India’s female labour force participation rate is among the lowest in the world, and one reason for this is that employers just don’t want to hire women.
In a study of 830,929 job advertisements posted on blue collar jobs portal Babajobs.com (which later merged with QuikrJobs), between 2007 and 2017, World Bank researchers found that employers often look for only male candidates. The study (pdf), released in March, identified that around 36% of the ads specified the gender of the potential candidate—of this, a majority preferred men over women.
The preference for male candidates was found to be particularly common for machine-related (driving, garment work), sales (retail clerk), or elementary jobs (delivery collectors, gardeners, watchmen). In contrast, roles targeted to women tended to be low-quality, low-status, and usually low-paid and informal, the study says. The notable exception was business-process outsourcing (BPO) work. This category, which accounted for the largest share (19%) of the job postings, was also the most gender-neutral, with just 14% of them specifying gender. Among the gender-specified BPO job ads, women were more in demand than men.
Sales, high-intensive outdoor labour work, and machine-related tasks are considered male jobs, the study says. “On the other hand, women are disproportionately more preferred in household elementary jobs and caregiving jobs, as well as beautician and receptionist positions,” it says. “Among professional jobs, teaching and management are relatively female jobs, and engineering and IT profession are considered male jobs.”
Unlike in countries such as the US, mentioning the preferred gender in a job ad isn’t illegal in India. But the result is the reinforcement of skewed gender norms and occupational segregation, which in turn contributes to lower earnings for women, the World Bank researchers say.
Next, the researchers analysed the salary gap within the category of gender-specified job ads. After factoring in the different occupation categories and co-variates like experience and employer type, they found that female-targeted ads offered salaries that were on average 10 percentage points lower. While female-specified jobs in the clerical sector actually offered women salaries that were 19% higher than male-specified jobs, all the others discriminated against them when it came to salaries, including the BPO sector.
On a positive note, the researchers say that as technological advancement transforms the Indian economy, new jobs will be created that are more gender-neutral. This, combined with increasing education, should help increase female labour force participation.
But the key barriers remain: India’s conservative society and its obsession with relegating women to the roles of wives and mothers alone. To top it off, the country’s sizeable gender pay gap isn’t going anywhere either.