Female labour force participation in developing countries like India is low and has been falling (Klasen and Pieters 2015; Fletcher et al. 2017). Safer workplaces may encourage more women to apply for work (Sudarshan and Bhattacharya 2009; Jayachandran 2020) especially in countries where stigma related to sexual harassment is high (Borker 2017, Sharma 2022). The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013 (SHWA) was introduced in India to mandate the provision of several safety amenities that could reduce sexual harassment and encourage more female participation in the workplace. However, anecdotal evidence suggests compliance with the law remains low.
In this context, we ask two questions: first, are there informational constraints that prevent firms from providing safety-related amenities in the workplace? Second, what is the effect of easing a specific informational constraint – knowledge of the law and how to implement it – on the provision of safe workplace amenities as well as the hiring, performance and retention of female employees?
To answer the first question, we will randomly provide two information interventions to firms: i) information on crucial aspects of SHWA and, ii) information on preferences of job seekers for safety-related amenities at work. We aim to study how providing these two types of information affects firms’ take-up of confidential and tailored ‘safety audits‘ that will help them provide safer workplaces. Our research design will allow us to measure the relative importance of knowledge gaps of the firm about SHWA and institutional mechanisms in place to reduce workplace harassment, compared to misperceptions by the firm about what jobseekers value in the workplace. For the second question, we will measure the effect of providing safety audits to firms using treatment status in stage 1 on outcomes such as the provision of safety-related amenities at the workplace, attitudes, and awareness of sexual harassment, and gender gaps in performance, work satisfaction, and the hiring and retention of employees.
We add to three main strands of the literature: i) On constraints on firms in developing countries that prevent them from hiring and retaining female employees, thereby reducing firm productivity and limiting female labour force participation (Macchiavello et al. 2020; Atkin, 2017; Bender et al. 2018, Bloom et al. 2013); ii) On understanding constraints on firms in complying with laws to help protect workers, in this context, female workers, in particular (Bertrand and Crepon 2021, Johnson 2020, Boudreau 2022). To our knowledge, this is the first study that explicitly studies the impact of informational constraints on a firm’s motivation to provide safe workplaces for women; ii) On understanding demand-side constraints, instead of supply-side ones, on female labour force participation when safety might be an important constraint and where sexual harassment carries huge stigma (Bursztyn et al. 2020; Mckelway 2021; Lowe and Mckelway 2020).
This project builds on an existing pilot study by the same research team in collaboration with the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an industry trade association of Indian firms, and Safecity, a not-for-profit organisation that has extensive experience in advising firms how to make their workplaces safer for women.
We will be randomly allocating 1400 of the sample firms into 3 treatments and a control arm: firms that receive information about the SHWA (T1), firms that receive information about jobseeker preferences (T2), firms that receive both treatments (T1*T2) and control group firms (C). Information about the SHWA will be developed in collaboration with Safecity and will rely on their experience in identifying nuanced areas of the law that have been very challenging for firms to implement. The job seeker preference information will be derived from a survey of jobseekers in India that is being collected as part of an ongoing study. Thereafter, all firms will be offered a free, confidential personalized safety audit by Safecity. We will measure how take-up of the safety audit varies across the different treatment arms.
We will analyze the impact of the safety audit on firms’ outcomes like provision of safe workplace amenities in compliance with SHWA, hiring, retention and performance of employees at the firms. We will use the treatment status in the first stage as an instrument for audit take-up to measure the treatment effects. As an alternative strategy, we will also reserve an independent sample of 250 firms not included in Stage 1, and offer randomly selected firms in this group the safety audit to measure the same outcomes as in the two-staged design. We will provide the control firms with safety audits after one year as an incentive to collect data from them to measure intent to treat effect of being offered a safety audit. The audit will highlight areas of improvement for the firm in terms of providing safety amenities to women such as a well-functioning internal complaints committee and regular and well-designed anti-sexual harassment awareness trainings for management and employees. Our outcome measures will be collected through phone and online surveys of human resource managers and employees at firms and utilise publicly available information on firms from annual reports.