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Women & Work - what we’ve been reading in September 2023
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
The 2023 edition of the State of Working India report was released this month. It sounded a sobering note of caution on the status of women’s employment in the country. We bring you some updates from the report, along with noteworthy news and research updates in this edition.
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
On Sep 01, Jaya Varma Sinha took over as the CEO and Chair of the Indian Railways Board. She’s the first woman to lead the Board since it was set up in 1905. Quite the wait it has been! Read more here.
The State of Working India, 2023, a flagship report of the Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment, was released earlier this month. It sheds light on various critical aspects of the labour market in India. When it comes to female labour force participation in India, the report makes some very striking observations.
Between 2017 and 2021, in net terms, Indian women lost out on formal employment even though formal employment opportunities increased in the period.
Gender-based discrimination is one of the many forms of discrimination and inequality in our society. Caste, religion, ethnicity and even regional location often determine (and limit) one’s access to opportunities. The report observes that when it comes to gaps in wages, the raw gender earnings gap has reduced over time but gender-based penalties remain much higher than caste and religion-based ones (controlling for individual and household characteristics as well as industry and occupation). It also notes that between 1983 and 2021, while caste-based industrial segregation decreased, gender-based segregation actually increased. Read more here.
In addition to the 26 weeks of maternity leave as mandated by the law, CitiBank will now offer women who have given birth the option to work remotely for up to 12 months post the leave. Women can also request to work remotely during the last trimester of their pregnancy, if required, The Times of India reported.
With this initiative, CitiBank has joined other global financial organisations that are offering various maternity support policies to retain women employees, a Bloomberg report notes. HSBC Bank, for example, pays for childcare along with providing flexible hours. Morgan Stanley pays for cab rides during the last trimester. Read the full report here.
While it is encouraging to see some of the global organisations going beyond the mandate of law to support their employees, a report in The Ken sounds a note of caution. While bigger companies have the ability to absorb costs of maternity leave (and other benefits), many smaller firms do not. As such, the maternity leave could be harming women’s employment, says the report, arguing that we need to think differently about who foots the bill of this policy. Read here.
In order to give women’s labour force participation a push, Malaysia’s government is currently adopting a three-pronged strategy. This includes strengthening laws and policies that impact women in the workforce, creating the right support structures including subsidised daycare centres and financial aid for women entrepreneurs and third, improving access to training and capacity building. With this, the government hopes to push the country’s FLFPR from the current 56.2 percent to 60 percent. Read more from the New Straits Times here.
✍️ From Our Desk
Does the size of an organisation have any link to the share of women it employs? Based on their analysis of data from various economic datasets, Pubali Chakraborty and Kanika Mahajan argue that it does.
Firms with a higher number of employees tend to employ a larger proportion of women, possibly because they offer better non-wage benefits (such as maternity leave, childcare, transport, paid leaves and healthcare benefits) to workers. Read more in CEDA’s Data Narrative here.
When it comes to addressing gender gaps, sometimes even seemingly small steps and tweaks can make an impact.
In January 2020, a large multinational technology firm collaborated with a group of researchers with the aim to find ways of improving pay equity. The researchers – Jakob Alfitian, Marvin Deversi and Dirk Sliwka – designed a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test some tweaks in the appraisal process.
They found that simple modifications to the salary review process could help. Their findings were published in a Discussion Paper by the IZA Institute of Labour Economics earlier this year.
Here’s more context on what they designed and found. But first, let’s look at the existing situation and practices at the firm prior to this experiment
Employees’ salaries are determined by their job family (based on their job profile) and job level (depending on level of proficiency/seniority).
Based on the market rates prevailing in a country, a salary band for each job is determined. Each employee earns within the band for their job role.
Each year, the company arrives at a country budget rate, based on which a certain budget is made available to middle managers for their team’s appraisals.
Women employees in the company earned 13 percent less than male employees on average, the researchers note. However, when adjusted for job family and job level the pay gap narrows to 2.3 percent. That is, for the same job profile and level, women employees were earning 2.3 percent less than their male peers on average.
What was exacerbating this was the gender gap in appraisals. On average, the salary increase for women was 11.65 percentage points lower than that of comparable male employees with the same job and position in the salary band, the researchers found.
