Article: What lies behind Target India's rise in female employees - VP HR shares


What lies behind Target India's rise in female employees - VP HR shares

From BounceBack to UpCurve and beyond, Arun Kulkarni highlights the initiatives driving impactful change at Target India.
What lies behind Target India's rise in female employees -  VP HR shares

India's gender gap in labour force participation remains alarmingly wide, with only 19.2% of women employed compared to 70.1% of men, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This stark disparity places India at 135 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report 2022, lagging behind smaller neighbouring nations like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. 

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, leading to a ‘shecession’ that disproportionately affected sectors predominantly employing women, such as retail and hospitality. The World Economic Forum estimates it will take 132 years to achieve full gender parity in the global workforce at the current rate of progress. However, increasing female participation in the labour force could have substantial economic benefits, potentially adding $0.7 trillion to India's GDP by 2025, according to an Indian Express report. 

Despite these clear benefits, numerous factors hinder women's participation in the workforce across both rural and urban settings. Unpaid labour, such as household chores and caregiving, often goes unrecognised in labour force statistics, underestimating women's contributions. Many women are also employed in low-paying, exploitative jobs without social protection or statutory rights, such as maternity leave. 

Societal norms further exacerbate these challenges, with many women expected to prioritise domestic responsibilities over their careers. The gender pay gap presents another significant obstacle. The Oxfam India Discrimination Report 2022 highlights widespread biases in recruitment and pay, with women earning less than men across various sectors, including technology roles and senior management positions. Insufficient government measures, weak economic policies, and inadequate investment in sectors that could offer better employment opportunities for women compound these issues. 

In rural areas, reliance on agriculture for employment persists, limiting the transition to better-paying industries and constraining women's employment opportunities. Meanwhile, rising household incomes in urban areas have led some women to leave the workforce, opting to focus on family responsibilities. 

Safety concerns, inadequate urban infrastructure, and societal expectations further restrict women's employment, particularly in urban settings. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving individual, societal, and governmental efforts. 

Target India is turning out to be a notable example of a company taking significant steps to empower women in the workforce. Arun Kulkarni, VP of HR at Target India, shared the initiatives they have implemented to support female employees and drive gender parity within their organisation, during an exclusive interview with People Matters. These efforts are crucial in creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace, setting a precedent for other companies to follow.

Excerpts from the interview: 

Can you provide an overview of Target's program for talented and high-performing women team members in India, designed to prepare them for leadership roles?

At Target in India, DE&I is an important consideration at every step – right from hiring to providing a supportive work environment to enabling career growth. Our inclusive policies and programs, backed by Target’s culture of care, grow and win together, empower our female team members to be intentional about achieving their professional aspirations. Women are encouraged to dream big. We create opportunities for them to learn and grow into leadership roles, and explore their passions through diverse career experiences. 

We’ve developed several programs to support women at the workplace, including those that encourage more women to take on leadership roles. Ignite, a program for talented and high-performing women team members in India, is one of these. It helps them prepare for leadership roles through a curriculum spread over six months that covers  negotiation skills, personal branding, networking, allyship and much more. