Breakthrough Index: Women in the Workplace

Wadhwani/Nathan Breakthrough Index: Women in the Workplace

This issue: In late 2015 Maharashtra joined a small number of states that have amended the Factories Act to allow women to work at night. But the tiny northeastern state of Sikkim is the Breakthrough state for women in the workplace, thanks to its high rates of female workforce participation, lack of restrictions on women’s working hours, and high conviction rates for workforce crimes against women (albeit on a small sample size).

Why it matters: With a workforce that is only 24 percent female, India has one of the world’s lowest rates of female workforce participation. This is a serious drag on growth: a 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that India could add 16 percent to its GDP in ten years if women participated in the workforce at the same rate as men. But many states have laws limiting women’s working hours, and Indian women face harassment in the workplace and while commuting.

How the Index works: We ranked states according to four main factors: legal restrictions on women’s working hours in factories, retail, and the IT industry; the responsiveness of the state’s criminal justice system to crimes affecting working women, such as sexual harassment; the number of women workers in the state as a percentage of total workers; and the number of incentives the state’s startup and industrial policies offer women entrepreneurs. The maximum score was 40.

Our data: Nathan Associates and the CSIS Wadhwani Chair gathered data primarily from official government publications, occasionally supplemented by reliable media sources. If we could not find information after an exhaustive search, that data point was coded as zero. This decision reflects our judgment that making information available to citizens is an important part of any policy to encourage women to join the workforce.

All categories were scored from 1-10. The ‘justice’ score is the average of the percentage of FIRs that are chargesheeted and the percentage of trials that end in conviction.  For the ‘freedom to work’ score, states received 3 points for every sector where women were able to work at night and a bonus point for having liberalized laws in all three sectors reviewed. Raw data and sources are available on request; please contact

Highlights from the Data
  • Four states (Sikkim, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu) have removed all restrictions on women working at night in factories, retail establishments, and the IT sector. In Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, these restrictions were removed as a result of a court judgment. Maharashtra just missed a perfect score; it only allows women to work until 10 pm in retail establishments.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, nine states and Union Territories do not formally allow women to work at night in any sector. Fifteen states and Union Territories did not offer women entrepreneurs any special incentives in their business-promotion policies.
  • In something of a surprise, Delhi came last in our Index, due to its relatively low justice and workforce participation scores; its continued formal restrictions on women working at night in a wide range of sectors; and its lack of any incentives for female entrepreneurs in its industrial policies. 

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Photo credit: PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

Sarah Watson