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How India’s top firms fare in employing women and persons with disabilities

by Prasad Krishna last modified Aug 10, 2016 02:27 PM
It is generally believed that the growth of the corporate sector in India has increased employment avenues for historically deprived sections of our society.

The article by Sachin P. Mampatta, Amritha Pillay and Ritika Mazumdar was published in Livemint on August 9, 2016. Nirmita Narasimhan was quoted.

However, an examination of employment data for India’s top 100 companies by market capitalization shows that there is much scope for improvement when it comes to employment of women and persons with disabilities (PWD). In fact, the share of women and disabled employees in India’s top companies is lower than the national average for non-agricultural workers.

The analysis is based on data culled out from Business Responsibility Reports (BRR) that companies are required to file since FY13, which seeks information on the number of permanent women and PWD employees. After factoring in consistency requirements and availability of data, 60 among top 100 companies have been used to calculate these results. This is what the analysis shows.

Is women and PWD employment increasing in corporate India?

Companies did not show marked improvement in the disclosures across the three years (FY13 to FY15). In fact, they showed a slight decline in the number of women employees. Women employees as a percentage of total employees dropped from 19.62% in FY13 to 18.51% in FY15. The number was better for PWD, though only marginally so. The share of PWD employees rose from 0.73% to 0.76% of the total workforce from 2012-13 to 2014-15. Data had limited granularity. So it is difficult to tell if there were overlaps between women and PWD employees. However such overlaps, if any, are expected to be limited.

Is corporate India better than the economy at large in employing women and PWD?

How does India’s corporate sector fare in employing women compared with the rest of the economy? We used data on other workers category from census to compare this. The category of other workers includes people who are not agricultural labourers, cultivators or people who are working in an industry run from home or within the village. Broadly speaking it gives an idea about the non-agricultural workforce in the economy. Data shows that the percentage share of women in corporate India’s workforce is lower than the share of women in other categories. The gap is even bigger in case of the share of PWD. The census data is for 2011, whereas for companies, the year which had the highest percentage share among FY13, FY14 and FY15 was taken.

What explains this gap?

Nirmita Narasimhan, policy director at The Centre for Internet and Society, a non-governmental organisation that works on issues affecting the differently abled, said that skilling is one of the hurdles that affects employment for the differently abled. While skilling of PWDs is a necessary condition for employability, it is not a necessary condition. For example, a visually impaired person may not be able to use a firm’s internal software if there is no compatible screen-reader to help them know what’s on the screen. Companies feel that they would have to spend a lot of money to procure infrastructure. However, technology now often makes it fairly inexpensive to do so. There is huge lack of awareness among employers. They often believe that this would affect the bottom line, Narasimhan added.

In case of women, larger factors could be at play. Women employment in India is still subject to continuing stereotypes which sees them as homemakers, triggering results such as a decline in employment of women with increase in household incomes, as was pointed out in a 2013 Mint piece.

However, there also exists evidence to show that discrimination might be at play even within companies. For example, women and PWD employees have a lower than median share in training received at workplace in these economies. As much as 69% of the permanent work-force received training in 2014-15, according to median figures for the sample set. The number for permanent women employees is 58.76%, and 49.79% for persons with disabilities. Training included skills upgrading and safety training. Skills was given priority where available, else safety training figures were used. Not all companies provided the figures. The above figures are based on the median value for the available set.

Interestingly, there are very few cases of discrimination filed against the companies. The total number filed for all 60 companies was four in 2012-13. It dropped to one in 2013-14, and was zero in 2014-15.

People are said to be reluctant to move the courts on a large scale in such matters. They are unsure of the outcome and cases tend to drag on.

Does this mean increasing private sector dominance in the economy is retrograde?

That said, the picture is not entirely gloomy. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) database shows that the share of women in private sector employment has been increasing since the 1990s. It has increased by almost 6 percentage points since 1990. However, more needs to be done. And top companies should take the lead.

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