In the Union Public Service Commission’s Civil Services Examination (2021), the top three ranks were grabbed by women. In 2020, out of the top 20 rank holders, 10 were women – giving an impression of a perfect gender balance among successful candidates. But things are far from perfect and numbers far lower than satisfactory.
Based on the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) dataset compiled by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, IndiaSpend published a study demonstrating that women officers accounted for only 13% of the total 11, 569 IAS officers recruited between 1951 and 2020. Over the years the proportion of women IAS officers in the service has increased manifold but the numbers still haven’t crossed one-third of the total recruitments. In 2020, a total of 31 percent of women made it to the prestigious services.
This article aims to understand whether this gender gap is a uniform phenomenon across the country or if there are any variations in different states. It undertakes a comparative study of IAS recruitment data compiled by TCPD based on ‘state of domicile’. While the proportion of women IAS officers has increased over the years, growth has been slow. Thus, this article focuses on IAS recruitments between 2011 and 2020 to understand where we, as a nation, stand today regarding women’s representation in bureaucracy.
Gender gap in IAS recruits at state level
Figure 1: Gender balance of IAS recruits in large states based on candidate’s declared domicile (2011 – 20)
An analysis of IAS dataset for the years 2011 to 2020 confirms state-wise disparity in the proportion of women recruits in IAS. Amongst the largest 20 states (based on population) (Note 1), Punjab is the best performing state with 45% women officers designating it as their domicile, followed by Delhi (43%), Haryana (36%), and Kerala (35%). The worst performing states are Gujarat and Chhattisgarh at 8% both, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (11%), Maharashtra (14%), and Bihar (16%).
For smaller states, Mizoram and Ladakh are the best performers with one female recruit each for the period of 2011 to 2020. Tripura with two male recruits and Nagaland with three male recruits during the same period are the worst performers with no female IAS officer designating either of the state as their domicile. According to a Business-Standard report dated January 9, 2022, more women IAS officers were found working in southern and (generally) wealthier states of India compared to others (as of December 2021, based on statistics from the National Informatics Center, New Delhi). The only two state cadres with 30% female officers were Telangana and Karnataka. In contrast, women made up fewer than 15% of the cadre in Jharkhand, Sikkim, Bihar, Tripura, and Jammu & Kashmir.
Figure 2: Gender balance of IAS recruits in small states based on candidate’s declared domicile (2011 – 20)
The above data illustrates two points (Note 2). First, the proportion of women officers in IAS recruitment varies largely from state to state. The numbers oscillate between 45% for Punjab to 8% for Gujarat and Chhattisgarh in large states, and 0% in Tripura and Nagaland to 100% in Ladakh and Mizoram in small states. Second, the proportion of women lies well below 50% in most states. In twenty-five states, the proportion is below 50%, and in eighteen states, it does not cross one-third of the total IAS recruitments. But where does this huge gender gap begin, while considering the different stages of recruitment?
To understand this, we analyze two sets of data from the annual reports published by the Union Public Service Commission:
1) the gender-wise ratio of candidates who apply for the exam
2) the gender-wise success rate of candidates who write the exam
Comparing the success rate of candidates
The Union Public Service Commission’s Civil Services Examination (UPSC CSE) is a very competitive exam with a success rate of less than 1 percent. To be recommended for the service, a candidate has to successfully appear in three stages of the examination: a preliminary test, the mains exam and the interview. Out of the total applicants, only half of them actually appear for the preliminary test and many are eliminated in the various stages of the exam.
Figure 3: Success rate of candidates who appeared for the UPSC CSE preliminary exams (2011 – 2019)
The figure above represents a comparative analysis of the success rate of male and female candidates. The success rate is calculated based on the total number of recommended candidates (who successfully passed the interview stage) against the total candidates who appeared for the preliminary stage of UPSC CSE. Unlike the wide gender disparity seen in the proportion of women officers at both national and state level, the success rate for both male and female candidates is almost equal, with a very narrow margin in favor of male candidates. This indicates that candidates who sit for the preliminary exam have an almost equal chance of acing the exam, irrespective of their gender.
Stage of application for recruitment
The Union Public Service Commission has consistently emphasized its objective of achieving a ‘gender balanced workforce’ (Note 3). To encourage more women to apply for the examination, UPSC waives off the application fee for both the preliminary examination and mains examination every year for all women candidates. But according to the data published in the Annual Reports of UPSC, there is a wide gender disparity in the number of applications received for the exam. In 2019, against 7, 68, 175 male candidates, only 3, 67, 086 women filled the application form. Similarly, against 3, 90, 671 male candidates who appeared for the preliminary exam, only 1, 77, 611 women candidates appeared.
Figure 4: Candidates who applied for UPSC CSE (preliminary) Examination (2011 – 2019)
The above figure shows the gender-wise distribution of candidates who applied for the preliminary examinations from 2011 to 2019. The number of male candidates is twice as high as the female candidates. Over the years, the gap is narrowing down, albeit at a painfully slow pace. The proportion of women applicants is the highest in 2019 (data for 2020 and 2021 is yet to be published by UPSC), but it still falls short of a minimal expectation of one-third of the total applicants.
The analysis of TCPD-IAS dataset and annual reports published by the Union Public Service Commission indicates a wide gender gap in IAS recruitment. Although there is a huge variation amongst different states, the proportion of women is well below 50% for most of the states. While the success rate for both male and female candidates is similar, very few women candidates apply for the exam compared to their male counterparts, despite various measures taken by the Commission to encourage more women to enroll. Finally, such disparity at the initial stages of the examination is carried forward in the subsequent stages of the exam and final recruitment.
- The categorization of small and large states is based on population data, Census of India (2011). States with more than 1 percent of the total population are categorized as large states. These include Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat.
- This analysis excludes the data of 364 IAS officers (recruited between 2011 to 2020), whose ‘state of domicile’ data is not available.
- From 2011 onwards, all the notifications for the preliminary examinations released by the Union Public Service Commission state, in their footnotes, the aim of achieving a ‘gender balanced workforce’ to encourage ‘more women candidates’ to apply for the examination. The Commission’s notifications for earlier years could not be accessed by the authors.
About the Author
Parneet Kaur is currently working as an intern at TCPD. She is a second year student pursuing M.A. (Political Science) at University of Delhi.
Debdoot Ray is currently working as an intern at TCPD. He is a second year student pursuing B.Sc. (Economics) at Ashoka University.
We thank Maleeha Fatima and Dipanita Malik from the Trivedi Centre for Political Data for their useful feedback and suggestions.
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This article belongs to the author and is independent of the views of the Centre.