Business Today

Short-changed

Manasi Mithel        Print Edition: Oct 14, 2012

Despite the major inroads working women have made in recent times, they are still paid less than men . The World Bank's latest World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development notes that globally women in salaried jobs still earn, on average, only 71 per cent of what men do for the same kind of work. Casual workers are even worse off, averaging only 56 per cent of the income of their male counterparts.

How does the Indian corporate world compare?

It is difficult to say since there are many imponderables involved. But most of those queried agree women have some inherent disadvantages in negotiating salaries.

For one, they are usually less aggressive, and less likely to question than men. A recent LinkedIn study of 400 professionals in India showed that while 37 per cent of male respondents felt perfectly comfortable about negotiating their salaries before taking up jobs, only 26 per cent of women felt the same.

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"The fear of what will happen if they turn down an offered salary is more with women than with men," says Priya Chetty Rajagopal, Partner and Vice President, Stanton Chase, an executive search firm.

Shalini Mahtani, Founder and Board Director of Hong Kong-based Community Business, an NGO which focuses on corporate social responsibility activities in Asia, including diversity at the workplace, agrees. "Women are just not as vocal as men when it comes to pitching for themselves," she says.

Taking maternity leave can also impact women's salaries and career advancement adversely, particularly if they are in the 35 to 40 age group, and have already risen some distance up the corporate ladder.

"Women lose out on three to four months that their male counterparts spend working," says Anil Sachdev, CEO, School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) and Grow Talent Company, an HR consultancy. "This can be a disadvantage when they re-enter the job space." Often, the break is longer.

While unequal salaries are a tricky area, the glass ceiling is more clearly visible. One manifestation is the paucity of women on company boards. According to a study by search firm Korn/Ferry Institution earlier this year, women directors account for only 4.7 per cent of all boards of directors in India's 100 largest companies by market capitalisation.

Indeed, India ranked lowest among the seven Asia-Pacific countries surveyed in this regard. Australia, at 11.2 per cent, ranked highest.

Major changes, however, have been taking place, to the extent that many in the corporate world believe any discussion of gender discrimination has become passe.

Women are entering areas of work they had never done before, gaining both acceptability and appreciation.

"When I joined our company in 2,000, women were only employed in support functions like HR," says Prameela Kalive, Senior Vice President, Strategic Services, Zensar, a software services firm. "Now women hold portfolios in departments like marketing, strategy and delivery services." She herself, starting as a delivery manager, has since handled five key portfolios, including marketing and the company's emerging markets business.

Indeed, women are moving beyond the office. Electrical engineering, for instance, which requires spending more time in factories than in offices, used to be a male-dominated area, but no more. It is the same with other functions that require getting one's hands dirty.

"Things have changed in the last five years. Women now account for six to seven per cent of our onsite teams in our iron ore, cement and coal mines across India," says Rajeev Bhadauria, Director, Group HR. Jindal Steel and Power.

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Many companies are also making a conscious effort to recruit more women and improve their gender diversity ratio, leading to occasional charges of reverse discrimination in sectors like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and financial services.

"In some cases, a position is not filled if a suitable woman candidate is not found for it," says SOIL's Sachdev. He adds that women are being preferred for functions such as internal auditor, compliance officer and legal aid officer, which require maintaining a high level of confidentiality. They are believed to be less likely to blab than men, even when they are relatively relaxed.

Many believe the wage gap may disappear in coming years.

"After all, women are still only two generations in the workplace." says Rajagopal. "Over a period of time this difference will go away."

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