MUMBAI: India's leading women company directors, who top various power lists, are not as well paid as their male counterparts, according to an examination of FY17 annual reports by ET.
That wage gap comes on top of the already poor representation of women on boards and their absence from key committees, despite government and regulatory efforts in this regard.
In the 30 Sensex companies, women directors on average were paid 46% less than men. This gap persists among independent directors, but to a lesser extent—28%. Female directors accounted for 46 out of 396 and earned an average salary of Rs 1.4 crore against Rs 2.6 crore by men. Of the 133 independent directors, 25 were women, with an average salary of Rs 36.3 lakh compared with Rs 50.6 lakh for men. The gap yawns as women move up the career ladder.
The Companies Act 2013 stipulates listed companies should have at least one woman on the board. 2017 has been a year of reckoning for men who harass women (and some men), especially in the US, emphasising the view that gender diversity should not be mere tokenism.
Making workplaces safe for women and greater diversity in senior roles have become key issues, bringing to the fore the gender wage gap as something companies are being forced to take note of and address, experts said.
Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, who is also on Infosys' board, said difference in salaries at the highest levels is partly about various committees that a director is on.
Typically, members of finance and audit committees are paid higher than those on the corporate social responsibility panel, she said. Also, "women may not be promoted as much as men are — that's another reason why they lose out on big salary jumps," Shaw told ET. A headhunter said gender discrimination is structural in nature and that women lose out on pay hikes as they move up from junior to middle and senior level positions.
"We have seen sectors that have poor gender diversity are also the ones with a wider gender pay gap," said Roopank Chaudhary, associate partner, AON Hewitt Consulting, an HR consultancy. "We witness there is a reduction in female population from junior to middle management levels by almost 50%, as most take a break from their career for starting a family."
Another factor is the nature of the job. For instance, sales and manufacturing roles have less than 10% women in the workforce and consequently also the highest pay gap among all sectors. "Women largely tend to gravitate more towards support roles rather than front-facing business roles. In terms of people who are running businesses, the percentage of women tends to be significantly less," said Atul Vohra, managing partner of executive search firm Transearch India.
Risk-taking was another factor, he said. "Employees tend to lose out on compensation if they don't change jobs. There is an inherent risk associated with any job change, and men tend to take more of these risks," Vohra said. Fewer career moves account for a significant difference in salary over the years, assuming that every shift comes with a 25-30% jump in pay. But beyond all this data is the ageold problem of how Indian society looks at gender roles.
"A woman takes more breaks in her career due to marriage, motherhood and elder care. Since Indian women tend to have a lower average marriage age (22.2 compared with 26.8 for women globally), combined with the propensity of more women to take breaks in career, they tend to lose out on a consistent career track record," said Saundarya Rajesh of Avtar Group, specialist diversity and inclusion consultant.
Can things change? Indian arms of some multinationals have adopted the equal pay pledge launched by former US President Barack Obama. Companies that signed up for this committed to studying gender pay gaps and reviewing hiring and promotion processes to root out bias in the way of equality.
Organisations are making several attempts to increase focus on hiring more women and retaining new mothers as they return to the workforce, said experts. "If we are to see gender pay gap reduce, more organisations need to adopt concentrated initiatives to include women in the workforce," Rajesh said.
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