According to McKinsey & Company research from 2015 and 2018, DEI has been proven to improve organisational performance and build competitive advantage by fostering productivity, innovation and loyalty at the workplace. Big brands like Microsoft, Google, Unilever or Tata Steel have moved from just being equal opportunity employers to hiring specifically LGBTQ+ citizens for certain positions. But at a time when organisations are getting more inclusive, the Indian manufacturing industry is struggling with the basic gender diversity issue.
Despite popular initiatives like Women of Mettle or Women at Hindalco, women representation in manufacturing has just moved up from 8% to 12% in the period of 2019 to 2021 as per the GE and Avatar 2021 survey. While the Indian manufacturing sector acknowledges the problem, it is rarely attended to enough by the leaders in the industry. In this article, we highlight the present DEI issues in the Indian manufacturing industry and the dire need of building a DEI culture that goes deeper than just implementing some standalone initiatives that do not weave into the organisational strategy.
The harsh reality
Physical safety in and around manufacturing locations, infrastructural gaps, shift working, working hours (usually 6 days a week), wage and incentive criteria, and conscious or unconscious biases in promotion or recruitment of women pose major impediments to improving gender diversity in the sector. The GE BELONG 2021 research clearly surfaces the hindrances to female career growth in the manufacturing sector. 69% women blamed stereotypical perceptions about women’s abilities and 59% blamed it on biassed appraisal processes.
More than 50% of men, though, perceived lack of support from government and supervisors as the main reason for sluggish career growth of women in manufacturing organisations. 30% men and 10% women also identified sexual harassment at workplace as a cause of low gender ration in the sector. Women are often perceived not to be suitable for the core engineering jobs in the field and are restricted to desk jobs in corporate headquarters that also leads to slower career growth, finally leading to the exit of women from the sector. Maternity retention rate in the sector is poor with most women not returning to work after the maternity leave, owing to the lack of organisational support system and infrastructure to put a new mother at ease. It simply implies that the DEI initiatives in the sector till date are not yielding the desired results.
Systematic and strategic approach towards DEI is the key
Fostering DEI needs more than just the recruitment strategy or the women engagement initiatives. Manufacturing establishments need to build a dedicated DEI vision that should cascade into the organisational strategy leading to actionable initiatives. The aim is to make the organisation’s culture per se more inclusive of a workforce with diverse gender, culture, race, age, and abilities. This has to be a top-down effort with full involvement and support of the leadership.
Building a DEI Council or Advisory of leaders can be a great start to come up with a customised and relevant DEI vision. The council could then place champions across all units to note the actual roadblocks undermining the respective attraction, development and retention of diverse employees. These inputs may further be considered to build a DEI charter reviewed periodically. Using predictive analytics to track DEI metrics can prove helpful. Finally, manufacturers and educators need to collaborate to develop and publicise programs that provide greater exposure to the opportunities for diverse workforce in modern manufacturing. To give a thrust to gender diversity in the sector, industrial visits or awareness sessions could be conducted especially for females.