India is currently celebrating results' season. One trend that has repeated itself is girls outperforming boys under various boards, including CBSE, ICSE, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra and more.
Even the topper of UPSC 2016 declared recently was a woman for the third year in a row.
However, in contrast, much fewer women manage to retain their stellar performance at work. What explains this upsetting trend?
Girls at school vs women at work
Girls all over are winning in education
Girls' impressive performance in exams has become a trend, not just in India. As Muhammad Hamid Zaman wrote in his piece titled 'Ode to a better future', it is also the norm in Pakistan.
In fact, a study of researches from 1914-2011, which included 1.13 million students across 30 countries, showed that girls have had better grades in all subjects for nearly a century.
What traits help girls in schools?
Studies have quoted various factors contributing to good performance in academics: raising one's hand in class, paying attention, obeying the teacher, and awaiting one's turn rather than blurting out replies, and overall discipline. Almost all traits are found to be stronger in girls than in boys.
A careful observation will show us how all these traits can be categorized as submissive, docile, stereotypically "feminine".
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Then the trend starts reversing
According to a 2010-11 report by the HRD Ministry, 248mn students were enrolled in school, with 117mn girls (47%) and 131mn boys. However, in 2011-12, a total of 28.56mn students were found in higher education, of which 12.69mn were girls (44%) and 15.87mn boys.
Why are girls dropping out more than boys?
Girls are expected to focus more on building a family than a career. Whereas people seek "well-qualified" grooms, in demand are brides who can manage a home, so higher studies are often considered a "waste" of time and money.
Besides, dowry is prevalent in many parts, and money needs to be saved for it.
Schools don't have proper infrastructure either, creating discomfort for girls.
How many women actually end up at the workplace?
According to a December'16 report in the Wall Street Journal, "India has one of the world's most lopsided female participation rates in its laborforce."
According to the World Bank, only 27% of the Indian workforce is female, much below the global average of 50%.
Most of them, about 63%, are employed in farms. Less than one of five employees outside of agriculture are women.
What traits deter women at work?
Workplace success depends on very different traits than academic success. Whereas schools expect "good" students to keep quiet and obey teachers, work wants "good" employees to take charge and lead. This calls for a drastic change in the conventional way most girls are brought up.
Many obstacles to cross on the way
When women manage to enter the workforce, they have a number of ceilings to cross, including sexism. Offices are male-dominated, thus discouraging participation of more women.
Women have to deal with more physical complications than men, including periods and pregnancies, and are often paid less.
Linguist Kieran Snyder found reviews for women focused on their character traits, while those for men emphasized their skills.
For women, success vs likeability is a trade-off
The few women who reach the top are often viewed negatively compared to their male counterparts. The Heidi/Howard experiment found that given the same description of a successful entrepreneur, students rated them as likeable when "his" name was Howard, than when "she" was called Heidi.
More women in the workplace encourages more participation of women
A male-dominated workplace culture will automatically contribute to the sustenance of the current situation. This trend has to change for the future to be better.
More women at the top will help bring in more women. It has been found that women investors funding women entrepreneurs contribute to lessening of the gender gap in start-up success.
We need to think, but before that, act.