New Delhi: India is the worst among the six top Asian economies when it comes to the representation of women in the workforce at junior and middle-level positions, according to the Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2011 report.
“It performs only slightly better than Japan at senior level positions,” said the report released by Community Business, a non-profit organization focusing on diversity and inclusion in Asia.
The report surveyed women at different levels across 21 companies in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. Participants included a mix of consulting, financial services, technology and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, including Ernst and Young, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Cisco Systems and Coca-Cola. The study underlines gender biases in India, where social attitudes still privilege the male as the dominant, educated earning member of the family with the female being the homemaker.
“Culturally, Indian women are under the greatest collective pressure to get married at a young age. While a similar pressure may exist in China and Hong Kong, it is not as strong,” said Shalini Mahtani, founder of Community Business and one of the co-authors of the report. “If employers in India want to make it easier for young Indian women in the workforce they need to create policies—be it maternity, flexi timing, mentoring specific to women of that age group.”
China has the highest percentage of women represented in the total workforce (49.79%), followed by Malaysia (47.35%), Hong Kong (45.34%) and Singapore (43.29%). The lowest percentage of women are employed in India (24.43%), with Japan (33.62%) the second lowest, according to the study. The number of people surveyed wasn’t immediately available.
The report compared the representation of women in the total workforce of the participating companies to the female national labour force participation rates in the countries. “India has the lowest national female labour force participation rate, and, therefore, it is not surprising that the participating companies have the lowest percentages of female employees in India compared to the other countries.”
With the exception of India, the greatest leak (the largest percentage decrease of women workers) takes place between middle and senior-level positions. In India, the greatest leak takes place between junior and middle-level positions (a 48.07% decrease), said the report.
A comparison between the 2009 and 2011 studies shows “that the overall percentages of women working in the participating companies are similar at all levels with a noticable increase only for China”.
While China and Hong Kong performed creditably at the junior and middle-level respectively, Malaysia did surprisingly well at the senior level in terms of women representation. One of the findings Mahtani found worthy of further investigation was that 15 of the 24 high-potential women interviewed in India did not have children while their average age was 38. The study includes quantitative findings, reflections and interviews with high-potential women in each of the 20 or so companies.
“The interviews with high-potential Indian women revealed that cultural and family expectations have a significant impact on their career decisions,” she said. “We were told that certain career choices were made ‘to please parents’ whilst opportunities away from home were often declined because of not wanting to be too far from family and in particular ageing parents. At the same time, flexible work arrangements are not readily available and commuting hours are long, so juggling family life and a career can be especially tough.”