MUMBAI: In a victory for women in the male-dominated manufacturing sector, General Motors last week appointed Mary Barra as its chief executive, making her the first woman in the world to head a major automobile company.
Indian manufacturing companies have miles to go before they can get there. While sectors like information technology, banking and finance are increasingly appointing women in leadership positions, women remain under-represented in manufacturing companies due to their paucity at the entry-level. Even so, progressive manufacturing companies – multinationals and Indian – have been mandating gender-diverse searches for CXOs over the past few years, a marked shift in trend.
“I have been doing senior-level searches for the manufacturing sector for several years, but have not hired even one CEO-level woman,” says Arun Dasmahapatra, chairman & partner-in-charge – India, and head Asia Pacific region for industrial practice at Heidrick & Struggles. However, in the past few years, there has been an increasing interest among companies in the manufacturing sector to mandate the hiring of women candidates for CXO-level roles in human resources, finance or legal departments, he adds. In the past one year, Dasmahapatra has placed three women CXOs in the industrial sector, out of nearly 35 searches.
“The major challenge in hiring women for manufacturing companies is on the supply side,” says Vineet Hemrajani of executive search firm Egon Zehnder. A majority of manufacturing jobs have people from an engineering background and there are few such women in India.
But the situation is slowly changing, with manufacturing companies more open to looking at women candidates for the top management. “For Indian subsidiaries of global multinationals it is a mandate from the headquarters, while Indian firms are making a business case for diversity,” says Pallavi Kathuria, co-leader diversity practice at Egon Zehnder. One of the main reasons for the mandate is that the customer segment that companies cater to is diverse, with women representing a significant chunk, she adds.
“Women today are keen to take up jobs in supply chain, parts and R&D in addition to the more traditional options of finance and IT, and are demonstrating their capabilities. This is a welcome change,” says Mallika Srinivasan, who heads the Chennai-based TAFE Group. Srinivasan is one of the few women in a CEO position in the sector.
At the shop floor-level too, there is a revolution in the making. Automated shopfloors are making the work environment less strenuous and more women-friendly, says Sulaja Motwani Firodia, vice chairperson of Kinetic Engineering. All the shop-floor employees at Kinetic Communications, which makes auto electronic parts, are women. And at Kinetic Taigene, which makes motors, nearly 40% of shop floor employees are women.
Bajaj Auto too has women working on the factory machines to assemble and produce motorcycles, three-wheelers and passenger vehicles. At India’s leading car maker Maruti Suzuki, the number of women employees on the shop floor has increased five-fold to 75 in the past three years. It gets better at Renault Nissan’s factory in Chennai, where 7% of workers in the factory are women; the plan is to increase it to 15% to 20% in two years.
Ford India has roughly 300 women on the shop floor across different departments. And 10% of Yamaha India’s factory workforce has women in it.
To be sure, hiring women to produce automobiles is no token gesture. “Women who are engaged in automation, designing of assembly lines, inspection of new components and engineering support bring in versatility and out-of-the-box thinking,” says SY Siddiqui, chief operating officer (administration), Maruti Suzuki. There is potential to groom women on the shop floor for leadership roles in two to three years, he adds.
Stereotypes are changing, says R Seshasayee, executive VC, Ashok Leyland. In a few years’ time, he sees women occupying top roles in manufacturing companies. “Sectors like finance may have seen more women CEOs (but) I do not believe, given the opportunities and the increasing emphasis on diversity across organisations, manufacturing will be left far behind,” adds TAFE’s Srinivasan.
But there are those who disagree. BVR Subbu, former president of Hyundai Motor India, feels fewer women will opt for manufacturing simply because it is too strenuous and disrupts work-life balance. “With so many career options for women, many opt for senior roles in finance and marketing,” says Subbu.
Re-blogged from Economic times
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