Guest AuthorNeha Bagaria

In India, Girls Top the Education Ladder but not the Corporate One

By | Neha Bagaria | Founder & CEO, JobsForHer

Ananya Maity topped the Grade 12 ISC board exams in 2017. Like so many young, hard working girls before her, there were glowing reports about her academic prowess, good behaviour and having her head on her shoulders. Ananya’s story is one of many young girls in India, pushed to excel at their studies and work hard.

Girls outshone boys in the CBSE Class 12 results declared on Sunday, bagging the top two spots and recording a better pass percentage compared with boys. Raksha Gopal from Amity International School in Noida secured 99.6 percent marks in the Class 12 CBSE exam, and Bhoomi Sawant De from DAV School in Chandigarh scored 99.4 percent marks, the CBSE said.

According to CBSE, a total of 87.5 percent girls passed the exams compared with 78 percent boys.

Girls also performed better than boys in the ICSE (Class 10) and ISC (Class 12) board exams 2017, results of which were declared by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) on Monday. Girls did better than boys in both forms of the exams in terms of pass percentage. In ICSE, 99.03% girls passed and 98.13% boys cleared the exam. Similarly, in ISC girls outperformed boys with a pass percentage of 97.73 as compared to the 95.39% boys who cleared the exam.

Where Are All The Working Women?

Let’s now turn to the data on women’s participation in the workforce in India.

Labour-force participation by women in 2009-10 showed nearly 55% of women with post-graduate level education had not joined the workforce. Most women who didn’t join the workforce said “they are attending to domestic duties.” So educated women are not even entering the workforce, because the role of the woman is traditionally that of the home maker.

Findings of the National Sample Survey (68th Round) results indicated that in 2011-2012, women’s participation in the workforce was drastically less in urban than in rural areas. To every 54.6 employed men, there were just 14.7 working women. This is a fantastic anomaly, that educated women who would seemingly have more resources and knowledge at their disposal than their counterparts in rural India, do not work because of social pressures like their husbands or in-laws not allowing them to work.

“In India, social factors play a significant role in reducing women’s labour participation. Husbands and in-laws often discourage women from working, while, in many parts of the country, restrictions are imposed even on their movements outside the household.

In this context, it is notable that labour participation is particularly low in India among urban, educated women — the section of the female society that is, in fact, less likely to be constrained by social factors. In 2009-10, the proportion of those attending to domestic duties (and therefore out of the labour force) was 57 per cent among urban females with graduate degrees or higher, compared to just 31 per cent among rural females with primary or middle school education….

During the 1990’s, females accounted for only a small share of the relatively high quality jobs generated in India in recent years: for instance, only 20 per cent of the new jobs created in financing, real estate and business services during the 2000s, and 10 per cent of the new jobs generated in computer and related activities during the second half of the 2000s.”

All of this is clear evidence that the pipeline for women is smaller to begin with, right off the bat when they graduate from college. Girls and young women may be scaling new heights consistently in their studies, but this does not extend to their participation in the workforce. Amartya Sen famously wrote about India’s missing women, arguing that it all begins with the severe disadvantages that female children in India are faced with. These disadvantages only perpetuate themselves and multiply, as our girls grow into women.

Where India Inc. is Falling Short

“A study of 42 companies in India revealed that a gender gap exists at all levels of the pipeline for women, and widens as women move toward senior management/CEO levels, indicating a disconnect between current strategies and women’s inclusion.”

Catalyst’s report, India Inc.: From Intention to Impact indicates a gap between organizations’ well-intended corporate initiatives and the impact of those initiatives in creating more inclusive workplaces for women. The numbers show the decreasing representation of women as one ascends the corporate ladder.

Source: Catalyst, India Inc.: From Intention to Impact

So why is it that even though girls consistently top the education ladder in India, they don’t seem to scale the corporate ladder in equal numbers? As mentioned earlier, it begins right when they are born. Societal expectations of girls in India are overwhelmingly gender biased – that good girls study hard, do well in school, get married, have children and perhaps work if they’re allowed to by the family that they marry into. Working is not the primary goal or aspiration that parents generally hold for their daughters – and this is a huge double standard.

Those women that do work, are also subjected to benevolent sexism in the workplace – essentially subjective positive attitudes that simultaneously idealise but subordinate women as men’s dependents. Women are often overlooked for more challenging work, particularly when they are at the typical age when motherhood sets in and managers know that female employees have the additional responsibility of looking after children as well. Managers tend to “go easy” on female employees, perhaps even subconsciously not even considering them for promotions of work that requires travel.

Peter Glick of Harvard Business School, in a paper titled “Gender & Work: Challenging Conventional Wisdom” points to a study done among college undergrads and MBA students where they found that, “…when high BS men are in charge, they ‘go easy’ on women. Imagine how effectively such subtle discrimination undermines women’s ability both to develop and to demonstrate work-relevant skills; completing easy tasks does not put an employee on the fast track. Benevolently sexist male managers deny women opportunities to hone and show their skills, undercutting their potential to achieve impressive successes.”

In another finding,

“…Biernat, Tocci, and Williams (2012) found that female, as compared to male, associates at a Wall Street law firm received more positive narrative comments in their formal evaluations (coding for words such as excellent, terrific, stellar). But on the numerical ratings the firm relied on for promotion decisions, the gender difference was reversed. Also, within the narrative comments, over 14% of male associates were mentioned as potential “partner material” compared to only 6% of female associates. Together, these findings suggest that the superlatives female associates received reflected a lower, benevolently sexist standard for women.”

While the issue of the smaller pipeline when it comes to women, is a problem for society as a whole, government, education and corporate India to try to solve together, there are some things that India Inc. can do to rectify the biases that working women face.

By implementing family-friendly policies where male employees are entitled to equal paternity leave, the scales will slowly but surely tip towards equality, and women will not be subjected to The Motherhood Penalty. With a move like this, companies will effectively nudge fathers to take on more of the workload at home when their wives are working.

Companies can also meet female employees half way, by offering flexi-time so that they can balance work and their priorities at home. This, however can only happen when a space is created in corporate India for an open, honest conversation on what women need to continue working even after they get married and have children.

There’s a long way to go before we achieve total gender equality in India. But corporate India can lead the way, one small step at a time.

Is your company ready to diversify? Join hands with JobsForHer, and gain access to an amazing talent pool of women returnees, available at no notice period. Write to and find out how your company can design programmes and policies for women TODAY!

Originally published in her Linked In Post

Neha Bagaria

Neha Bagaria is an entrepreneur at heart, a Wharton grad, a wife, a mother-of-two and a woman who restarted her career, thus founding JobsForHer. JobsForHer is not Neha’s first entrepreneurial venture.

She founded her first company Paragon, right after she graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Paragon, an educational centre based in Bombay, introduced the Advanced Placement Program for high school students in India, with Neha also serving as the College Board Representative of India. When marriage brought her to Bangalore, she started working with Kemwell, a contract pharmaceutical manufacturing company, in the fields of HR, Finance and Marketing strategy. Neha took a break in her own career when she had her children. During this personal journey, she became aware of the various difficulties a woman faces in order to re-enter the workforce. She then became committed to the cause of enabling women to restart their careers and founded to help them achieve their full potential.

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