--By Saloni Maheshwari
“It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”
- Swami Vivekananda
Ariana Huffington, Marissa Mayer, Sara Blakely, Sheryl Sandberg are successful business women whom we applaud and look forward to and indeed some of these women are my heroes. These women have changed the entire business scene. They are high achievers and hold eminent positions in the business world.
However, what’s happening for the rest of the women in the workforce? What have women achieved now and how was it in the past? How far have women come in the workplace? We're making progress, but, it has taken years to even get close to that glass ceiling. I thought it would be interesting to take a look back in time to how far we have come.
What Percentage of Women Work?
According to a report, at the global level only 50 percent of working age women are in the work force, compared to 77 percent of men. The gender gap remains large in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia. Overall participation in the labour market is only slightly lower in 2015, compared to 1995. However, there is a decline in participation among women and men aged 15 to 24 years which is mostly linked to the mounting up of educational opportunities at the secondary and tertiary levels. The labour force participation among older women aged 25 to 54 has been increased in most regions, while that of men in the same age group has declined to an extent. The proportion of women aged 55 to 64 in the labour force has risen in most regions, reflecting changes in the statutory retirement age and pension reforms.
In business, the glass ceiling and walls are cracking, but have not been broken yet. Women CEOs today head more than 20 Fortune 500 companies. That’s a positive indicator but is up only by five percent of the total. There are women on corporate boards, but hold less than 20 percent of the seats. And more women own and manage businesses, but only 30 percent of the world total. The gender pay gap still exists and is hardly shrinking. On average, women still earn 23 percent less than men worldwide.
Situation in Nepal
According to a report published by United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Nepali women’s participation in education, labour market, governance and politics has increased over time and it states that women are gradually entering occupations previously perceived as suitable for men only. Now it’s nothing like a particular job is meant only for men. Women are now in every kind of work.
Nepal hasn’t made enough progress when it comes to ensuring that there are more women in the labour force. In 2000, the ratio of female to male in proportion of the country’s working-age population (ages 15 and older) was 76 percent. In 2012, it was 86 percent. We will have more leaders if more women are educated and independent. The female literacy rate in Nepal has increased significantly in the last 40 years. In the early 1980s, it was just about 10 percent. Now, it’s more than 50 percent. In 2011, the ratio of young literate females to males aged 15-24 was 86.81.
Women’s participation in the informal sector has increased significantly in both urban and rural areas in fields like, vending, petty trade liquor making and groceries stores. In rural areas women tend to be limited to jobs around planting, weeding, and harvesting, while in urban areas many find themselves employed in low level positions and jobs that are predominately viewed as women’s work.
Over 70 percent of women workers are confined to self-employed, unpaid and low-wage informal sector work with few formal job opportunities. The problems faced by women stem from a number of issues including stereotypical roles confining women to the household, limited access to education and training, poor security, discriminatory wage rates, sexual harassment at work and discrimination in employment opportunities.
However, there are very few women working in professional work in Nepal. They may study law, but few are able to enter the profession. Women’s representation in bureaucracy is also very low. Only one woman so far has served as ambassador. After 1991 not a single woman has been placed in the diplomatic corps. Limited participation in politics, bureaucracy and the judiciary does not stop women from making a remarkable contribution in the decision-making process at the household level.
What’s Holding Women Back?
The numbers are creeping along, but they’re still sharply low. The success of a Hillary Clinton or a Mary Barra is encouraging, but these women are exceptions to the rule. What is holding women back from leadership positions in the 21st Century?
The problem is that women still have to do more than men to prove themselves. Women today have acquired skills and capabilities of not just being a homemaker but being at par with their male counterparts. But this life is not a bed of roses for all. There are more conflicts with the working mother. They need to fulfill all the demands at work followed by various demands at home. This can leave a working woman stressed and restless, more so if the family is not supportive.
There are various other issues that women face at their workplace. Insufficient maternity leave is one of the major issues that are faced by a working mother. This not only affects the performance of women employees at work, but is also detrimental to their personal lives. The other concern for working women is security, especially in BPO sector. There have been many cases of sexual abuses and rapes and this is due to lack of proper security. This not only hampers their professional but personal life as well. Despite the number of degrees that women earn, there is a dearth of women who rise to top leadership roles. Women who are highly qualified at times need to leave work in order to focus on family issues and this actually reflects on woman’s conscious desire to achieve high profile and high paying roles.
Just letting women work outside the home does not mean that society treats men and women equally. The issues and problems that women face in their workplaces should be put to an end completely. Women need to stay in touch with their own workplace. If a woman knows she is making less money than a man while other issues appear to be equal, she owes it to herself to raise her voice. She can help to create a more gender-friendly workplace and promote her own worth.
Well, women have made progress in careers that were once male dominated that are now overwhelmingly populated by women: clerical positions, administrative jobs, nursing, teaching, social work, and other positions. But there is lot more that women can do and achieve. As recommended by the Women Employed Institute, make women more aware of careers that offer higher pay. Women need to get educated about these opportunities in order to grab higher paying opportunities. Although there are various laws that are made for the protection of women even in the workplace, due to lack of proper implementation and interpretation of the law, it has not been quite effective in protecting women from the crimes and inequality in the workplace. There are many barriers yet to be felled. And women really need to stand up and take hold of the position they deserve.
The writer is an MBA Graduate in Marketing from Ace Institute of Management.