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Bridging the gender gap on the shop-floor

, ET Auto

The onus is on all of us to substantially increase gender diversity by identifying areas from where we can source talented women employees and deploy them at the grass root level, especially on the shop floor.

India is a ‘young’ country demographically, with a sizable younger population and burgeoning workforce — both in the organized and unorganized sector, as its economy grows at a rapid pace. It is estimated that we will add another 110 million workers to this labour force in the next 10 years.

Therefore, employment in India needs to be looked from the point of view of absorbing and meaningfully engaging this ever expanding workforce, substantial part of which would be women workers.

Less than 5 per cent of the industry workforce on the shop-floor are women, but there is room for more.

Engagement of women in the organized sector is a huge opportunity, and by some estimates, if we can increase the participation of women in work force by even 10 percentage points by 2025, then it has the potential to provide an increase of 16 per cent in our country’s GDP. Therefore, recruiters across industries should determinedly seek engaging women workers in substantially increased numbers.

The automobile industry, which employs approximately 13 million people, engages women in different fields. Less than 5 per cent of the industry workforce on the shop-floor are women, but there is room for more. The onus is on all of us to substantially increase gender diversity by identifying areas from where we can source talented women employees and deploy them at the grass root level, especially on the shop-floor.

Women employees beyond doubt, have added value in the form of improved quality, finesse in craftsmanship and higher output. They also double up as champion of the products, as they are the key decision makers and customers as well.

There are several perception challenges, including societal that need to be dealt with before hiring women employees in manufacturing units. Shop floor tasks have traditionally been perceived as a ‘man’s job’ that involves “heavy-duty” work, thereby, making it unsuitable for women.

The reality, however, is different. Even on semi-automated shop floor, almost everything is mechanized and there are hauls and lifts that do all the heavy lifting. All that is required on the part of the worker is high level of dexterity and motor skills to operate these machines. Further, women employed in shift jobs were not viewed favorably, till recently, in society for several reasons such as safety and inadequate time for family commitments, etc.

The responsibility to overcome predispositions like these lie with the company management and are actively driven by the human resource department. This can be accomplished through sensitization and outreach programmes for both men and women.

Women employees beyond doubt have added value in the form of improved quality, finesse in craftsmanship and higher output.

In addition, automobile companies could promote gender diversity at the workplace by setting up their own women focused skill development centers.

While the Maternity Bill 2016 is a boon for working mothers, another issue awaits a worthy policy intervention. Most auto companies being capital intensive, operate two full shifts and now even three shifts, whereas most women could be engaged only in a general shift.

According to an earlier version of the Factories Act, women could be employed only between 6am and 7pm. However, in most manufacturing companies that operates even two shifts, timings could significantly differ from the allotted hours under the Act, depending on the spectrum of work done at the plants. The situation is changing though while the government prepares to do away with this piece of outdated legislation totally.

Hence, currently the companies still have to deal with this statutory provision as this limits the options for women to work beyond 7pm. Normally, the total duration of the two shifts is 17 working hours to ensure an effective eight hours of work per shift – essential for competitiveness from the shop floor.

However, the government is opening up by letting the states amend their respective Factories Rules to give women an equal opportunity, by encouraging them to work in all shifts. This policy change will provide the required impetus for manufacturing, especially the auto companies to hire more women on the shop floor, thus benefitting the company as well as the women workforce in the long run.

However, to tap this opportunity we need to plan and ensure we have higher number of skilled women workforce available to be deployed for these roles.

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