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Understanding the gender dynamics of surveyor work in India

This blog is a result of a passion project. We surveyed our surveyors to understand the gender dynamics of surveyor teams in India so we could effectively improve the experience of our surveyors. We hope that these findings will be used to enhance the diversity, equity, and inclusion of surveyors at IDinsight and other organisations.

Female surveyor surveying a sanitation worker in Sinnar, Maharashtra @Lipika Biswal/IDinsight

Why did we survey our surveyors?

If you ever talk to an IDinsighter about IDinsight, chances are, you will hear the phrase “social impact.” While we love talking about the impact of our projects, we sometimes overlook the internal social impact we create. For many projects at IDinsight, we collect primary data via a team of locally hired surveyors. This employment in itself has the potential to have a positive influence on people’s lives as it can provide an opportunity to earn wages and contribute to livelihoods.

In India, we have noticed that even though we have conducted surveys with all-female surveyor teams, or attempted to hire a gender-balanced mix of surveyors, our overall surveyor force is predominantly male. This is consistent with India’s low female labor force participation rate, which is estimated to be between 20-30 percent.12 This rate is driven by many social and economic constraints, including, but not limited to, lower levels of women’s mobility, social norms placing women in domestic spheres, information gaps on available jobs, and legal barriers.34 In recent years, the gig economy, or the set of labor market activities which are coordinated via digital platforms, has grown and shown some promise of improving labor opportunities for women.5 Through different “gigs,” people are able to work based on their availability. Some research has suggested that this type of labor is beneficial to women because of its flexibility.67

However, surveyor work does not necessarily fit the bill of “gig work” because demand for surveyor labor is based on the project timelines of organizations that conduct data collection activities. In some months, there may not be a survey in a particular place. In other months, there might be. Some surveyors might work across different organizations and geographies to optimize their earnings, but others might simply opt-in for the surveys that take place in their hometown, even if infrequent.

There is not much research on the experiences of surveyors, as a workforce. We were particularly motivated to understand surveyor experiences through a gender lens to see if there were any steps we could take as an organization to improve the experiences of female surveyors. We believe that hiring more female surveyors can help build rapport with female respondents (particularly for surveys in which we are collecting sensitive information) and help diversify our surveyor pool.89

We set out to survey some of our surveyors to understand the experiences of surveyors doing data collection work and potential gender-based barriers that exist.

Who was surveyed?

We attempted to survey the total population of Hindi-speaking surveyors who had worked on at least one IDinsight project in India between 2019-2022.1011 We created a questionnaire that covered the following topics: demographics, work history, satisfaction levels, gender-based bias, menstruation, and overall reflections.12 The questionnaire was entirely anonymous – surveyors were not asked to enter any personally identifying information about themselves or share which survey projects they worked on. They also responded to the survey on SurveyCTO by using the same log-in information, so we were unable to identify responses based on usernames. The questionnaire can be accessed here (translated in English and Hindi). 

We emailed details of the survey to the 1,707 Hindi-speaking surveyors who had worked on IDinsight India projects between 2019-2022. We requested that surveyors fill out the survey on their own time, and gave them a window of three weeks. We also sent the survey to surveyors via project WhatsApp groups that were set up for different surveys, as we realized that some emails bounced due to surveyors changing their email addresses. We sent reminders to surveyors twice a week. However, not all surveyors responded to our survey as it was a voluntary exercise sent out in a period in which they may have not been working on an IDinsight project. In total, 322 surveyors responded to our survey.13

The table below highlights key features of the surveyors who responded to our survey:

What did we learn?

1. Work

1.1. Why are people interested in surveyor work?

Surveyors can build many skills, including communication, management, leadership, and technical skills. As surveyors work on more and more surveys, they gain more confidence in public speaking, critical thinking, and solving problems on the spot. It is helpful to know that surveyors are attracted to surveyor work because of these skills, as we can advertise these opportunities more during the hiring process. It is also important to recognize the interest of such work: surveyors are typically interested in learning more about the lifestyle of people living in their society. Field managers at IDinsight report that when surveyors feel more aware of their community, they feel more empowered to take responsibility in social development efforts. Additionally, some surveyors enjoy surveyor work because of the unique opportunity to travel and not just work in an office.

The three main reasons surveyors chose to work at IDinsight were: to help them develop more skills (63 percent), because the work was interesting (53 percent), and to help serve the community (41 percent).

1.2. What do surveyors do when a survey is not happening?

We found that more male surveyors work in between survey rounds than do female surveyors: the proportion of female surveyors who report not working in between rounds (19.4 percent) is greater than the proportion of male surveyors who report not working in between rounds (10 percent). This seems to largely be driven by additional agricultural work, other paid labor, self-employment, and additional housework. Interestingly, we found that a high proportion of women report doing “other” work, which did not fit within the option choices. This could be explained by potential misunderstanding by surveyors in understanding the categories. But, the difference in responses by gender is consistent with the literature noting that much of women’s work is not recorded, or classified in different ways. 

