Blog: Women at work – The role played by the gender chore gap

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Women at work – The role played by the gender chore gap

It’s not a glass ceiling but a sticky floor that prevents many women professionals from climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.
Women at work – The role played by the gender chore gap

In a video that went viral a few months back PepsiCo Ex-CEO, Indra Nooyi, recollected how a few years back her mother was unimpressed with the news of her appointment as the President of PepsiCo, as she was upset that Indra had failed to stock up milk at home! If this is the story of one of the most influential women leaders of the corporate world, one can calculate how many such situations an average Indian Woman Professional would face in her life every day. Expectations of the society on a woman does not always take into consideration her professional commitments, even as taking care of the home continues to be her primary responsibility.

So, where does this leave the women, especially the ones who are ambitious about their careers? Indian society has definitely embraced changes and has come quite a long way in being open to ways of the modern world around. For instance, the gap in the educational degrees between the genders has been almost filled –according to the annual World Economic Forums’ Gender Gap Indices, 46% of India’s university graduates are women; but the facts and figures around women’s workforce participation spell concern. India’s Female Labour Force participation rate (FLFPR) is a low 26% compared to an average FLFPR of 50% in Advanced Economies. India is fairing badly even in comparison with Asian countries like Srilanka (36%) and Philipines (48%).  Societal cultural norms and the challenges of managing home and professional fronts in equal measure are forcing women to quit the workplace. Close to 48% of Indian Women Professionals (IWPs) abort their careers mid-way, resulting in a steady and sharp decline in women’s representation at managerial and leadership levels. Only 5% of senior executives in India are women. India is probably one of the few countries witnessing a decline in Women’s workforce participation – 10% decline in the last decade or so.

However, it’s not a glass ceiling but a sticky floor that prevents many women professionals from climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. Several studies have shown how domestic chores and responsibilities act as a barrier to women’s workforce participation and aspirations. The gender chore gap in India is the largest for any country in the world. A woman-man, per day, gender chore gap is over 300 minutes! This refers to the time Indian women spend on the 3Cs – cooking, cleaning and caring. According to an ILO report, Asian women spend fourfold the time that Asian men do on unpaid care.

Some of the facts regarding the Gender chore gap are:

  • It is a result of gender role stereotyping, a characteristic of patriarchal societies across the world. 
  • As a result of the chore gap, women who are part of the workforce carry the “double burden” - working two shifts at office and home. Careers become hard to sustain, harder to thrive, resulting in women quitting work, mid-way.
  • While globally women continue to be the primary caretakers of children, in the Indian socio-cultural milieu, elder care is an additional familial responsibility that women shoulder.
  • When it comes to gender chore gap as a barrier, there are numerous instances of women themselves being both the victim and the culprit. The internalized sexism and conditioning of a woman, who has been raised to see an impeccable home as a sign of her worth become one of the biggest problem, especially in the era of Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube. 
  • There is also this widespread stereotypical global perception that a man who places a high priority on domestic cleanliness is just a clean man; while a woman who doesn’t is a bad or careless woman.
  • In addition, men often get special credit for the chores they do and their contributions get recognized. If a man does a bit more chores than other men in his circle – community or neighbourhood, he’s viewed as someone who is exceptionally helpful. Whereas, it is always assumed that household chores are the fundamental responsibility of a woman.
  • Countless women also assume the extra mental burden of the “worry job” – the job of keeping track of what needs to be done and when, in the first place – while men merely pick tasks that have been previously allocated to them by their spouses.

So, how can we counter this problem that’s prevalent? Who is responsible for creating the change? Well, as is the case with many other issues, this one too needs the support of everyone involved – the woman, the man, the organization, the government, the media and the society as a whole. In some of the Nordic countries in which women’s workforce participation is amongst the highest in the world, there are legislations around shared parental leave. However, in India, despite extending the maternity leave mandate to 26 weeks, there is no unified mandate around paternity leave. This definitely needs to change.

In this era of media-created perceptions, it will help to use the various platforms for creating positive impacts. There are active marketing campaigns in the country that reinforce the need to ‘Share the Load’. We definitely need to create more such awareness campaigns in the media to drive home the point. It is only through sustained and wide-spread action that we can hope to see significant changes that will not only reduce the gap in gender chore, but also create a sense of partnership and commitment to fulfilling home-duties. This is not just to reap economic benefits, but also create a balanced society that allows true democracy to flourish. 

Topics: EmpowerHer, Change Management, Diversity

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