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Published on: March 22, 2021, 5:55 a.m.
Women power drives the automobiles industry
  • Tata Motors has embraced diversity and inclusion at all levels

By S.M. Boothem

There used to be a strong belief that only men were capable of performing demanding operations in the heavy machinery industries. This view has slowly changed over the years. Today, the presence of women in almost every industry, including automotive, airlines, and shipping, to name a few, has become common. 

To honour their achievement, on the occasion of Women’s International Day, Business India chose a few automobile and related product manufacturers, where women have not only proved that they are equally strong, but also successful and capable of taking up difficult tasks at the plant – both in terms of skill and ability – and can compete with their male counterparts in assembling cars and heavy-duty trucks. With the industry’s new trend in digital technologies moving towards electric vehicles and connected cars, automakers are also looking to tap talented women with diverse experience.

In a development that comes as a testament to gender parity across workplaces, MG Motor India recently rolled out its 50,000th Hector with an all-woman crew at its Vadodara plant. The initiative has created a new benchmark while celebrating ‘Diversity’ – as women led the end-to-end production. The women teams were involved in the panel-pressing of sheet metal and welding to painting jobs as well as carrying out post-production test runs. 

No glass ceilings

The British automaker features an industry-leading 33 per cent share of women in its workforce, wherein female professionals work shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts across all business functions. “MG has always been a progressive brand with diversity, community, innovation, and experiences as our cornerstones,” says Rajeev Chaba, president & MD, MG Motor India. “We believe that it is something that has broadened our perspective as a brand and unlocked efficiencies in every aspect of our business operations. The rollout of our 50,000th Hector by an all-woman crew comes as an honour to their contributions and hard work. It also demonstrates that glass ceilings no longer exist even in an erstwhile male-dominated industry, such as automobile manufacturing. We believe that it will inspire more women to join the automotive industry in India and abroad.”

“We recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion in making ever-better cars for our customers,” acknowledge officials at Toyota Kirloskar Motor’s (TKM) Bidadi plant in Karnataka. “To support the shop floor, we have women employees in the production support and engineering functions in the general shift. We are also working to create a talent pool accessible to TKM and the industry through a pilot batch of girl students currently undergoing training at the Toyota Technical Training Institute (TTTI) in various vocational courses like automotive fitter and assembly trade wherein they receive training to fulfil industry requirements. To ensure continuous access to such diverse talent, since last year, we are setting aside 8 per cent of the total seats at TTTI for girl students.”

On its part, Mahindra & Mahindra’s first all-women automobile service workshop was set up in Jaipur in 2019.  The company’s initiative called ‘Pink Collars’ is to promote the recruitment of women in core productive roles across the company’s automobile workshops. This initiative encourages channel partners to tie up with Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and impart up-to-date industrial knowledge through the company’s expert trainers, provide automotive aggregates to support practical training, and make the ITI students industry-ready. Special recruitment drives are conducted for girl students at these ITIs by Mahindra’s authorised dealers to identify and recruit women talent. These women, coming from all walks of life, are making history by choosing an unusual career path.

Equal opportunity

Working on a shop floor with huge trucks is not an easy task. But looking at these women handling vehicles portrays a different story. “Tata Motors has embraced diversity and inclusion at all levels as a strategy to move forward,” says a company official. “Tata is an equal opportunity employer and has women working across all functions of the shop floor – from the paint-shop to the final assembly line, where they perform a variety of roles based on their knowledge, skills, and experience, including as supervisors in assembly, quality, inspection, material kitting and maintenance. The company has over 1,800 women working on the shop floor, across all plants. In Pune alone, it has about 650 women working on the shop floor of the passenger vehicle plant.”

Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) too has announced the successful on-boarding of 46 women for shop floor operations at its manufacturing plant in Chennai. This completes the first stage of their ‘DiveIN’ (Diversity & Inclusive) initiative to increase diversity for a more inclusive workforce. One goal of DiveIN is to create a gender-balanced staff base, by increasing the ratio of female factory employees to 20 per cent of the total by 2022. The new employees have been deployed across key function areas on the shop floor, including engine and transmission, cab trim, quality management, cabin-in-white, and paint shop.

“Diversity is critical to the long-term success of any organisation,” affirmed Satyakam Arya, MD & CEO, DICV. “How can you meet the expectations of a diverse market without a diverse workforce? At DICV, we’re promoting inclusivity by welcoming women to our factory with a supportive, professional working environment.”

JK Tyre, on its part, actively supports and promotes women in motorsports and allows them to hone their racing skills. CEAT Tyres has also introduced the concept of only women-operated CEAT Shoppes across India. The Shoppes will endeavour to empower women, especially in the male-dominated tyre industry. They are owned, managed, and run by a team of women which will give them equal opportunity to grow and make a mark in the tyre industry. The first of such Shoppes has been opened in Bhatinda, north India followed by the introduction of 10 Shoppes in the next few months across India. 

Manual jobs, including wheel changing, balancing and operating machinery to service a vehicle, will be handled by women tyre professionals. CEAT will be investing in providing end-to-end training to the women running the Shoppes. At the time of the global crisis due to the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs but, with this initiative, the tyre maker is opening avenues for women and creating more employment opportunities. 

“CEAT recognises the value of gender diversity at the workplace,” says Amit Tolani, chief marketing officer, CEAT. “We have been offering equal and fair opportunity to women in every field including our manufacturing plants. From shop-floor engineers to leadership roles, CEAT has a diversified female workforce taking up challenging roles and growing in their respective fields. The Women CEAT Shoppe is an industry-first initiative which further reiterates our commitment to allow women to grow and make a mark in the tyre industry, which is a predominantly male-driven business. The initiative will not only provide financial stability to the women, but will also inspire many others to join this industry as we plan to expand our footprints across India with many more such outlets in the months to come.”

“We, at Studds, have a 20 per cent female workforce in the harness section, who have expertise in their skills and are helping the brand achieve its triumph,” explains Sidhartha Bhushan Khurana, MD, Studds Accessories, while talking about the importance of the women workforce. “We not only ensure to give women jobs according to their skills, but also ensure equal pay, perks and benefits. In addition to this, with 2020 witnessing a few layoffs the count of female layoffs was negligible. There are also a number of positions where women are getting paid more than their male counterparts because of their impeccable skills and drive to achieve more.”

Since the inception of the automotive industry, this sector has been dominated by men, and the idea of female technicians, saleswomen, and engineers in this fold seemed like a distant dream. The industry has been talking about the involvement of women in all functions and the auto industry is trying to align itself with this thought process. Not promoting a gender-diverse workforce could lead them to miss key competitive advantages. With the adoption of technology in the auto sector, a lot of women have excelled in the field, further reducing the stigma of the women workforce in the sector. Now, women are not just offered a prominent role, but are also steering the ship as leaders in the industry.

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