narrowed down - to only that work that earned a person some form of remuneration. So, subsistence farming, for instance, where a person cultivates something for their own use, stopped being counted as employment post this change, Gaddis et al (2022) explain. That work does get counted but as “own-use production work”.
These new definitions - that have since been slowly incorporated into national reporting systems - could lead to some concerns, the researchers anticipated in their paper.
First, the revised data would lead to lower employment-to-population ratios in rural regions giving “the impression of rural populations much less reliant on agriculture and much further along in the process of structural change than what was indicated by the previous standards”.
Second, in societies where agricultural labour and roles are highly gendered, women are less likely than men to produce only/mainly for the purpose of selling. Therefore, the fall in women’s labour force participation rates is likely to be sharper.
That brings us back to Rwanda - a recent blog published in the World Bank suggests that these definitional changes are likely behind what those numbers are reflecting.
India hasn’t yet adopted the new definitions of measuring work. Our female labour force participation rate remains so low despite this - with the high share of women engaged in unpaid economic work, we can only shudder to think what those numbers would look like if the definition were to change.
😉 Just Saying
Men are more likely to receive some form of vocational/technical training as compared to women, data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey shows. More than a quarter of Indian men in the working age group (15-59 years) received some form of training in 2021-22. The corresponding share for women was less than half of that (12.3 percent).
While the share of those who had received any form of formal training was low for both men and women, women lagged behind on informal training, particularly on on-the-job training. While 9.4 percent of men reported receiving this form of (informal) training, among women the corresponding share was only 2.2 percent.
(Analysis: Dhruvika Dhamija/CEDA)
👍 CEDA Recommends
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Kanika Mahajan, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka University and a core team member at CEDA.
What’s an essential academic work that you would recommend to someone who is just getting started with working on the subject of female labour force participation?
Kanika Mahajan: A book that has highly influenced my work and thought process in the context of gender and labour markets is “Woman's role in economic development” by Ester Boserup. It is a treatise for anyone who wishes to understand historical processes which underpin current gender disparities in economic outcomes.
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
Actually, not one, but a string of reports and briefs which speak about involving women in traditionally male-dominated occupations have caught my attention. For instance, this report by the World Bank talks about initiatives in Jharkhand which have trained women in masonry – a job that is usually done by men in India. These women have been involved in constructing toilets under the Swachch Bharat Mission – a good that has shown to be more preferred by women than men in the household.
A recent video report by Bloomberg Quint showed how women were being trained to drive buses in Bangalore under an initiative of the government – again driving buses or commercial transport is male-dominated in India.
I have also seen initiatives on job portals where women are encouraged to apply in male-dominated sectors through referral incentives. Given the extant gender segregation in occupations in India, one way to increase women’s labour market engagement is to bring them into the male-dominated sectors. That said, this needs scale for women to stick around in these jobs and infrastructure that caters to their specific needs (for example, in the case of construction and driving occupations we need adequate access to public toilets).
Is there a film that you can recommend which, in your opinion, does a good job of portraying the world of work?
I have three recommendations!
Two recommendations are from television series - ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Marvellous Mrs Maisel’. Both are stories set in fields which are male-dominated - the first in the advertising sector and the second in stand-up comedy. They wonderfully illustrate workplace issues that women face when trying to get hired or promoted in spaces where men dominate different hierarchical layers.
The third is a recent Indian movie ‘Tumhari Sulu’ - it depicts family disapproval of women’s work since it is thought to negatively affect child-care. I felt the film was a great take on social norms in our society that always associate children’s well-being with a mother who is not working.
And a book that did the same?
I have thoroughly enjoyed two books in the recent past - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood which is a work of fiction but not too far away from some realities where the freedom earned by women has been taken away by autocratic regimes. It reminds us that women’s movement is an ongoing process and we should not take it for granted that the path will always be linear. I also enjoyed The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni which tells the story of Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective. It is a wonderful feminist take on the epic.
“In several states…the average wages per manday paid to female unskilled workers was less than what was paid to the male unskilled workers. While the financial loss to women is apparent, implication of this preferential treatment of male unskilled workers, the more germane issue is the psychological one. The denial of equal wages besides being in violation of Constitutional provisions also relegates the women worker to an inferior social position.”
Those were among the many observations in the first report of the Indian Parliament’s Committee on Empowerment of Women (1998-99) set up to focus on developmental schemes for rural women. Chaired by Dr. Najma Heptulla, the committee focused on various aspects of rural development from the perspective of women. The observation above was made in the context of the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, a scheme that was launched with the vision to create gainful employment opportunities, especially for those from marginalised communities.
The committee noted that despite guidelines that mandated that 30 percent of employment opportunities be reserved for women, women benefited from only 16.6 percent of the employment generated. It also expressed its concern over the gap between the earnings of male and female workers, and recommended that suitable steps be taken to ensure more women could benefit from the scheme and that there was no disparity between the wages paid to men and women.
That’s all from us for this edition. Thank you for reading! We will see you next month. In the meantime, if you have feedback, questions, tips, or just want to say hello, feel free to do so by replying to this email, or drop in a word at email@example.com.
Curated by: Akshi Chawla for the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA), Ashoka University. Cover illustration: Nithya Subramanian