India Inc takes giant leaps in empowering women
VN Explorer
August 13 2023

Companies from Ola, Ashok Leyland, Berger Paints to Bosch and JSW Paints, among other prominent companies, have employed all-women production lines or factories.

Organisations across sectors are now making extra efforts to increase women’s participation in the workforce as they say female participation creates a very productive work environment.

Recently, a few companies announced all-women production line to unlock their potential and create an inclusive work environment. Companies from Ola, Ashok Leyland, Berger Paints to Bosch and JSW Paints, among other prominent companies, have employed all-women production lines or factories.

In March this year, heavy commercial vehicle maker Ashok Leyland unveiled its all-women production line in Tamil Nadu. Ashok Leyland has been manufacturing commercial vehicles for the past 75 years.

“The industry had largely been a man’s space but as we look at the future, the way the mobility space and vehicles are getting transformed into alternate fuels powered vehicles, advanced telematics or on-board diagnostics, if you don’t have an inclusive workforce then we can’t be a company which is agile and getting itself ready for future,” says Raja Radhakrishnan, President & head of HR, Ashok Leyland.

The company has set up the all-women engine assembly line with 80 women employees at its Hosur plant. Its driver training institutes have also been training a large number of women in heavy commercial vehicle driving.

Everything in the production line is being done by women — right from maintenance to supply to the actual production itself. “This initiative has helped us break the mindset that this is man’s job and factory is man’s world. This led to having an inclusive workforce inside the factory which creates a very productive work environment across the organisation,” Radhakrishnan says, adding that women are very agile and in terms of numbers, they see a very good increase in productivity.

Bosch’s Oragadam plant, established in mid-2015 in Chennai, has a 100% women workforce and has been manufacturing a diverse range of over 60 power tools, including eight specialised types for artisans and tradespeople.

Suresh B R, Country head of human resources, Bosch Limited, says elevating awareness is a crucial step in our journey towards inclusivity.

JSW Paints operates the entire Wood Finishes line at its unit in Vasind, Maharashtra with women employees.

“This semi-automated line is managed completely by women employees from processing to packing the Beauteak range of wood finishes. JSW Paints is in the process of preparing its Colourant line at its other plant in Vijayanagara, Karnataka to be managed by women in the coming quarter,” says A S Sundaresan, Joint MD and CEO of JSW Paints.

JSW Paints also has women in frontline roles and customer relationship officers servicing retail market in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Berger Paints, which commenced production in its Sandila plant in UP earlier this year, has one section — a colorant and Stainer unit – that is operated by women.

“The unit doesn’t require any great physical labor, and the company has recruited ITI-trained girls in the plant and they are doing a fabulous job there,” Berger Paints CEO Abhijit Roy had told TNIE in an earlier interaction.

Firms need to narrow diversity gap

From manufacturing to IT, across sectors companies take steps to narrow diversity gap, but women’s workforce participation is still low in the country. Country’s largest IT services company Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which employs 35.7% of the women workforce, has been seeing higher attrition among its female employees.

In its annual report, TCS chief human resource officer Milind Lakkad said the higher attrition among women in FY23 is a setback to “our efforts to promote gender diversity but we are doubling down on it.”

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the IT sector, women are exiting the workforce at a rate twice that of men. “In recent months, the attrition rate among female employees has surged to levels ranging from 30% to 40%, a stark contrast to the typical sector attrition rate of around 15%. Women in mid-career roles, typically aged between 30 and 40 years are mostly exhibiting this trend. This group faces the challenge of managing a disproportionate share of childcare and domestic responsibilities, leading them to make the difficult decision to leave their jobs,” says Anjali Raghuvanshi, Chief People Officer, Randstad India.

The insistence on returning to the office has proven to be counterproductive to employee retention efforts, resulting in higher turnover rates across all segments of the workforce. This shift is mainly detrimental to women, as they bear a significant burden of domestic caregiving responsibilities. Any alteration in work flexibility models tends to impact women more profoundly, she adds.

As per the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) reports, the estimated Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) on usual status for women of age 15 years and above in the country was 30.0%, 32.5% and 32.8% during 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively.

Another important challenge in female workforce participation is pay parity. The wage disparity has been widening between men and women. Also, there are only a few women in mid-senior level positions in organisations.

“It is alarming that men in India hold a substantial 80-82% share of labour income, while women’s earnings remain much lower at 18-20%. Though there is a high pay parity in India, the situation is improving and notably, there has been an augmentation in economic opportunities for women, with an increased representation in roles such as legislators, senior officials, technical workers, and managers,” says Raghuvanshi.

Nirupama VG, founder and managing director, AdAstra Consultants, a women-owned full-suite recruitment solutions firm, quotes an IIM Ahmedabad study that indicates only 5% of top roles in Indian companies are occupied by women.

For a comprehensive decision-making process, boardroom diversity is paramount.

Also, women-led start-ups are very few in India. Nirupama says while 18% have at least one woman leader, as per Nasscom’s report, there’s ample room for growth.

“Presently, there are women-owned funds which are supporting women-owned businesses and that will go a long way to support such organisations,” she adds.