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What really stops Indian women from succeeding in the workplace?

India is one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. Its growing economy requires talent, and a crucial source of that talent is educated Indian women. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established in 1948, under Article 23 declares that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

The Indian state has adopted several legislative measures for Indian women. Article 39 of the Indian Constitution lays down certain principles of policy to be followed by the state, “the state is to direct its policy towards securing that citizens, men and women, equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood’. The fourth part of this article known as the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 puts the employer under a legal obligation to pay men and women the same wages for performing the same work or work of a similar nature. The Act is now applicable to almost every kind of establishment. Even if it is performed at different places, the salary must be the same. An employer cannot discriminate against women while recruiting unless women’s employment is prohibited or restricted by law. Thus, in matters of recruitment, promotions, training or transfer, the employer is prohibited from discriminating against women. 

What holds women back?

While these provisions have made the workplace accessible and safe for women, we do see a rise in the number of women in the workplace, we also see women taking up leadership or higher positions such as that of a manager or a CEO/Director, but we also see that this percentage is stagnant or is beginning to decrease. 

 A report published by the Business Standard “Post-pandemic job recovery for Indian women slower than men” highlights some important facts for us.  According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), the percentage of women employed in urban India has reduced to 22.1% and the percentage of men working in urban India in 2023 is still higher than that of women. The reasons for this imbalance are not new, but they are forgotten and often ignored.

An issue with our mindset

We live in a ‘modern world’ and are under the assumption that gender-based discrimination is a ‘thing of the past’. It is a dangerous assumption, patriarchy i.e a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it,  misogyny i.e dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women and sexism i.e prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, based on sex exists and are rampant in the Indian society. Such behaviours always find a way to manifest themselves in the world, and in society irrespective of the era we live in. These behaviours range from seemingly harmless acts to extremely violent life-threatening acts.

Imbalanced Sex Ratio

Some common widespread practices in a majority of Indian states are sex-selective abortions or female infanticide. The belief that a girl child is not our child, she will be married off to some other family and is a liability while the son will be an asset and will support the family monetarily directly contributes to the glaring disparity in the Indian sex ratio. Which ultimately results in there being fewer women who perform paid work.

Denial of the Right to Education and Lack of Training

Another reason for there being fewer women in the workplace is the lack of education and training. As compared to male children, female children get lesser preference in the matter of education. Parents are found to be compromising on the quality of education and expenses in the case of female children as they invest just to educate them and not from the viewpoint of employment. 

 Job-oriented courses of elementary nature are generally preferred for females rather than males. Women are largely in computer courses, boutique and fabric painting and similar elementary courses, leading them to low-paid jobs and landing them in the second segment of the labour market. Therefore, women’s advancement in employment is generally hampered. Exclusive women training programmes are very few at least in the private sector.

Societal and Family Pressure/Expectations

Managing layoffs plays a key role. You may want to consider these 3 alternatives to layoffs if you want to protect yourselves from the effects it has on your people managers. In case you feel you cannot avoid layoffs, a few ways to manage them include:

Be Open and Honest

Even for women who have made it to the workplace, and who have secured their right to work, it is not an easy journey. Employed women who earn for themselves or contribute to their family’s income face many difficulties. A study published by the Society for Human Resource Management in India in their work ‘Perspectives on Women in Management in India’ talks about certain obstacles working women face. Indian society continues to hold on to its traditional patriarchal practices, gendered roles make it difficult and at times impossible for women to have a successful career, the role of the man as the ‘breadwinner’ and the role of the woman as the ‘homemaker’ is one of the several obstacles women have to deal with. Another one is that if women choose to work and have a family they have to strike a balance between the two. The expectations from the family include women giving up their careers after marriage, and childbirth. Then expectations that if women work outside of the home, they still need to take care of the house, the children and the husband. This phenomenon is known as the second shift, the term was coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild. It simply refers to the household and childcare duties that follow the day’s work for pay outside the home. While both men and women experience the second shift, women tend to shoulder most of this responsibility.

It highlights the complexity of women’s roles as mothers, wives, and working women. According to Hochschild, working women perform a first shift in the paid labour force and a second shift of unpaid labour in their households.

Male co-workers/employees’ attitude towards women employees

Once the decision is final, be very direct and humane with your team members. As much as it may pain them and even you, this information will hurt a lot less for them coming from their own manager and friend rather than a mail or message. (Don’t do what Google did).  This also increases your credibility in front of the remaining employees.

Ms Archana Bhaskar was the HR Director, at Shells Companies India for six years and now she is the Chief Human Resource Officer for Dr Reddy’s Laborities, she shared her struggle with the Society for Human Resource Management in India. She recalls the lack of support when she started working after her post-graduation in business management. Women workers had to be like men to succeed, work/life balance was almost thrown out of the window, and the one or two women that were in her organisation were busy trying to compete with each other rather than help! Male colleagues and managers consistently refused to take her seriously, saying that she was in the job for entertainment rather than to make a real professional career. 

An article by Fortune India, “Rise of Women to CEO Roles Strewn with Challenges’ by Anshul Dhamija (https://www.fortuneindia.com/enterprise/rise-of-women-to-ceo-roles-strewn-with-challenges/106101) talks about how, while many Indian companies have institutionalised practices to boost representation of women in senior leadership and executive positions,  the rise to the corner office is still strewn with challenges. Ms Radha Dhir, the CEO and country head of JLL an international property consultancy firm shares her experiences and says that women have to ‘walk an extra mile just to prove themselves as equal at work compared to men’. Ms Pallavi Shroff, managing partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, talked about how a woman will give her professional input and it is scrutinised, questioned and then maybe accepted while the input of a man is readily or instantly accepted. She attributes such behaviour to an unconscious gender bias. Ms Shroff asserts that there is a need to make a conscious effort to deal with such an unconscious gender bias as women tend to carry and apply the same bias too. “We in the profession who are senior enough, being women in our organisations, should make this conscious effort to see that younger women get the same and equal opportunity.” 

Gender Pay Gap

According to a report published in March 2017, ‘Indian Women in the Workplace: Problems and Challenges’ by Sampurnaa Dutta India ranks the lowest when it comes to Gender parity. On the whole, the report finds that the gender pay gap in India is 25.4 per cent. This means the median hourly wage for a woman is 25.4% less than the median hourly wage for a man. According to the report, some of the reasons behind the gender pay gap could be the preference for male employees over female employees, the preference for promotion of male employees to supervisory positions and career breaks of women due to parenthood duties and other socio-cultural factors.


The above-mentioned factors are the tip of the iceberg. They are on the mild end of the spectrum of violence against women. They are known to people, companies and to governments yet these difficulties still exist. As educated privileged people, it is our responsibility to take active measures to unlearn the gender bias we have been taught as children. As women who have made it to the workplace, it is all the more important for us to make sure that we make a safe place for other women who belong to underprivileged underrepresented groups. Only then will we truly be modern and only then we will succeed.

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