Why gender parity is ‘shifting into reverse’

#GenderAnd Business: 217 years for disparities in pay and employment opportunities for men and women to end. The top findings from the Indianexpress.com NIFTY 500 data analysis.

Over the last few weeks, Indianexpress.com explored trends on female representation in corporate boards and the efficacy of regulations that mandate the presence of at least one woman on a company board. The results have shown high compliance to the regulation but equal opportunity is still far away.  Typically the most serious career problems encountered by women revolve around career development opportunities, and family conflicts. According to the 2017 World Economic Forum report women around the globe may have to wait two centuries to achieve equality at the workplace. While gender equality has been termed as an “economic and moral imperative”, several studies point to a widening gap, right at the starting line. Here are the top findings.


Basic literacy for females (1981 Census: 29.76 per cent, 2011 Census: 65.46 per cent) and the number of women enrolled in higher education has seen a rise over the decades. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (2015-16) women comprised about 46 per cent of the total students enrolled in Indian higher education.  Nearly four in every ten candidates enrolled for an MBA program in 2015-16 were women. Courses like Masters in Technology, Masters in Law had a similar proportion of women. However, increased literacy and higher education has not translated into women joining the workforce. Studies show that fewer women are participating in the formal economy as employees over the years. Their numbers decline further as one moves up the employment hierarchy.


The Companies Act of 2013, pushed up the presence of women in boardrooms, but they are still disproportionately under-represented. By the end of 2017, as our data analysis showed, just about 14% of members on boards of the NIFTY 500 were women.

In the same analysis, we found that a still smaller number of women made it as members of board committees – 11 per cent of all committee members across companies. The proportion of women thinned down further when it came to chairpersonship of these committees. For 2,797 committees (where chairpersonship data was available), a bare nine percent were chaired by a woman.

In 71 per cent of the NIFTY 500 companies, there was only one woman in the boardroom. Only 3 per cent of the company boards were chaired/co-chaired by a woman.


When women do join the workforce, they end up earning less than their male counterpart right from the beginning but the gap tends to increase over the years and with experience. Data collected by Paycheck.in for a period of six years (2006-11)  shows variations in the gender wage gap over the lifespan of an employee. Their analysis found the pay gap between men and women was lesser for incomes below Rs 1 lakh and above Rs 50 lakh but was stark when earnings were in the range of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 50 lakh. This gender disparity in earnings was higher as education levels rose and at senior levels vis-a-vis junior levels. Even with equivalent number of years of experience, men earned more than women.


Earnings show a differential for men and women even for this crème-de-la-crème. In our data analysis for earnings in 2016-17 for NIFTY 500 companies, we found that on average, male members on company boards earned more than double of what women board members earned — a male board member earned Rs 1.22 crore annually. The average female board member earned less than Rs 60 lakh per annum. Median earnings for male board members indicate they earned more than one and a half times that of women, 1.64 times more to be precise.

Male board members, who are also promoter-directors, earned 1.75 times more than female board members who were promoter directors. On median calculations, the difference was even starker, with male promoter-directors earning 4.73 times that of female promoter directors.


Marriage, but more importantly, having children affects women’s professions profoundly as compared to its influence on men’s careers. A 2015 survey by ASSOCHAM found that one-fourth of the women surveyed quit their job after they had their first child. In their 2017 survey, ASSOCHAM found about 35 per cent of working women did not want to have a second child due to reasons such as “stresses of modern marriage, job pressures, cost of raising children”. Some respondents explained they there were hesitant because they felt that their job/promotion could get jeopardised if they were to take another maternity leave.


PSUs lag in compliance and in parity. In the NIFTY 500, there were 14 companies that did not have a single female member on their board, and more than half of these–8 were PSUs. Given that there are 58 PSUs in the NIFTY 500, this means about 14 per cent of the PSU companies on the NIFTY 500 were non-compliant. For the private sector, that figure stood at about one per cent.

When it came to earnings of board members, those on the boards of PSUs – both men and women – earned much less than what those on boards of private companies earned but in our analysis, the male-female earnings’ disparity was  greater for PSUs than for private companies. Male board members in PSU organisations earned nearly three times that of women ( men earned double that of women for the private sector companies)— a male board member earned Rs 16.14 lakh on average vis-à-vis female board members who earned Rs 5.09 lakh on an average.


The importance of networking support is relatively understudied but it can be a crucial deciding factor in career trajectories. And for women, this might be an additional barrier in their professional growth. As Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD wrote in 2007, “Women aren’t either more or less capable of networking, but since it’s easier for people to make connections with people who are similar, the fact that there are fewer women in senior positions in business can be a barrier.”


In a recent survey on social beliefs (Social Attitudes Research, India, SARI), respondents were asked whether “a married woman, whose husband earns a good living, should work outside the home”. More than 40 per cent of respondents across different locations reported that women should not work outside the home. This belief was shared by both men and women, although men were more likely to say the same. The authors of the study argue that the “social stigma attached to working outside the home, especially for women who could afford not to work” is important in understanding why female participation in the formal labour force might be declining.

(This is the last in our 5-part data series on women in corporate boards. Read part one, “The truth about women in corporate boards”. In part two, “Women are paid less. Yes, this is old news,” we lay out what women board members earn compared to their male counterparts. The third in the series, explored whether women make it to influential positions on Boards. In part four we ask companies why they chose to remain non-compliant

Read our entire work on #GenderAnd across intersections)

Research and data analysis by ICFJ Associate Akshi Chawla. ICFJ Associate Sana Amir contributed to this project

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