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  • Ishita Mishra

Gender inequality at the workplace in India: The Glass Ceiling and The Wage Gap

Ishita Mishra

Sadan Lal Sanwaldas Khanna Girls Degree College Prayagraj

Gender inequality at the workplace in India: The Glass Ceiling and The Wage Gap


India has marked its place among the developing countries of the world, where development could be traced in all spheres including economics, infrastructure, lifestyle etc. Recently, India was ranked by the United Nations as the most populous country of the world with an estimated population of 1.44 billion. Even though India achieved great milestones, the aspect of gender equality took a back seat. India as a country is considered to be highly enriched with human resources. To grow as a nation, the need to ensure balance between the two sects namely men and women is very important. Women are subjected to oppression and discrimination at home as well as at the workplace which makes their life difficult or rather insufferable. They are victims of the stereotypes and prejudices that were prevalent in ancient times. The makers of the constitution duly looked into the matter by forming such laws that will bring equality and safeguard the interest of women from the injustices. Unfortunately, these legislations and provisions are on paper only. Even today, women face discrimination in the remuneration offered to them at their workplace as compared to their male counterparts. Sincere attempts must be made to find out the factors that are causing hindrance in the applicability of the rules and regulations formed. This article substantiates upon the multi-sectoral inequalities and discrimination faced by women from time immemorial with due importance to their workplace; along with the legislations formulated to eradicate the evil from the society.

“a bird cannot fly with one wing” -

Nirmala Sitaraman

India is one of those countries where history, customs, traditions and culture are highly looked upon for economic, social, financial, and even political advancements. History helps us to know the precedence in order to formulate policies while incorporating changes. This methodology proved to be fruitful for most of the aspects but was not inclined with the status of women. Ardhanarishwar; one of the forms of Shiva which is believed to be a perfect blend of both man and woman. This amalgamation of both the genders in the persona of a god depicts the importance of both the genders for the survival of human beings on this planet earth. Taitriya Samhita talks about men and women as two wheels of a cart, implying that a society cannot be run with only men as its members. Sankhya Philosophy, which is one of the systems of Indian Philosophy considers women as the basis of all the consciousness of the world by the name of ‘Prakriti’. In ancient and medieval mythology, each masculine god was coupled with a feminine goddess like Brahma with Saraswati, Vishnu with Lakshmi and Shiva with Shakti. All these mythological instances are evident of the necessity of both the genders. But with the advent of time, physical strength started overruling the masses. Apart from being physically different, the men of the society devoid women of their right to make political decisions, which resulted in their backwardness. In ancient times, the work of women was limited to giving birth to children, cooking, and looking after the house. Women were not regarded as the significant half rather the lower half of the society beside men.

In the Vedic period, the status of women was not low, they enjoyed very meagre rights but were not involved in political affairs. It was believed that women were not intellectual enough to understand political agenda and hence should only look after the familial chores. Manu described the status of women as that of reliance and subordination. As society progressed, the status of women deteriorated. In the post Vedic period, the evil practices like child marriage and sati pratha were followed which proved to be a hinderance in the development of women. Early marriage resulted in less or no education of women, which added to their incapability to find work. The arrival of Mughals in India, made the situation worse, women were obligated to follow purdah pratha. Female foeticide, polygamy and child marriage were prevalent in that period. Apart from all the restrictions, Razia Sultan was the first woman sultanate of India. She was the first woman to have conquered the throne despite her gender and the slavery background.

The advent of Britishers put a barrier on the different social evils that were practised against women. Widow remarriage was encouraged and female infanticide was prohibited by the Bengal Regulation XXL. Legislations were formed by the Britishers but the application of these laws would be credited to Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar etc. They were the men who voiced the issues of women for their welfare and equality. Rani Lakshmi Bai was one of the women leaders who played an intricate role in the Revolt of 1857.

Post-Independence, we can analyse the status of women by contemplating upon the legislations formed by the parliament. The law protects the interest of women, her legal and fundamental rights and her existence. Right to speech, right to profess any religion, right to property, right to education all these rights are provided by the constitution irrespective of the caste, class, gender and creed. However, these laws so formed are not practised which entails to the backwardness of women and other weaker sections of the society. Hence, the status of women is not as it was envisioned by the constitution makers while drafting the Constitution of India.

Nowadays, women have incentivized the need to have an equal say, pay and standard at their workplace and in the society at large. They have started to engage themselves in different sectors of the economy along with their household chores, which makes it challenging for them to manage their lives effectively. Along with these difficulties an ancillary obstacle at their workplace is the oppression and discrimination in terms of treatment and remuneration which they have to face because of their gender. People believe a folk tale that women are not built for the paying jobs; they are created to be emotional and to look after the household. At some places, people still follow the patriarchal form of society where the eldest male member takes the important decisions and is the breadwinner, however, the women were to be in the domestic locus.

