A recent study published by the ILO has highlighted the worrisome fact that in the last 30 years, gender gap in the workplace i.e. employment rates for men and women has not shrunk much. It has only shrunk by less than 2%. In economies that are on the growth phase, like India and China, women employment rates are falling more than men. This is perplexing because there has been rapid advancement in women’s education in the last few decades. Other favorable factors like women having fewer children and moving to towns and cities, coupled with better education should have resulted in higher employment rates for women in the workplace. This, unfortunately, is not as per the ILO report.
In India, the most prominent reason for this fall in employment rates for women is the movement of people from the farm economy to the industrial marketplace. Women agriculture workers, on moving to the cities, very often do not find work. Other reasons for a lesser number of women in the workplace is the utter lack of childcare facilities. As it is, women are 26% points less likely to be in employment than men. Women with small children (under six years of age) often drop out of work due to lack of adequate childcare facilities. The percentage of women dropping out of work due to young children is increasing day by day.
The unpaid care work that women are expected and forced to do is robbing them of equal participation in the workplace. In the last two decades, the hours spent by women on such work have not changed at all and men are not sharing this burden of domestic work with the women. Unless there is a significant increase in the time men spend on domestic and care work, the high gender gap in the workplace will continue to exist.
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Gender gap in the workplace is not only about the male-female employment ratio but the levels at which women work are also lower compared to the levels at which men work despite better education. Only one-third of the manager level positions are held by women, although they are likely to be better educated than men at such positions. Women at director-level positions in India are far fewer than men at these levels. Only 86,362 women were found to be at this level against 407,316 men. Women in India were also found to lack digital skills; hence, jobs in technology are beyond their reach. Girls need to be actively encouraged to opt for STEM subjects while in school to correct this imbalance.
The ideal workplace where there is equal participation by both sexes and no gender gap exists can be realized. But this needs a leap of faith, an orbital change to reach there. Small steps bringing about little changes will not do.
To bring about gender equality, policy changes as well as actions are needed. Right to equality of opportunity enshrined in the constitution can only to be brought about when a more equal work place free of gender discrimination, harassment and equal pay for equal work is made possible by right policies and a change in mindsets. Men will need to show more care and shoulder more responsibility for domestic work, freeing women to enter the workplace. Changes in the economy at the macro level and a social protection program will go a long way to realize the dream of bridging the gender gap in the workplace. The world of work is seeing cataclysmic changes in terms of technology, demography and climate change. This makes it more important to make more serious efforts to engage, help and support women.
The way forward to bring gender gap in the workplace down is to have better laws and regulations to ensure a level playing field, social protection and an easy approach towards working hours.
No improvement in the work-related gender gap in the last 30 years: ILO, 16th July 2019 Neetu Chandra Sharma, Livemint