Women & Work - all you need to know from January 2024
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
In this packed edition, we bring you all the important – some encouraging, some worrying – news updates about women and work, some telling research, a heartwarming throwback and lots of recommendations!
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. If you like this edition, please do share it on your social media, and with your friends, family and colleagues. Thank you!
🗞️In The News
More women are getting promoted to partner roles in India’s premium law firms, a report in The Economic Times suggests. While women accounted for a third of all promotions across corporate law firms before the Covid-19 pandemic, they now make up 40 percent of the promoted pool, research from Vahura, a legal research firm indicates, the report said, adding that 42-45 percent of newly appointed partners in the past three years have been women. Read more here.
A field report in the Business Standard serves as a stark reminder of the precarious nature of women’s work in India. In Punjab, men who had migrated out of India are returning to their villages in the wake of tightening immigration rules in several countries. As they return, employers - from MGNREGA contractors to those running food processing units – who were thus far employing women are now turning to these men, leaving the women without jobs and money. Read the full report here.
Two news reports in The Economic Times shed the spotlight on the competing priorities of India Inc. The first is an encouraging one. India’s large companies are intensifying their efforts to find female candidates to fill in top managerial positions, the report says. A growing thrust on improving environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, a strong push from company boards to improve diversity at CXO levels as well as growing preference of investors to invest in companies that perform well on gender diversity seems to be driving this. Read the full report here.
On the other hand, another report says that women jobseekers are facing greater scrutiny in a tightening job market. As team sizes shrink and the pressure on the supply for jobs outstrips the demand, gender bias in recruitment rooms of Indian firms is likely to get exacerbated. Read here.
The Maharashtra government is planning to launch a “Pink Rickshaw” scheme soon. The aim is twofold – to generate employment for women who will drive them, and to provide safe means of transport for women commuters, enabling their participation in the workforce. The e-rickshaws will be partially subsidised, partially financed by banks and the scheme will run in ten cities in the state. More on this here.
Women comprised 50 percent of the operational staff on the recently inaugurated 17-km stretch of the Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS). The National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) that runs the project aims to keep this trend going for upcoming stretches too. Read more here.
Apple is set to become the first big tech company with an equal share of men and women on its board of directors, El Pais has reported. The company’s board will have four women and four men subject to its shareholders’ approval next month. Read here.
In this edition, we bring you a striking excerpt from the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ report, Women and Men at Work. Researched and authored by Alison Andrew, Oriana Bandiera, Monica Costa-Dias and Camille Landais, the report looks at the differences between men and women in the United Kingdom in “all activities that can be labelled as ‘work’”.
Using panel data for the period 1991-2017 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), the authors find that the gender gaps in earnings are smaller during the teens and early twenties, and only emerge in the mid-20s and early 30s, corresponding to the birth of children. This is driven by the fact that post childbirth, on average, women work fewer hours (as they take up the bulk of childcare responsibilities).
Even more telling is the next finding: the above is as true for couples where the male partner was earning more prior to childbirth, as it is for couples where the female partner was earning more.
So, it is not that women are taking a step back from work after childbirth as an economically rational decision by couples to maximise earnings.
The authors note:
“The stark divergence in the patterns of paid work after parenthood…could be due to fathers earning a higher wage rate than mothers at the time they have their first child. Pressed with the financial and time demands of raising children, couples may decide to prioritise the paid work of the parent with the greater earnings capacity while the other parent takes on the main caring responsibilities.
“[However] what emerges in Figure 19 does not corroborate the claim that couples prioritise the work of the parent with higher earnings. Regardless of which parent had earned the most pre-birth, women’s employment falls by about 20 percent below its pre-birth level during the first years of parenthood and does not appreciably recover over the following decade.”
Read more on this and other aspects of women and men’s participation in work in the insightful report here.
There is a gender gap in the labour force participation rates across age groups, but note how it widens significantly for the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups (men’s LFPR is near universal in the latter). These are the corresponding age groups when women are most likely to get married and have their first child. Read more on this and about the LFPR of India’s youth in our analysis here.
👍 CEDA Recommends
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Abhinash Borah, Associate Professor of Economics, Ashoka University
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?
Abhinash Borah: For anyone interested in understanding FLFP from a conceptual point of view, I recommend going through the work of Pierre-Andre Chiappori and his co-authors, who analyse the interplay of education, marriage, and labour supply decisions within equilibrium settings. For example, one may look at “Investment in schooling and the marriage market” (Chiappori, Iyigun and Weiss, AER, 2009) and “The marriage market, labor supply, and education choice” (Chiappori, Dias and Mehgir, JPE, 2018). Browning, Chiapppori and Weiss’s book “Economics of the Family” (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is also an excellent reference.
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
I found the Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report, 2023 to be an interesting read. The report highlights the growth in women-led startups in recent years. For example, the proportion of startups led by female founders rose from 10 percent in 2017 to 18 percent in 2022. Women-led unicorns increased from 8 percent to 17 percent during this same period. The report also highlights the difference between women-led and men-led startups regarding women in senior roles, with the former having 2.5 times more women in these positions.
Is there a film that you can recommend which, in your opinion, does a good job of portraying the world of work from a gender lens?
Abhimaan, the 1973 Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic, continues to retain its relevance. Its theme hasn’t aged even fifty years after its release as the struggles of the female lead Uma to balance a professional career while having to play second fiddle in married life to her husband’s ego continues to reverberate through society. Not to be missed are the songs and S.D. Burman’s beautiful music composition.
And a book that did the same?
Only Paradoxes to Offer (Harvard University Press, 1996) by the feminist historian Joan Scott is a book I will recommend. Scott’s point is not specifically to the theme of women and work but extends to the very conditions of women’s entry into the public/political space. Scott’s argument reiterates the almost impossible choice that women have faced in their long march to claim this space.
On the one hand, the very premise of this claim is the equality between women and men. On the other, by making these claims in the name of women and the specific challenges they face, they have had to reference the very difference they sought to eliminate in the first place. This paradox — the need to both accept and reject sexual difference at the same time — is constitutive of feminist struggles to claim public spaces, including workspaces. Scott’s work is a reminder of why, even though the long arc of history, presumably, does bend toward justice, this process is often painstakingly slow and fractious.
In 1972, a group of twelve female scientists came together to set up the Indian Women Scientists’ Association (IWSA). The women wanted to take their work beyond the laboratory and use science and technology for the upliftment of those who were not so privileged, especially women.
What began as a simple mission has grown over the years to be a lot more — running community spaces and programmes for women and children, setting up a working women's hostel, daycare centres, and most importantly, a community of mentorship, solidarity and support, all guided by love and curiosity for science.
Last year marked the completion of fifty years of the association (it was formally registered in June 1973). On its golden jubilee, Vogue India spoke to some of its members. Read the heartwarming report here.
“People would say, ‘Isn’t it that woman-woman place in Vashi where you all get together to gossip?’...[but] “when those same people were invited to our events, their eyes would pop out at the calibre of our work,” Dr Rita Mukhopadhyaya, a former President of the Association, told Vogue India.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Curated by: Akshi Chawla for the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA), Ashoka University. Cover illustration: Nithya Subramanian