Overcoming these restrictions, women verbalized their need for equality. Despite all the atrocities faced, women have initiated to work at par with men. Ranging from handlooms, handicrafts and catering to big multinational companies, defence and aviation; women have come a long way. It was opined by the International Monetary Fund that an equal participation of women in the workforce shall inhibit a sharp spike in India’s GDP by 27%. Their physical limitations are often mistaken as an opportunity to disregard their efforts and position. A report by UNO based upon women pointed out that women constitute half of the world’s population, perform nearly two-third of the work hours, receive one-tenth of the world’s income and are owners of less than one-hundredth of the world’s property. The plethora of unpaid caregiving services, responsibility of family devoid women to focus their efforts solely on their occupation. It is the woman who is expected to leave her job to look after the family and her children and not her male counterpart.

Recently, there has been a misconception that the glass ceiling has started to disappear because of the changing education and employment opportunities for women. The word ‘glass-ceiling’ was first used by Marilyn Loden at a 1978 Women’s Exposition. Glass ceiling is a metaphor that is generally used to refer to the barrier that marginalized people including women and other weaker sections encounter when they are involved in the occupational arena. Women face glass ceiling in the corporate hierarchy despite their increasing population in the corporate world. Women have always thrived for their rights and position in the society and women employees are no exception to that. The two deciding factors that will help in curbing this obstacle are knowledge and skill. Powell and Graves in the year 2003 conducted a survey to analyze that the proportion of women in the managerial ranks has increased in almost all countries. Although the issue was researched, the women still found it difficult to progress to the topmost management position because of the phenomenon of glass ceiling.

An attempt was made by the U.S. Department of Labor by launching the Glass Ceiling Commission in 1991 as a combat against the growing concern of women in relation to glass ceiling. It was found out that it was the attitude of the employer as well as the employees who viewed women as a weaker section of the society. There have been instances when women have taken steps to protect their own rights. Hillary Clinton shattered the highest glass ceiling by becoming the first female president of America. In the Indian context, it was Tessy Thomas who shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to join the Indian Institute of Technology Council. Apart from these efforts, glass ceiling is still prevalent because of the gender stereotypes. Most of the executive or other higher positions are occupied by men.

Another workplace-oriented discrimination is faced by women in the context of their wage which they are offered. A drastic wage gap could be made out by the World Inequality Report 2022; which stated that men earn 82% of the labour income in India whereas women only earn 18% of the labour income. Wages and income in India are rising over time; however, the gender inequalities have not been bridged (Jose, 1987; Dev, 2002; Maatta, 1998). There has been a great spike in the participation of women in the workforce but still the disparity of wage remains intact. Factors determining women’s labour supply are not adequately explained by the individual oriented work, effort or even wage remuneration-based considerations. In fact, in most cases labour supply decisions especially for women need to be seen from the household point of view, since women have the additional responsibility as domestic caregivers (Tinker ed.,1990; Agrawal,1993). It was found out in a survey that women were willing to take up work within their household premises. Another determinant factor of the gender wage gap is that it is the men who decide the wage that is to be offered to a woman. The perception of the society towards women's work is highly based upon the stereotypes and prejudices which were prevalent in ancient times.

Many efforts have been made since the eve of independence to ensure equilibrium between men and women. Article 14 talks about the right to equality which is one of the fundamental rights. Article 15(3) of the Indian Constitution permits the state to make special provisions in order to ensure social, economic and political justice to women. Article 39(d) directs the state to provide equal pay for equal work for both the genders. Article 42 enshrines the right to humane working conditions and maternity relief for women. Article 243(d) ensures participation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions by mandating a reservation of one-third seats for them. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 was passed to obligate the employer to pay equal wage to his employees irrespective of their gender. Both men and women should be paid equally for the same work or work of similar nature. Women Reservation Bill or the Constitution (108thAmendment) Act, 2013 is still pending to be affirmed as an act. Along with the laws, the judiciary also steps forward to make several other provisions in favour of women. Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan case headed the supreme court to formulate Vishakha Guidelines which would ensure that no such further offence is inflicted upon women at workplace. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013, was passed as an updated version of the Vishakha Guidelines and gave a wider scope to the workplace. To certify equality, the supreme court quashed the discriminatory service condition of requiring female employees to acquire permission from the government before marriage and denial of married and pregnant women to be employed.

The caging of women in motherhood and burdening all the responsibilities of a child takes the form of a vicious cycle from which it is difficult to come out. Educational qualification puts a barrier although the women have started focusing upon their skills. Invisible obstacles like glass ceiling and wage gap prove to be the causes of low participation of women in the economy. In India, women have more rights as compared to women of other countries. But the level of consciousness of them is much lower which comes out as a loophole in the applicability of these laws. It is officially the work of the legislature to formulate laws in coherence with the prevailing issues but the judiciary is also making it a point to form such provisions that the interest of the women is secured at their workplace. Family-friendly policies should be made so that women can come on par with men in terms of their work life. These rules and regulations formulated are on the papers only. Since the Constitution provides for the laws, the next step towards their enforcement is the consciousness and awareness of the masses. Both the genders should be well versed with their rights and duties towards each other. It is the women who would be aware of their rights and would bring forward the matter for redressal of the issues faced by them at the workplace and in the society at large.

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are, held back”.

-Malala Yousafzai


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