Would you read a book by M.V. Pant? Who’s M.V. Pant? She’s a well-known, critically acclaimed author. Wait, she? Alluding to the likes of J.K. Rowling and E.L. James—female authors who adopted masculine-seeming initialisms to be taken seriously—Meghna Pant recalls, “I was told that if I had written under the name M.V. Pant, I would have sold more books.” It certainly has more than a ring of truth to it. Be it in India or the wider world, the story’s the same, as is the industry’s response. Books by woman authors are priced lower and, “male authors get much bigger advances and royalties, and are also assigned much bigger marketing budgets than female authors, ” says Pant.
A less than encouraging picture for women in publishing—and other sectors hardly offer better prospects. According to the Monster Salary Index, 2017, women, who only make up 27 per cent of the Indian workforce, are paid 20 per cent less than men overall, and 68 per cent of working women report having experienced wage inequality. All this in spite of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, mandating equal pay for the same or similar work—and this being a directive principle in the Constitution. And few women reach the top. Harpreet Kaur, director at the Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, Ashoka University, says there are many factors which create a leaking pipeline for women, hindering them from reaching leadership positions. “While there are few entry points for women, the exit gates are many—pregnancy, childbirth, child care, elderly care, lack of family support and unsupportive work environments,” says Kaur.