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Mind the (pay) gap

Recent reports show that pay-gap has doubled between male and female CXOs in India

Mind the (pay) gap
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Remember those pictures of industry meets and corporate brainstorming sessions between India Inc. and the government? Some of us baulked at the under-representation of women from these meets. More often than not, women would be absent and if at all seen, would be in the fringes. This week, a report unveiled another disturbing factor, the pay gap between male and female CEOs has doubled in FY19! As if we didn't have other reasons impeding the progress of women, this startling report, compiled by the National Stock Exchange (NSE), based on its 1,747 listed companies, should be most worrying.

Participation of women in India's workforce is anyway on a decline. As per data provided by NSO-EUS and PLFS, the participation of women in the country's labour force (in the age group of 15- 59 years) dropped by 7.8 per cent, from 33.1 per cent in 2011-12 to 25.3 per cent in 2017-18. The only consolation, in this report that was released earlier this month, was that women in salaried jobs had risen by 8 per cent (from 13 per cent in 2011-12 to 21 per cent in 2017-18). But the NSE report exposes two problematic issues: one, few women rise to the top in the corporate world, and two, even if they do, their pay packages will still be much less than their male counterparts. While women all over the world are increasingly raising the cause of pay parity, the seedy side of corporate HR can no longer go unnoticed. The numbers are made more poignant given that we have a female Finance Minister, who has in the past also worn other ministerial hats as Defence Minister and, more significantly, as Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Commerce and Industry.

The shouts from a few years ago that emanated for more women in the boardroom have been reduced to a whisper. According to the CS Gender 3000 report by Credit Suisse, female representation on boards upped only by a meagre 4.3 per cent to 15.2 per cent in 2019 from 2014. And now add to this what the NSE report says, female CXOs earned 45 per cent less than their male peers. While the pay packages for male executive directors got fatter by 8 per cent, for women it actually fell by 0.12 per cent! This fact alone stinks of gender bias and a concerted effort to thwart the corporate success of women.

This disparity of emoluments even among the top echelons of corporate power can mean many things. Foremost is the deep-seated prejudice against women that has men ever-expanding their old boys' clubs by choosing more men to fill up positions of authority. Without adequate women giving each other a leg-up within the corporate world, the sausage fest continues.

Of course, there are other factors to be considered too. Women are more likely to take a hiatus from work, many times to start a family. If and when they do get back to work, they have lost valuable years and work experience. Their juniors are likely to now be their bosses and their pay scale would either be stagnant or require a pay-cut.

In the absence of flexible work hours and adequate support from the office, many women choose to end their corporate careers. Can this change? Absolutely. Gender-sensitive HR policies are being implemented around the world. But in India, in order to keep the woman at the workplace, more encouragement would have to be needed. Accommodating policies that either allow 'work-from-home' and have more welcoming policies for women returning to work, would be an additional fillip.

And ladies, please also show that you can be equally driven by career and ambition just like men. While family is important, it doesn't have to be an 'either-or' choice. Only if we step out to work in larger numbers and demand for our place on the high chair, can this dismal picture change. Otherwise, that glass ceiling is only getting higher and stronger in India.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal

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