The school board results have been pouring in, and yet again ‘girls outshine boys’ is the headline. While more and more girls are studying in urban and rural India, the job market presents an opposite picture. According to a recent World Bank report, gender targeting and discrimination are quite common in the Indian job market. Women, it seems, are preferred for low-level, low-skilled jobs that pay less; employers have a bias against women.

Using an online job portal’s data, the World Bank study looked at gender bias and salary gap in the Indian job market, reflected in over 800,000 job recruitment advertisements. Exploring formal and informal sector occupations, the study finds high existence of employers’ gender bias in hiring. “Explicit gender preferences are highly job specific, and it is common to mention the preferred gender in job ads, which, in general, favour men over women. Although ads for professional occupations exhibit less explicit gender bias, they are not gender neutral,” the study states.

While this study comes as a shocking reminder of the apparent prejudiced employment practices in India, it also sheds light on why women are increasingly dropping out of the workforce. Despite the great economic progress the country has made, women have been missing out on the opportunities. India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is one of the lowest in the world; the ILO ranks India’s FLFP rate as 121 out of 131 countries.

More girls are in college

At the turn of the century, it was clear that new jobs would require high education and skill, and less brute force. When India was a new republic, the number of educated women was abysmal, but successive governments and conscientious parents did what they could to educate girls.

The result is that today India is now getting close to gender parity in the classroom. The All India Survey on Higher Education, released by the HRD ministry earlier this year, said that the gender gap in higher educational institutions decreased by over 9 lakh from 2011-12 to 2016-17 (31.5 lakh to 21.5 lakh).  The survey shows that India registered its best performance on the Gender Parity Index (GPI) in the last seven years—0.94 in 2016-17 from 0.86 in 2010-11.

This means that more girls are now in colleges than ever before. But the startling sad fact is that nearly 20 million Indian women quit work between 2004-05 to 2011-12. And in just the last decade alone, the percentage of working women declined from 36% in 2005-6 to just 24% in 2015-16.

Education alone cannot lead to empowerment. Unless there is equity in jobs and social norms, gender equality remains a distant dream. Women are studying but are not equipped or prepared for the jobs they seek. Much of the engineering and MBA colleges still see more men than women enrolled. Some course correction needs to be done to better the employability of the female population.

Male preference

There also appears to be a high variation of gender-bias, favouring men for certain occupations and women for others, which ultimately contributes to occupational gender segregation. According to the World Bank study, women are favoured for clerical jobs; a gender-specified ad for a clerical job is more than four times as likely to target women as men. On the other hand, men are preferred in sales, and elementary occupations. ads for BPO jobs were the most gender neutral, half as likely to be gender-targeted compared to ‘other’ jobs. And gender stereotyping and bias further leads to salary discrimination. Men are also valued more by employers.

And this become a vicious cycle. If women don’t easily get hired for good and high-profile jobs, and if the financial incentive is not attractive enough, then the motivation to remain employed diminishes. Couple this with societal expectation of mothers staying home to raise children and concerns for women’s safety—the family and society also discourage women from working.

Education with a purpose

Girls should study not to just to graduate. India’s second president, educator and philosopher Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan believed that the purpose of education should be to empower students to become free, innovative, and creative. Women’s education should empower them with the confidence that they have the right to use it for their own purposes and it can help them speak up against discriminatory practices and social structures.

Also, there should be a fair recruitment and selection policy followed by all organisations. Companies should explicitly prohibit discriminatory advertising and selection. The recruitment system should also take cognisance that a ‘career break’ should not be seen as an impediment for a good candidate to be hired for a suitable job. A woman’s career break is often a family and personal need, and does not make her any less worthy of getting the job that she deserves and is capable of.

Women employees also may need certain facilities like part-time jobs or flexible working hours. Often, the domestic burden falls entirely on the woman alone, and the family and society also need to help and support in that. A working woman has to efficiently manage her career and change her views about herself and the role she can play in the family and the society.

Young girls passing with flying colours in their board exams and standing on the threshold of their future must prepare to contribute to society and the economy. Economic freedom not just brings individual freedom and self-confidence, it also builds a more equal world with equal opportunities.

( Views expressed are personal. )

Vineeta Dwivedi
Vineeta Dwivedi
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The author is an Assistant Professor and Associate Head of Management Programme for Returning Women at S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai.

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