Enter the experiment. The middle managers and their reportees were divided into 4 groups – 3 treatment and one control.
The experiment tweaked the design of the appraisal system in a way that instead of being determined simply by prevailing market rates, the appraisal budget would vary by the positions of employees on the salary bands. If employees were on the lower end of the band, their teams would get a bigger budget during appraisals, and vice versa. So, the tweak was a redistributive one, rather than one where the total budgets were changed.
In the three treatment groups, middle managers were given varying degrees of information on how to allocate this new budget. In group 1, they were simply given the new budget. In group 2, they were given additional guidance (a range) of how much hike they could offer to each reportee. In the third, instead of a guidance range, they were offered a specific guidance value of how much hike each employee should be given. However, managers retained the discretion to follow this guidance/value or not, and were free to determine the actual hikes based on this information as well as the employee’s performance.
What did the research find?
In all three treatment groups, the gender gap in salary hikes was reduced in comparison to the control group. In the third group, it completely went away. The authors conclude:
“[S]imple modifications to the salary review process can make an important contribution toward achieving pay equity…Certainly, establishing full pay equity will require more than a single iteration of the modified salary review process, but it constitutes an important contribution along the way as it prevents the widening of gender gaps throughout employees’ careers”.
TL;DR: Where there is a will, there is a way!
Read the full paper here.
Women are less likely to use a mobile phone than men in India, and this gender gap in phone use is wider in rural India than in urban parts of the country, data from the NSS Round 78, released earlier this year shows. But it’s not just a gap in use. Among the men and women who reported using a mobile phone (at least once in the three months preceding the survey), women are more likely to be using a phone that they share with others. Only 38.9 percent of women who use a mobile phone use it exclusively, in contrast to 49.1 percent of men.
👍 CEDA Recommends
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Bhanu Gupta, Assistant Professor of Economics at 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?
Bhanu Gupta: I would highly recommend the article by Seema Jayachandran titled "Social Norms as a Barrier to Women's Employment in Developing Countries". This article disentangles the effects of social norms and economic development in affecting labour force employment. It also provides suggestions on how to choose between policies that explicitly target gender norms versus those that work around them to increase labour force participation.
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
It was actually a recent analysis by CEDA that really hit a homerun on why we need to be worried by the low rates of FLFP in India. It shows that while India and China have nearly the same population, the workforce of China is nearly 1.5 times that of India. This discrepancy is largely driven by the low participation of women in the labour force. This article effectively concludes that no country can develop if it excludes nearly half of its population from the development process.
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?
I’d recommend the documentary ‘Writing With Fire’ which portrays how rural women are fighting all odds to work as ground reporters for Khabar Lahariya, a news startup. It also shows the power of technology in breaking the persistence of gender norms around employment.
I would also mention the character of Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) in ‘Jojo Rabbit’. As a Jewish girl hiding in the Nazi Germany, she was in a constant state of fear of being caught. Yet, she displayed extraordinary courage in not only challenging the prejudices of Jojo, but also taking a stance in front of a Gestapo officer.
And a book that did the same?
I was deeply influenced by Katherine Boo's account of the lives of people living in a Mumbai slum in her seminal book ‘Behind The Beautiful Forevers’. She talks about the ambitions, challenges and ingenuity of the underprivileged, especially women, in an increasingly globalised and unequal world. What makes this work more interesting is that Katherine had to face the dual challenge of being a non-Indian and a woman while doing her research for several years. Her note at the end of the book, where she describes how she decided to even start this book, is an absolute gem.
India’s female labour force participation rates are low, but that of course does not mean that Indian women do not work. As experience and evidence tell us, women in India (as their counterparts in most parts of the world) shoulder the dominant and disproportionate share of unpaid domestic and care work. In addition, women also end up doing a lot of unpaid economic work on family enterprises.
All this has consequences – not being in paid work leads to financial dependence. The table above is excerpted by the National Sample Survey report on Employment and Unemployment. The data was collected in late 1955 and the report was released in 1959. At the time, over half of those in rural areas, and 64 percent of urban Indians were not earning and were financially dependent on others. Read the table and observe carefully the difference between men and women. The full report can be accessed here.
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