In Part I of this article, we discussed some of the major factors that determine women’s participation in the manufacturing sector. In the second part of this article, we bring to you the thoughts shared by leaders on challenges faced by women in manufacturing and steps to overcome them.

We cannot deny the fact that a number of large manufacturing plants in industries such as FMCG, automobiles, electronics, precision tools etc. have made consistent efforts in terms of attracting and retaining women in the shop floor. The Factories Act has been amended to allow women to work night shifts in factories, which was a privilege previously enjoyed only by IT/ITES companies. In spite of such positive signs, the Manufacturing sector which contributes around 17% to the Indian GDP has an overall abysmal women participation. According to study by the Consulate General of Sweden in India in 2018, women are vastly underrepresented in the manufacturing sector, accounting for 3-12% against 27-40% representation in service sector. Specifically heavy engineering and construction materials are few areas that has a serious dearth of women employees on the shop floor. Clearly, the efforts taken by a few organizations are not sufficient.

Mr. K.Balaji, General Manager, HR – Delphi TVS Technologies Ltd.

Traditionally ‘Manufacturing’ has been associated with ‘men’, right from the 19th century. Though manufacturing has evolved over the last 100 years post-Industrial revolution, it is still not fully mature; at least not in the developing countries like India where predominantly women are being considered as care-givers. Women constitute close to 49% of the total population in India; yet their participation in manufacturing remains very low. Manufacturing is seldom a career choice for women. Those working are more at the operating level especially in ITES & Electronics, MSMEs and Cottage industries.
Some of the factors affecting women’s participation are:

  • Conducive work environment which include working hours, time, location, facilities, women centric policies etc.
  • Leadership approach towards enhancing diversity at workplace
  • Unequal remuneration/ recognition for women’s contribution
  • Lack of role models at the helm for younger women to emulate
  • Career track not properly defined
  • Physical/ mental/ psychological break due to various reasons which is associated with women unlike men that takes a toll on their career

Corporates too face challenges in attracting and retaining women in a manufacturing setup. The major issue faced is that in the case of women, the continuity in supporting business is impacted since they go through various changes, especially during the initial phase of their career which also affects their learning and performance. To add to this, the attitude of fellow men towards gender balance and societal and family pressures make things worse.

However, a paradigm shift in the way we think is the need of the hour. The leadership approach towards improving diversity at workplace should involve the development of a long term vision and plan for diversity. This should be one of the KRA’s of the leadership team. Further, sensitization towards gender balance, providing an enabling work environment and ambience, work ethics, equity & parity in pay and growth and ensuring safety and security, thus creating an overall environment of trust can go a long way in overcoming these challenges. Lastly continued support from family and the presence of role models worthy of emulation plays a vital role in attracting and retaining women in manufacturing.

Ms. Preethi Suresh, Director – Sarang Auto Parts

Women in the manufacturing sector continues to remain an untapped area. As the head of an MSME in the auto-ancillary industry and a manufacturing engineer myself, I personally believe women have greater strength to establish and manage projects in manufacturing. Macho men handling heavy machinery in a dirty environment is what most people perceive of a manufacturing setup. Being an MSME head, I work on not-so-well-structured shop floors, yet I was active until 9 months of my pregnancy.

There is kind of a social stigma towards women pursuing mechanical engineering and related degrees. In fact there is much improvement in the past 10 years. Young girls need the support of their families to pursue courses that can provide a fulfilling career. Women are best suited for roles in Supply chain, Sales and Design as they are customer-oriented, creative and innovative and capable of creating ingenious products and services. Women tend to possess strong memory, work with a systematic approach and are naturally good at budgeting and costing. Even in production engineering, companies like CAT and Cummins deploy them, they can be fitted into almost any role in the shop floor. Currently the proportion of women employees is more at the entry to mid-level, than at the mid to senior level. Women are found in larger numbers and in C-suite roles in service industries like banks and the IT sector. Similar to manufacturing, IT firms would have had challenges in including women. I personally believe these challenges can be overcome and facilitating more women into manufacturing sector is definitely do-able.

I strongly believe that a leader has to be an example for her team. We need to break the mental barriers that shop floors are off-limits for women. We need to create awareness about the lucrative opportunities available in this sector among young girls and change the approach towards employees by creating an inclusive culture. Women are breaking the glass ceiling in service industries and this is definitely possible in manufacturing too. Women who have made a mark in manufacturing and engineering can act as mentors to pave the way for the next generation of women. Job shadowing and experience sharing has the potential to act as enablers. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Thus, it is evident from the thoughts shared by the leaders that the industry’s image as a man’s territory has to be revamped. The iron curtain needs to be lifted and there is a need to tell a positive story to the next generation of young women. Modern technology coupled with the move towards Industry 4.0, robotics and automation has reshaped the manufacturing environment throwing open new and interesting avenues for growth and a fulfilling career. This transformation cannot happen overnight, and requires consistent and concerted efforts by all the stakeholders, which includes women themselves, and their families, corporates in the manufacturing industry and the government.

The path to the man’s territory is neither isolated nor inaccessible, all it needs is some refurbishing and mindset change.