The higher proportion of women who report “no other work” might also be explained by the higher proportion of women who perform domestic duties like caretaking. Furthermore, if surveyors want to take up additional survey work in a period in which a survey is not happening, they would likely need to be relocated or work in a different geography where another survey might be happening. This poses additional challenges for women, who may face mobility constraints by family members who do not allow them to leave their home village and might be concerned about safety.

1.3. What challenges do surveyors face?

There are a few challenges that female and male surveyors report experiencing to different extents. A little more than one in three female surveyors report facing difficulties with travel, which is more than the one in four male surveyors reporting the same. Ten in a hundred women also report challenges with sexual harassment, compared to only three in a hundred male surveyors. Additionally, more female surveyors report experiencing gender-based bias than do male surveyors. These results indicate that female surveyors face some unique challenges related to mobility constraints, gender-based bias, and harassment.

1.4. Who takes care of children during data collection activities?

Our survey results illustrate that many women are caretakers for children or other family members. Of the surveyors with children, the majority of male surveyors reported that their wives looked after their children during survey periods, whereas the majority of female surveyors reported that other family members (not their husbands) looked after their children during survey periods. This finding highlights the additional burden female surveyors might face in having the responsibility to coordinate childcare with other family members or friends.

2. Gender-based bias

2.1. Do surveyors experience gender-based bias?

Both male and female surveyors report that male surveyors are recognized more for their work than are female surveyors. Interestingly, a higher proportion of male surveyors than female surveyors noted that the work environment was not supportive of women and that male surveyors were given more respect. We hypothesized that perhaps female surveyors did not recognize such gender-based bias because they experience such bias in their everyday lives.

2.2. Do surveyors find the promotion process equitable?

On average, more than nine in ten surveyors reported that female and male surveyors are judged equally for promotions to team leader/supervisor/monitor, which is quite high. However, more male surveyors than female surveyors felt the process was equitable. A higher proportion of female surveyors (13 percent) than male surveyors (1.7 percent) reported that female surveyors were judged more harshly for promotions, meaning that for the surveyors who felt promotions were inequitable, there was a perception that it was harder for women to be promoted.

When we discussed this finding internally, we noted that this might be explained by some of the additional work that district managers observe being done by supervisors. Indeed, some supervisors work extra hours, travel to more remote areas, relocate, and/or travel to print documents at night. We hypothesize that perhaps during the promotion process, some district managers were concerned with this added responsibility and constraints women might face. Additionally, since there are fewer female surveyors, there is a smaller pool of women up for promotion. However, in the surveys we have done with all-female surveyor teams, we have promoted experienced female surveyors to take on supervisor roles, and we have supported them in their tasks, so the constraints mentioned earlier should not play a role in the promotion process. We will aim to improve promotion guidelines and considerations to be more equitable moving forward.

2.3. Do surveyors feel they have role models?

Another reason that might explain perceptions of bias in the promotion process is that there are fewer female surveyors in leadership roles at the field team level. We found that 71 percent of female surveyors report having a female role model, whereas 85 percent of male surveyors report having a male role model. Some qualitative interviews with female surveyors revealed that having female managers, associates, regional coordinators, and team leaders would be more inspiring for female surveyors. Indeed, women in leadership positions at the field level would be able to share their experience on their career path and provide mentorship to female surveyors who are interested in social development work.

3. Menstruation

3.1. Should female surveyors work when menstruating?

We were interested in the attitudes towards female surveyors who menstruate. We found that 45.9 percent of male surveyors (N = 231) and 25 percent of female surveyors (N = 76) believed that “women should not do in person data collection when they are menstruating.” From follow-up questions, this sentiment seemed to be well-intentioned as the majority of surveyors who believed women should not do in person data collection cited that women should take physical and mental rest instead. However, the difference highlights that the majority of women do not view menstruation as a binding constraint inhibiting their ability to do data collection work.

3.2. How do women feel when working during menstruation?

To better understand the challenges women might face while working during their menstruation, we asked women who attended in-person training sessions and in person fieldwork to share their experiences. We found that a minority of women skip training or data collection because they are menstruating, and very few report feeling stigmatized because of it. One important learning is that not all women reported easy access to menstrual or sanitation materials. Women who are menstruating should have access to menstrual products, disposable bags for throwing away used pads, and sanitary kits (travel-sized soap and sanitizer) to feel more comfortable.

What will IDinsight do moving forward?

Why are there so few female surveyors?

The findings above highlight a few unique challenges that female surveyors face during data collection work. But to understand the role that gender plays in attracting or detracting women to become surveyors, we asked surveyors what barriers they believed were at play. The main barriers that were reported were linked to perceptions that surveyors require their own transportation, are not allowed to work, and are uninterested in surveyor work. In order to hire more women, we can highlight the reasons women report draw them to surveyor work, think about the differential transportation needs of women, and hire through networks that already reach many women.

