Bias in India’s engineering workplace: Society of Women Engineers’ Survey

44 per cent men and 30 per cent women admitted to bias based on region and language.


The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) collaborated with the Centre for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (WLL) to bring out a report, ‘Walking the Tightrope’, which reveals the bias that exists in India’s engineering sector.

The online survey which began in 2017 covered 693 engineers across a different disciplines, engineering sectors, and employment levels. The report provides information on the gender bias that men and women have encountered while working for Western engineering companies in India. While women experience gender bias men face bias on the basis of the language they speak or the region they belong to. Data reveals that the unemployment rate of women engineers in India is five times that of men, and it has only been increasing in several regions of the country.

Presenting the report Neeti Sanan, faculty, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur and consultant to the SWE study said, “This is the tipping point. It is a call to action for organisations to address these pressing issues, and the report recommends some constructive steps in that direction.”
• 76 per cent of engineers admit they have to prove themselves repeatedly to be able to command the same level of respect as their colleagues.
• 77 per cent of engineers reported that they were expected to stick to a very limited range of acceptable behaviors than their colleagues.
• 40 per cent of engineers in India reported witnessing bias against mothers in their workplaces.
• 45 per cent of women reported that they have to compete with other women at work to bag the one available ‘woman’s spot’.
• In terms of processes, three-quarters of engineers reported bias in terms of assignments, promotions, sponsorship opportunities, and compensation.
• Two-thirds of engineers had encountered bias in performance evaluations.
• 50 per cent of engineers reported bias in the hiring systems of their organisations.
• 44 per cent men and 30 per cent of women engineers complained of bias due to the state/region they hailed from.
• 11 per cent of women engineers and six per cent of men engineers reported unwanted romantic or sexual advances at the workplace.

The study reveals that women experienced higher levels of bias than men.

• 45 per cent of the women, but only 28% of men, said that arguments, even if they were work-related, on the part of women were considered inappropriate.
• 45 per cent women, but only 30 per cent men said they were pressured to remain submissive at work.
• 40 per cent of men and women reported that women should work less after becoming mothers whereas 27 per cent of the men and women surveyed reported that men should work more after becoming fathers.
• 63 per cent women and 55 per cent men felt the women in their office had just “turned into men.”
• 74 per cent of women but only 60 per cent of men felt that most women did not understand what succeeding at work meant.
• 60 per cent of women but only 44 per cent of men reported a lack of support for diversity initiatives.

In some cases, men reported higher level of bias than women:

• Bias based on language and regional was faced by 44 per cent of men but only 30 per cent of women.
• 50 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women engineers with no kids were considered to have “no life” and ended up working extra hours
• Administrative help was difficult to come by felt 54 per cent men, whereas only 41 per cent of women agreed.
• 54 per cent of men report hiring bias as compared to only 44 per cent of women.

“Recognising the impact of gender bias is important but taking steps to actively change the negative repercussions is more so. We need to start thinking of women engineers as an integral part of organisations and treat them the way their male counterparts are treated,” added Joan C. Williams, distinguished professor and founding director, Centre for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

The report details the effect of bias on various systems and processes and suggests ways in which companies can improve the work environment for their employees. Using this research, SWE —an advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology— aims to spread awareness about the need to address the universal issue of gender bias. The educational and service organisation attempts to establish engineering as a highly desirable career for aspiring women. It provides opportunities to women to network and develop professionally, and also recognises the achievements of women engineers.

The survey was undertaken by SWE in partnership with WLL. The latter is an organisation that measures and documents bias at the workplace, focussing on how bias varies with gender and race. It ties up with organisations to implement best practice Bias Interrupters, which control the spread of bias in basic business systems.

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