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Supporting Women Who Support The Environment

Corrective action will require institutions to make affirmative commitments to supporting their female employees, and correct the gender gap in the workforce.

Sustainability lies at the intersection of economic growth, social justice and increased equity, and environmental protection. In order to make advances in sustainability, women and men around the world commit themselves to careers in science, academia, activism, public policy, field work, data analytics, governance, law, politics, and the media, among others.

However, even as women globally make strides forward in realizing their own career goals, and advancing the ideals of sustainability in multiple sectors, forms, and countries, they continue to face gender-based challenges and bigotry.

The absence of gender equality can be observed in countries around the world, but is especially pronounced in developing countries. A recent World Bank study found that 19.16 million Indian women quit the workforce between 2004-05 to 2011-12. While the greatest fall in labour force participation was observed in rural areas, the trend was observed across education level, age, income group, social group or marital status.

In the context of careers based around advancing sustainability, the gender gap and bias is attributed to social and cultural biases. These include, but are not limited to, the technical nature of the subject matter, considered more suitable for men; rigorous field work requirements, considered unsuitable for women; highly political negotiations, dominated almost entirely by men, etc.

This systemic and prolonged exclusion of women from various career roles has resulted in a highly-skewed gender dynamic, which continues to be prohibitive for young women to join, or pursue long and fulfilling careers. This is due, in part, to the absence of an adequate number of role models in the sector as a whole, but also due to active gender bigotry, and the more subtle but deeply restrictive social norms.

Gender inequality is even more prevalent at decision-making levels. Women are generally under-represented on company boards and among senior management positions, as well as in politics. The inequality is most apparent in unequal pay for equal work.

Statistics from around the world suggest that the adjusted gender pay gap could be as high as 7 percent, and significantly higher when corrected for exclusion of women from several workforces. The overall gender pay gap in India, in 2016, amounted to a whopping 25 percent. Men earned an hourly median gross wage of Rs 345.8, whereas women only receive Rs 259.8.

The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) is committed to equal opportunity employment. In order to take affirmative action to provide equal opportunities to women both within the institution, but also in the sector as a whole, CEEW is launching a programme ‘Women in Sustainability’.

Women in Sustainability (WiS) seek to promote greater participation, inclusiveness, and visibility of women in all levels of the public policy workforce. In order to do so, it is important to recognize the systemic gender bias that women face in their work and personal life, as well as the impediments faced by young women while attempting to enter the public policy workforce.

Corrective action will require institutions to make affirmative commitments to supporting their female employees, and correct the gender gap in the workforce. It will also need the women in the sector to proactively help themselves and their female colleagues, and for men to lean-in and support their female colleagues.

The arguments in favour of pursuing sustainability practices are sound, and increasingly gaining momentum. However, it is important that the organisations advancing the sustainability agenda also look inwards to ensure that their institutional practices are also in line with the principles of social justice and increased equity.

The time has come, for women to claim and aspire to rewarding careers in public policy. Equally, it is time for institutions and our male colleagues to recognize the barriers that women face and work with us to dismantle them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.




Kanika Chawla

Kanika Chawla is Senior Programme Lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), one of India's leading policy and research Think Tanks.

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Lekha Sridhar

Lekha Sridhar is Programme Associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), one of India's leading policy and research Think Tanks.

More From The Author >>
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