Recommendations

This survey is one step to begin quantifying some of the experiences of surveyors. Below are three areas that our IDinsight India team has an opportunity to further explore:

    • Work accommodations: We need to think carefully about travel difficulties women face, and implement policies to accommodate women’s safety. In surveys in which we have had all-women surveyor teams in India, we have arranged transportation for surveyors and in some instances other accommodations. We have an opportunity to ensure we take the same steps with mixed surveyor teams as well, especially around transportation.s.
    • Gender-based bias: We have already begun making headway on making the promotion process more equitable and hiring more women into supervisory roles. We can also think about the restrictions that might currently be inhibiting womens’ likelihood of getting promoted and figure out ways to structure the work in a supportive manner such that those restrictions are not barriers limiting promotion chances. For example, if one restriction is that supervisors need to travel to remote locations, we can set up buddy-pairs or arrange transportation such that doing so is safe and suitable for women.
    • Menstruation: We can ensure that all venues we select for training are equipped with soap and water. We can also provide menstrual supplies to team leaders and ensure they are available for female surveyors to use as needed.

We believe that surveying surveyors is a very important exercise to check on team health and understand how to improve our data collection teams’ wellbeing. It also has a dual benefit of informing internal diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and activities. We plan on continuing this exercise with surveyors from different regions of the country (translating the questionnaire in different languages) and surveyors from different countries (working with other IDinsight offices). We hope that other organizations are interested in replicating or building on this exercise and sharing what they have learned. 

If your organization has done a similar activity, please share in the comments what you learned!

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Acknowledgments

This survey was a passion project. We would like to thank everyone who encouraged and supported us in this endeavor – thank you for turning our ideas into a reality. We sincerely hope that these findings will be used to improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion of surveyors and are encouraged by the conversations that have already begun to take place. Thank you to IDinsighters who reviewed our questionnaire: Tom Wein, Valentina Brailovskaya, Vinod Sharma, Bano Fatima, and Meenakshi Viswanathan. Thank you to Bhavya Khare, Vinod Sharma, and the Data on Demand team network of regional coordinators for support during data collection and translation. Thank you to Rupika Singh, Karan Nagpal, Rashmi Pandey, Akash Pattanayak, Pramod Kumar, Girish Tripathi, and Divya Nair for being sounding boards for us to bounce ideas off of.

  1. 1. Yogima Seth Sharma, “Despite policy support, labour participation by women still low.” The Economic Times of India, March 8, 2022. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/jobs/despite-policy-support-labour-participation-by-women-still-low/articleshow/90061223.cms
  2. 2. Erin K. Fletcher, Rohini Pande, and Charity Troyer Moore, “Women and Work in India: Descriptive Evidence and a Review of Potential Policies,” Center for International Development at Harvard University Faculty Working Paper, No. 339 (2017), https://www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/centers/cid/files/publications/faculty-working-papers/women_work_india_cidwp339.pdf
  3. 3. Sneha Menon, Dona Tomy, and Anita Kumar, Female Work and Labor Force Participation in India: A Meta-Study, United Nations Development Programme (2019), https://www.sattva.co.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Sattva_UNDP_Female-Work-And-Labour-Force-Participation-In-India.pdf
  4. 4. Fletcher et al., “Women and Work in India”
  5. 5. Ruchika Chaudhary, India’s Emerging Gig Economy: The Future of Work for Women Workers, The Initiative for what works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (2020), https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Indias-Emerging-Gig-Economy_The-Future-of-Work-for-Women_update7.24.20.pdf
  6. 6. Chaudhary, India’s Emerging Gig Economy
  7. 7. Arhana Thulaseedharan and Vinith Nair, “Factors Affecting Job Satisfaction of Women Employees in IT Sector,” Bharati IMSR Journal of Management Research, Volume 7, Issue 2 (2015), https://www.academia.edu/16584453/FACTORS_AFFECTING_JOB_SATISFACTION_OF_WOMEN_EMPLOYEES_IN_IT_SECTOR?auto=download
  8. 8. Vinod Kumar Sharma, “3 lessons from an IDinsight field manager: hiring, supporting, and training female surveyors in India,” IDinsight Blog (2022), https://www.wordpress-1284734-4708475.cloudwaysapps.com/article/3-lessons-from-an-idinsight-field-manager-hiring-supporting-and-training-female-surveyors-in-india/
  9. 9. Mitali Roy Mathur, “Reflections on reaching women over the phone in rural India.” IDinsight Blog (2020), https://www.wordpress-1284734-4708475.cloudwaysapps.com/article/reflections-on-reaching-women-over-the-phone-in-rural-india/
  10. 10. We had more standardized contact information for surveyors who had worked on a survey between 2019-2022. There were 1,707 unique surveyors.
  11. 11. We plan on administering this survey to surveyors from non-Hindi speaking states as well. We wanted to begin with one language to get a sense of our findings and apply our learnings as we expand. Hindi was chosen due to ease of translation.
  12. 12. We recognize that we did not add in explicit definitions of sexual harassment and gender-based bias in the survey itself. However, all surveyors are onboarded onto IDinsight’s sexual harassment policy, which explains these terms, so we had hoped that interpretations did not vary as much.
  13. 13. There were 76 female-identifying respondents, 245 male-identifying respondents, and 1 respondent that preferred not to disclose their gender identity.