Why are there fewer women in supervisory positions in Bangladesh?

Juliette Li, International Verification Coordinator at FWF shares the answer to the question of why so few women reach the position of supervisor in Bangladesh

When I visited a factory in Bangladesh, I asked the factory manager why there were so few female supervisors. He hesitated a bit, as if he found it difficult to give me an answer. Then he said, ‘Oh, usually women do not like this kind of responsibilities.’ When I asked him why, he pointed at a women standing next to a sewing machine and said, ‘She is the only female supervisor at our factory. She can explain.’

The female supervisor said, ‘It is very very hard to be a supervisor. By the time I get home every day I have a sore throat. I have to keep yelling the whole day, and even then they don’t listen. I am so stressed all the time. Sometimes I think these women need a man to tell them what to do. I don’t mean that I can’t do better than man. My line actually produces most in this factory. But it would be so much easier if I were a man. ’

Although the female supervisor does a better job than her male colleagues, as can be seen from the number of pieces she produces, she relates the difficulties she faces in her work to the fact that she is a woman. In many factories in Bangladesh, there is no proper system for performance review. Supervisors and workers are evaluated according to the impressions their bosses have on them. In addition, most supervisors have little knowledge on how to manage people. It doesn’t matter if they are men or women. They rely on yelling, sometimes even yelling profanities, to give instructions. Female supervisors often find it more difficult as they do not want to use sexually explicit profanity, but they don’t always see how they have a choice.

According to a survey FWF conducted in 2013, management staff at the factories believes that the low rate of women in supervisory positions is not a concern.

Management says that the main reasons women are not supervisors are:

  • Women are afraid of taking responsibility.
  • Women have family responsibilities so they are not able to take the workload of managerial position.
  • Women are not used to managerial responsibilities.
  • Women are not needed in managerial position.
  • Women do not apply for the positions or go to the interviews.
  • Women do not want to work late hours.
  • Women cannot move around, which is necessary for supervisory work.
  • Women lack self-confidence.
  • Women don’t want this type of post.

Workers and management staff experience the same environment differently. For example, 50% of the workers said that female workers faced discrimination, while only 10% of the managers agreed that that is the case. Interestingly, less than 1% of the workers said that they had participated in negotiation with management, but over 80% of the managerial staff from the same factories said they had negotiations with workers.

These findings suggest the need for more research to understand the complex situation regarding gender in the garment industry in Bangladesh.

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