Wage Gap

You can’t escape it. No matter where you go. Everyone is talking about this thing called ‘wage gap’. When the topic came up even between a casual conversation, I figured it was time to two put in my two cents worth.

As a woman, I’ve never been aware of a ‘wage gap’. Now, that could be because I was living under a rock (I wish!) or I’m in the industry where women are actually paid higher (reverse wage gap?) or because this doesn’t exist in India.

For all our faults in India and the way we treat our women, there are several positives. In te recent years, there’ve been several schemes that are aimed at giving women an option to save and grow. For instance, the tax slab for women is much higher than men… which means you get to save another few thousands. Interest rates for women savings accounts are higher.

But this doesn’t mean that women are paid on par with men, right? So I checked with a whole bunch of friends and guess what, none of them think there’s a disparity!

There is definitely a disparity when it comes to blue collar labor. Women are paid lesser than men, simply because they are hired to do physically less demanding tasks. Their hours might also be shorter, compared to men.

But when it comes to white collar labour, I wonder if there is truly a “wage gap” or is the discrepancy an indicator of deeper problems.

Employing a man is simpler than employing a woman. I say this as a woman and an employer. Because a woman comes with baggage. And quite often, a woman is not entirely in control of her fate.

Let’s take a hypothetical case of Latha. Let’s assume Latha is a brilliant 23-year old, who has just graduated from one of the top schools in the country.

Latha gets a job in company ABC, and because they are so impressed, they give her a salary that’s more than average for a fresher. Let’s just say around 30 grand. And corporates, being lovers of red tape, also insert a clause that she cannot quit before a year or she pays a ton of money to the company. It makes sense in a way, because they are going to be spending a good 6 months training her.

Latha does really well, and gets an increment when the year ends. Now, a month after she got the increment, she tells her boss that she needs a month off because she’s getting married. She’s got the leave time, so all’s well.

6 months later, she tells the company that her husband got a job in Siberia so she gotta move with him. What you gonna do. So the company wishes her well and tells her that she can come back at any point

But essentially, the company has just spent 30,000x 19 months = 5,70,000 on her salaries alone. Plus the other costs of maintaining an employee. She’s quit way too early, just as they were able to extract some meaningful work from her.

A year later, Latha is back and she gets another great job, this time at 40 grand. She works for a year and then suddenly, she’s pregnant and being a first-time mommy, she wants to take all the maternity leave she can get. She’s a great employee, so the company flexes the rules a bit and gives her nearly 8 months of leave, of which 6 are paid. So that’s another 2,40,000 the company is investing.

After working two more months, Latha decides that she doesn’t want to work anymore and she quits. That means the company shelled more nearly 2 and a half lakh, plus costs for her replacement.

Latha joined another firm once the kid starts school. The company’s great. It even offers day care services and all those fun things. The company does incur the cost for that, but as long as their employees are happy. Then, her husband moves again. Or she needs to take more leave to take care of her family.

As a woman, yes, it is great to have the option to stay at home. But from a company’s perspective, you end up shelling out a lot of money banking on a whole bunch of uncertainties.

In India, we still pay the same to men and women (from what I hear). Yes, there is a major loss of women personnel at a particular level. But there are also women who’ve gone back to work and done great things.

I’ve no real statistics to depend on about how many go back to work or how many quit. But perhaps an employer chooses to pay less to a woman because the company incurs other costs on their behalf.

Or maybe I’m just a frog commenting from my well.

In my limited experience, as an employee and employer, women have often asked for leeway. It isn’t because of physical limitations. Some of the reasons:

  • Cannot work beyond 7.00 PM because their family will not be okay with it (when they want to be a reporter covering breaking news!!!).
  • Having periods and want a sick day – because they are entitled to time off during this time, regardless of if they are in pain or not
  • Need half a day off because they wanted to go home and dress up for a concert.
  • Want a ‘work from home, paid internship’ offers because it is too far to travel to the heart of the city to work
  • Cannot attend a meeting because it might get late and they are scared to take a cab alone

Okay, the last one can be a valid concern. But as a woman who has traveled around the world alone, I’ve learned that you cannot hide at home because some people make the world an unsafe place. You cannot let your gender dictate your ambitions.

I’ve waded through crazy photoshoots when I was having period cramps. I’ve taken autos back home at midnight (and had a philosophical discussion with the stoned autodriver about women’s right to work and travel late at night). I’ve traveled in cabs, driven alone across states. And yes, a part of me knows that it might not be safe. I know that I’m taking a risk. But if that is what the job demands, if that is what I want to do to get to my goal, then how long are you going to depend on others to protect you? What if there is no one to protect you?

Our issue with wage up goes much deeper. It isn’t about the money. It is about how much time you are willing to invest to earn that money. If you are not going to be investing the same amount as the person next to you, then you will get paid less.

The reasons why you cannot invest the same time might be zillion. Perhaps it is your family. Perhaps it is your own fears. And yes, sometimes, the bad boss who overlooks all your good work because you are a woman. Sort those problems out and maybe the wage gap will resolve itself.

Some of the best workers I’ve seen have also been women. Creativity and work doesn’t have a gender. There might be physical and mental limitations, again nothing to do with gender. Some people are better at some things. And wages are and should be set according to that.

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