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Women are paid less. Yes, this is old news

#GenderAnd Business: Gender pay parity in NIFTY500 companies. A complete analysis of who earns what and why?

Written by Mitali Mukherjee |
Updated: December 27, 2017 4:31:04 pm

You have probably heard a number of times that men are paid more than women. Why is that? Are women always paid less? What does gender bias have to do with paychecks? Are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Does the gap decrease as women go higher and does the public and private sector behave differently? analysed data collected and maintained by Prime Database for the boards of the top 500 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NIFTY 500) to explore highs and lows when it came to remuneration given to male and female board members. In part one of the series we explored how company boards are overwhelmingly male (86 per cent of 4,750 members). While most companies follow the “one woman on the board” rule, thus making them a slim 14 per cent of this high-powered workforce, what do these women earn? Does compensation vary for a board member based on gender? Or does difference in roles, responsibilities (which too can tie back to gender) determine the paycheck? Here is our analysis across metrics based on data as of November 22, 2017.

MEN EARN TWICE AS MUCHOn average, male members on company boards earn more than double of what women board members earn — a male board member earned Rs 1.22 crore annually. The average female board member earned less than Rs 60 lakh per annum.

For the purpose of this data analysis the salary, sitting fees, commission and other sources of remuneration were added to arrive at total earnings of board members for the year 2016-17. However, since averages run the risk of getting skewed because of a few outliers, the median* for earnings was calculated as well. Gendered patterns for earnings held true even then.

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Median earnings for male board members indicate they earn more than one and a half times that of women, 1.64 times more to be precise.

*The median calculates the positional mid-point of a data set when it is arranged in an increasing or decreasing order. As a measure of central value, the median gets less affected by extreme values.

WHAT ABOUT WOMEN PROMOTER DIRECTORS?Popular perception may be that women board members who are promoter directors may be earning similar or marginally different from their male counterparts in the board who are also promoter directors.

Data doesn’t bear this out. Male board members, who are also promoter-directors, earned 1.75 times more than female board members who were promoter directors. But take out just a handful of outliers, or simply calculate the median salaries, and the story becomes interesting. Male directors who are also promoter-directors earn 4.73 times that of female promoter directors for their median earnings.

Among the few outliers to this trend are Kaveri Kalanithi Maran, the Managing Director at Sun TV Network, Vinita Gupta of Lupin and Deepali Mhaiskar of IRB Infrastructure.

The irony is that when the “at least one woman director” rule was brought the concern was that company boards would place someone from within the family in order to comply. In an encouraging trend, companies did not entirely go the family route (16 per cent of all women were also promoter directors). The oddity is in the wages—when it comes to female board members who are promoter directors proximity to power (male centres of power) is also no guarantee for equal wages.


The NIFTY 500 comprises of a total of 442 private sector companies and 58 Public Sector Undertakings (PSU). While earnings for both men and women are greater in the private sector overall, the male-female earnings’ disparity is actually greater for PSUs than for private companies. Male board members in PSU organisations earn nearly three times that of women — a male board member earned Rs 16.14 lakh on average vis-à-vis female board members who earned Rs 5.09 lakh on an average. The median earnings for both sexes continued to show similar trends. Men earned 1.33 times that of women in private sector companies; their earnings were four times that of women for PSUs on median.

THE OUTLIERS: WHERE WOMEN EARN EQUAL (OR MORE!) looked closely at some layers to see if there was any category, any sector, any classification of board members that was bucking the trend, where women board members were earning equal or more than their male counterparts. Mixed and sometimes opposing trends, when calculated via mean and median appear in barely two data sets (as of November 22, 2017).

Independent directors are a category where mean and median calculations threw up opposing trends. On an average, Independent male directors’ earnings were marginally higher than those of female, while for median calculations; it was the female directors’ earnings that were marginally higher.

In IT, women board members earn on an average Rs 44.32 lakh while male board members earning almost three times, Rs 1.18 crore on an average. The disparity reverses on median calculations with female directors earning marginally more (1.02 times) than the men.

The questions then arise are manifold—when and where does pay disparity kick in? All arguments on wage disparity often lead to women’s familial duties and its alleged contradiction with duties at work. In the case of women board directors (average age 56), it could be presumed that child bearing/maternity leave related absences are over. Most have reached the corporate board after decades of work in their field. Why then are they paid less?  Sairee Chahal, founder and CEO of SHEROES a digital platform that enables women professionals with career choices, says, “As the stakes get higher, so do the biases. For instance, women professionals are more likely to avail work-from-home benefits as they are the primary caregivers, and of course, they take maternity breaks, which are still considered more as privileges, rather than basic rights. These career breaks impact their growth trajectories and with it, pay scales. Returning to work is tough as there is a clear bias against returning women.”

While for the purpose of this series we have looked at board members in NIFTY 500, what about gender pay gap at lower levels? Does the gap increase or decrease with increase in wages?, a research initiative of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, looked at patterns of gendered wage gap based on a voluntary online salary survey. Their data was collected over a period of six years (2006 – 2011). The study found the gendered wage gap was higher when education levels rose and at senior levels vis-a-vis junior levels. The pay gap between men and women was less for incomes below Rs 1 lakh and above Rs 50 lakh but was stark when earnings were in the range of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.

The law is clear when it comes to wage parity. Payal Chawla, founder of Delhi-based law firm JUSTCONTRACTUS, lists out the specific legislation i.e. the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, among other provisions in the Constitution that can be read towards achieving equal pay for women. But when it comes to demanding pay parity, studies show women are unlikely to bring this up with their superiors. Earlier this year, the Uday Kotak-led 21-member Committee on corporate governance recommended at least one woman independent director on a board. Many like Payal Chawla believe this would be an important contribution towards corporate governance.

The recommendation, if accepted will be a move in the right direction, but may still hinge on when whether women board members find themselves in the right forums. Merely, giving women a seat at the table is not enough. Are they part of important committees and who holds the balance of power there? Look out for the third part, in the series on women in corporate boards.

Read part one of this series. #GenderAnd is dedicated to the reportage of gender across intersections. Read our work here

Mitali Mukherjee is co-founder and editor of The MoneyMile. Research and data analysis by ICFJ Associate Akshi Chawla. Sana Amir contributed to this project

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