Women face all-pervasive glass ceiling

13 Mar 2020

In most sectors share of female employees is low. Where the share is close to 50 per cent there are few women in top roles

The NCAER Skills Report 2018 has emphasised on the importance of female role models to encourage employability and eventual employment. Where are these role models? The numbers from the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017 inform us that the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of females aged between 15-59 years according to usual status was barely 25.9 per cent and the worker population ratio (WPR) was 23.8 per cent.

Majority of the women (55.3 per cent) aged 15 were employed in the agricultural sector in 2017-18. The corresponding number for men was 39 per cent.

The next top four sectors which employed women in 2017-18 were education (8.3 per cent); retail trade except of motor vehicles and motorcycles (4.6 per cent); manufacture of wearing apparel (3.5 per cent); and activities of households as employers of domestic personnel (3.3 per cent). Together they employed 75 per cent of women aged 15 and above.

In this article we specifically examine the role of female leaders — that is females who fall in Division 1 of National Classification of Occupations 2004 classified as legislators senior officers and managers (henceforth referred to as ‘managers’).

For that reason we leave out agriculture and allied activities and activities of households as employers of domestic personnel from our analysis. While the former sector has its own peculiarities the latter category primarily includes domestic assistants in various capacities with limited scope for managerial roles.

Divisions 2 (Professionals) and 3 (Associate Professionals) are clubbed together in one group referred to as ‘professionals’. Divisions 4 to 9 are clubbed together and referred as ‘workers’ and include clerks; service workers and shop and market sales workers; skilled agriculture and fishery workers; craft and related trades workers; plant and machinery operators and assemblers; and elementary occupations.

The 12 sectors listed in the table account for 76.6 per cent of all female employees outside agriculture and domestic services. The share of female employees amongst all employees is greater than 50 per cent only in the case of the tobacco sector. It is 45-50 per cent for education and human health activities.

Stark difference

However the nature of the sectors differ starkly. Majority of the females engaged in the tobacco sector were ‘workers’ whereas they were ‘professionals’ in the education and health sectors — that is signalling different skills levels.

Within the manufacturing and construction sectors barring the latter the share of female ‘managers’ as a percentage of all managers was approximately equivalent to the share of all female employees as a percentage of all employees.

Majority of the females in these sectors were ‘workers’. The share of ‘professionals’ was the smallest.

In contrast the service sectors show variations. Two sectors namely retail trade and food & service beverage activities behave in a similar manner as the above mentioned manufacturing sectors.

Even though other personal service activities is similar to the other two sectors discussed above the share of female ‘managers’ is lower than the share of female employees signalling presence of glass ceiling in this sector.

There are three sectors — education health and computer programming and consultancy and related activities — where the share of female ‘managers’ is lower than the share of overall female ‘employees’. These sectors are characterised by a very high share of ‘professionals’.

Two sectors namely public administration and financial services fall between the two extremes. The share of female ‘managers’ is the same or higher than the share of female employees.

There is no suggestion of glass ceiling though the share of female employees was overall relatively low compared to health and education. There is a fair share of ‘professionals’ in these sectors.

Double whammy

The numbers suggest a double whammy for women. First in a majority of the sectors the share of female employees is relatively low. And in sectors where the share of female employees is close to 50 per cent glass ceiling seems to be at work.

This is despite the fact that some of these sectors are characterised by a high share of professionals.

Third there is a concentration of women employees in certain sectors — agriculture and education. This is true despite educational attainment.

Majority of the female employees with graduate level education and above were engaged in education (45.6 per cent) and health (10.7 per cent) sectors as opposed to men being engaged in education (17.3 per cent) and retail trade (12 per cent).

To encourage female leadership at work demand side policies have to work along with supply side (education and skilling)

Bornali Bhandari is a Senior Fellow and Ajaya Sahu is a Senior Research Analyst at NCAER. Views are personal.

Published in: Business Line, March 13, 2020