Indian women have successfully defied traditions and stereotypes to achieve great feats in various fields. From an organisational point of view, women employees clearly add value on several parameters.
- Women tend to bring in a great eye for quality and detail orientation, along with finesse in craftsmanship.
- Women possess skill sets for manufacturing and are keen to work on the shop floor.
- Having more women in the shop floor workforce helps change the work culture in the plants. This helps improve shop floor output, quality and discipline, all vital aspects that are needed to enhance competitiveness.
- Women are key decision makers and customers as well, and women employees bring this valuable perspective into an organisation.
It is clear that hiring more women employees will only add value to the functioning of auto manufacturing units.
On the flip side, there are challenges when it comes to employing women in manufacturing units. There are misconceptions that women cannot work in manufacturing because there is a lot of heavy lifting to do. And yet, today's automated shop floors mean that everything is mechanised and there are hauls and lifts that do all the heavy lifting. All that needs to be done is to train women to work in such plants, especially in areas where a higher order of dexterity and motor skills are required.
There are negative social attitudes around women working at plants. However, this is changing gradually. Internally, companies need to target mindset change, through awareness building and education.
With India's economy on an upswing, it is essential that auto companies build better talent resources; one way to do this quickly is by focusing on gender diversity on the shop floor. Here are some things that companies can do:
Think local: With almost 60 percent of literate women in rural areas, auto companies can harness this untapped potential, especially in areas around plant sites.
Skilling centres: Auto companies can set up their own skilling centres or opt for industry-academia tie-ups, for example, a tie-up with the Automotive Skills Development Council (ASDC) with a special focus on female students.
Women-centric policies: An extensive maternity break, crèche facilities at factory sites and so on, are necessary to encourage women to the workplace. At Tata Motors, we were among the first in the industry to roll-out the six-month maternity break for women, way back in December 2012. Creche facilities have been available at plants for the last five decades.
Safe workplaces: Providing safe work environments and adequate personal safety processes can help in encouraging more women employees to work on the shop floor.
Regulatory changes: The Factories Act restricts women to working 6am-7pm. Most auto companies operate two full 8.5 hour shifts, which means that industry needs laws that allow women to work a 17-hour window.
The Indian government is considering allowing states to amend rules in order to allow women to work night shifts. If the government accords women this equal status, it may provide an impetus for more women to join the shop floor.
Through these initiatives, we should be able to recruit, train and encourage more women to join our plants. The hope is that we can increase the numbers of women employees on the shopfloor from the current levels of 3-4% to 15-20% in the next few years.
Chief Human Resource Officer, Tata Motors