Business Today

Women remain short-changed on salary day

When it comes to salaries, it's not a level playing field between men and women. Can a recent legislation in Boston help correct that?

twitter-logo Chitra Narayanan        Last Updated: March 7, 2015  | 13:59 IST
Short-changed on salary day
(Photo for representation. Source: Reuters)

Chitra Narayanan, Deputy Editor, Business Today
Chitra Narayanan, Deputy Editor, Business Today
A couple of years ago when I was coordinating the annual jobs survey package for the fortnightly business magazine I worked with, the salary data from Naukri.com had some disquieting figures. It showed that women in several sectors - notably ITES - were drawing far lower wages than men at the same level with similar experience. In ITES, the average CTC (cost to company) of a male employee with 12 years experience was Rs 14.30 lakh while a female employee with equivalent experience got Rs 12.2 lakh.  This finding was corroborated by data from another jobs portal, Monster.com, as well which showed that a male IT worker received a gross salary of  Rs 359.25 per hour, while a female received Rs 254.04 per hour.

It's common knowledge that male Bollywood stars have always got a far higher fee compared to their female co-stars. Ditto tennis stars. But that's perhaps based on the box office or audience draw potential. Why should a pay gap exist in corporate cubicles where the work, responsibilities, output, everything is usually same?  

Talking to a spectrum of HR consultants, a variety of reasons emerge. They lay the blame squarely on women, for being shy negotiators. HR consultants point out that unlike men, who oversell their capabilities, women often understate their skills.

Indeed, as one of my colleagues pointed out, "It's ironic that when we shop, women are so good at bargaining, but when it comes to our salaries, we are so diffident and so often willing to settle for less."  Surveys have shown that women's salary expectations are at least 30 per cent lower than men.

But often, the wage inequity comes from the employers' side. When a vacancy for a position crops up, and a certain budget is set aside for the hire, they don't offer the woman candidate even the minimum amount set aside. This is because of the practice of asking for salary histories of the candidate. A woman candidate, because she has traditionally been underpaid, will probably have a far lower recent salary than the prospective employer expected to see. But instead of offering her the right pay for the position, the company simply gives the standard X per cent hike, continuing to foster the imbalance.

Now, a Bill filed just a fortnight ago in Massachusetts Legislature in the US aims to address this situation by prohibiting employers from seeking out salary histories of prospective candidates.

In addition, every job advertised would have to make public the minimum wages for the position. This follows strident blogs in the US by women arguing against the practice of sharing current CTC when looking for a new job.   

It's a significant piece of legislation because currently diversity hires is one of the most important agenda of many companies. Placement consultants in fact describe how several MNCs offer higher commissions if more women candidates are produced. Ironically, while the placement agency takes home a bigger fee, the woman candidate still gets a raw deal.

It's almost like those World War 1 days when women first began entering the workforce in a big way. As men were away fighting wars, several companies hired women. But, even when the war ended, several companies kept on hiring women as they discovered it was cheaper to work with women.

Currently, companies are heard making the right noises about the benefits of hiring women candidates, ranging from diversity of opinion, better consumer connect and so on. But one thing nobody talks about is how it helps these companies reduce their own wage bills!

Time to put the cat among the pigeons?

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