Why aren’t there more female supervisors?
In terms of percentage, in most countries there are much less number of female supervisors than their male counterparts. Data from World Bank Enterprise Surveys shows selected developing countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russian Federation, South Africa and Vietnam had less than 25% firms with top women managers. In India, Argentina and Bangladesh percentages of such firms were even less than 10%.
One reason could be due to their cultural upbringings especially in traditional societies, where many women do not proactively ask for trainings, promotions or managerial roles at workplaces. A survey conducted in China found not every woman worker may ask for learning or promotion opportunities whereas many statements from workers about their long-term ambitions and plans indicate desires to eventually grow into new responsibilities.
In addition, women supervisors face a host of problems related to perception of their performance by their co-workers. They face resistance even when they receive training to be supervisors. For example, in some production lines where women workers were provided supervisory trainings it was found that women trainees face initial resistance as supervisors, which could lead to lower initial performance on the line.
Evidence shows there are benefits in having more women supervisors: a study by Moore et al. 2005 concluded that for both men and women, there are some modest benefits associated with having a women supervisor and with working in a more women-dominated environment.
In addition to facing resistance at workplace, many women and supervisors are saddled with “double burden”: handling wage work and unpaid (and often unacknowledged) household work. Such double burden of women workers could be a cause of their absenteeism.
In general, women find it hard to emerge from social and cultural norms. The results of an empirical analysis suggest improvements in women’s labour market opportunities do not translate into an improvement of intra-household outcomes in their favour. Rather – as many sociological studies have pointed out – higher relative wages for women appeared to increase the double burden, inducing them to increase their market effort and decrease leisure time.
For further reading:
 World Bank Group, Enterprise Survey, http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/Data/ExploreTopics/gender
 Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) (2013), “Between the Lines: Listening to Female Factory Workers in China”, March 2013, https://www.bsr.org/reports/bsr_female_factory_workers_china_en.pdf
 Naem, Farria and Christopher Woodruff (2014), “Managerial Capital and Productivity Evidence from a Training Program in the Bangladeshi Garment Sector”, International Growth Centre, London School of Economic and Polictical Science, https://www.theigc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Macchiavello-et-al-2014-Policy-Brief.pdf
 Moore, Sarah, Leon Grunberg and Edward Greenberg (2005), “Are Female Supervisors Good for Employee Job Experiences, Health, and Well-Being?”, Institute of Behavioral Science, Political and Economic Change Program, Working Paper PEC2005-0003, University of Colorado at Boulder, http://www.colorado.edu/ibs/pubs/pec/pec2005-0003.pdf
 Karlsson, Tobias (2016), “Gender differences in absence from work: Lessons from two world wars”, Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU), Working Paper 2016:26, http://www.ifau.se/globalassets/pdf/se/2016/wp2016-26-gender-differences-in-absence-from-work.pdf
© photo and writing: Sanchita Chatterjee 2017
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