How not to get more women to work

In communities where women face resistance to work, direct campaigns by employers to drive female employment may not be the best strategy, finds new study

Sneha Alexander
Updated28 May 2019
(Photo: Mint)

In Indian society, women face many challenges when seeking work such as safety or lack of childcare. But often the biggest obstacle can come from their own family who do not approve of women working. One way to address this is for employers to try and convince communities about the importance of female employment. But so deep-rooted are social norms and beliefs that even these campaigns promoting female employment may not yield the desired results, suggests a new study by Joshua Dean and Seema Jayachandran featured in the online journal Ideas for India.

To test the effect of female employment campaigns, the authors worked with a kindergarten provider in Karnataka to conduct an experiment targeting 171 kindergarten teachers and their families. As part of the campaign, the kindergarten providers, who employed the teachers, shared videos highlighting the benefits of female employment and addressing common family concerns. In another intervention, the authors arranged conversations between kindergarten staff and teachers, with their families present, where concerns about safety were allayed. The authors find that neither intervention worked. Female employment did not increase. Using indices which capture attitudes towards female employment, surveys conducted before and after found no evidence of a positive effect on general attitudes towards female employment both among men and women.

While the authors acknowledge that a more sustained campaign may have worked, they suggest that the most effective way to change social norms could be for employers to simply hire more women. More women workers can serve as role models for women and help de-stigmatise female employment by demonstrating that working is compatible with a satisfying family life.

Also read: A family affair: Family members’ role in female employment decisions in India

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