A woman’s Place is in the Production Management? Cultural Constraints to Women’s Career Advancement and Firm Productivity in Bangladesh’s Garment Sector

Exploiting an on-going experiment, this project attempts to assess the role of cultural barriers within the household in hindering female’s career advancement and whether women taking up low-level managerial positions can reduce them.

The recent growth of the Bangladeshi garment industry was made possible by large numbers of women entering employment for the first time. However, the positions available to women at factories remain mostly limited to those at the machine-operator level. At the same time, shortages of skilled labour are reducing the traditionally male candidate pool for managerial positions. The continued growth and competitiveness of the garment industry in Bangladesh will therefore rely on its ability to productively employ women as managers. However, a number of cultural barriers remain within and outside the factory. Using novel data from the Bangladeshi garment industry this project will shed light on two questions: (i) How do cultural barriers within the family impact on women’s career advancement in developing countries? (ii) Which effect, if any, does women taking up low-level managerial positions have on these cultural barriers?

The project will firstly evaluate how household/family support affects women’s promotions and job retention. Secondly, it will investigate how females taking up managerial positions impacts on the women’s bargaining power and involvement in decision-making within the household. To do so, the project will exploit an ongoing randomized controlled trial, “Work-progression and productivity toolkit (WPT)”, which promotes female operators to assistant supervisors, trains them for this role and evaluates the impact on the factory. Drawing on factory salary, production data and rich firm survey data from the WPT, and using two additional waves of home survey to capture any change in household behaviour, the project investigates the causal chain from cultural factors to female career advancement and to firm productivity in developing countries – with a particular focus on how women’s involvement in the workplace impacts on household’s decision-making.

If the project finds, as hypothesized, that cultural barriers to female career advancement within the family decrease firm productivity, and that females working in low-level managerial positions reduce these cultural barriers, policymakers could have an interest in industry projects that promote females to management positions, and in household programmes that could reduce cultural barriers.