The Hidden Reasons Behind The Gender Pay Gap In India

Posted: August 8, 2018

Why is there such a Gender Pay Gap in India? And what can we really do about it? Here’s taking a closer look.

The recent reports on the Gender Pay Gap in India are no surprise. While anecdotal evidence on this has always been around but now there are some hard figures as well. As per a report by Korn Ferry, the gap is very less or negligible at the same level in the same company but collectively the gap is as high as 16.1 % in India which is equivalent to the global figure.

The surprise factor is that India seems to be doing better than some developed countries like U.K. and U.S.




Source: Korn Ferry Global Gender Pay Index 2018

The key reasons for the Gender Pay Gap are:

  • Fewer women in the work force
  • Fewer women in lucrative professions and in senior/ leadership roles

In order to reduce the Gender Pay Gap in India, we need to ensure more women enter the workforce, continue working through different life stages and reach senior or leadership levels. More women need to be encouraged to take up careers which are high paying. While doing a Gender audit on company level Compensation may help to keep the issue of Gender Pay Gap in our radar, it would require a multi-dimensional effort on hiring, retention and development of women.

Gender Pay Gap may not always be a direct outcome of discrimination but it is important to understand the discrimination inherent in our society and therefore, our workplace to understand the Gender pay Gap. For example, there is a strong bias in the industry while hiring women who have been on a career break for childcare. There is a bias in giving challenging opportunities to women at the workplace. At times, women may also hesitate in demanding quality work, promotion or higher salary increases, and this is because the ‘second job’ of household work does not allow them space to do so.

Our workplaces are a microcosm of our society and so the ills that plague our society will be prevalent at the workplace too. If we are living in a highly patriarchal society, our workplaces will be replete with patriarchy. If our society expects women to always play second fiddle, the same forces will manifest at the workplace too. The tags of an MNC or an Indian organization make little difference in this regard.

Looking at the gender gap through a wider lens

There are many factors that contribute to Gender Pay Gap. One significant one is the cumulative set of life events and experiences that a woman undergoes right from her birth. These often put her in a rather disadvantageous position in life with respect to her career or simply take away some of her ‘power’. If we want to understand why gender pay gap exists in a holistic manner, we need to wear a wider lens and look beyond what happens in organizations. I have tried to represent this through an illustration.

Life of a woman : Understanding Causes of Gender Pay Gap

The various causes are divided into Environmental/ Cultural factors, Socio-Economic Factors and Personal Choices. The last one is heavily influenced by the first two. Most women would experience at least some, if not all of the factors mentioned above. It would also be an over-simplification to assume that these are only present in low income or underprivileged families. Many of these factors have been observed across socio-economic classes.

If one were to focus and write on each of these, an entire book can be written. However, I would like to focus here on women who have somehow managed to circumnavigate these potential landmines and have managed to create a career for themselves.

A focus on the following may be important for flourishing in their chosen career.

  • Invest in self-development– A working women who is juggling many roles at the same time rarely finds time for herself. Finding time to develop themselves professionally is perhaps too much to ask for. There is significant research to prove that individuals who keep themselves updated with latest skills have a higher probability of succeeding in the long run. Therefore, if women need to reach the top, they have to invest in themselves, and families have to enable them to do so. Women cannot invest in themselves if they are the sole care-givers for everyone else.
  • It is important to seek mentors in the industry or the organization who can support their career. After a certain level in the career, the best job and growth opportunities come through strong references. Organisations too need to be conscious that women are a minority in senior roles and assign mentors to women with high potential.
  • Investing in relationships (yes!) – Women need to nurture support groups of friends, relatives and people in the community who can step in to help. If you can’t pick up your child from the bus stop on a particular day, do you have a neighbour who can help with that? Have you nurtured that kind of a relationship? It is of the utmost importance.
  • It is important to encourage your spouse to be equally active at home so that you can be super active at work and take out time to network with people. A word of caution – this needs to happen without assuming that other people are actively working against you. Just as we are conditioned, the men in our lives are also conditioned from childhood to be the way they possibly are. Some empathy will go a long way. If at all behaviour change takes place, it will happen slowly. Men too need to take on some onus for change, and begin investing in the careers of the women around them, by examining their own attitudes.
  • There can be no replacement for merit. In the entire debate on gender, we cannot feel a sense of entitlement as we belong to a certain gender. At the end of the day, it is merit that matters and that is what we need to focus on. As mentioned in the first point therefore, we need to invest in upskilling ourselves and staying relevant.

The Gender Pay Gap is a complex phenomenon. Efforts need to be made at all levels by different institutions (Corporates, Government, NGOs etc.) and individuals to reduce the gender pay gap. We are now talking about it at least and that’s a good start.

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An HR professional by qualification, have worked for close to 10 years now across Pharma

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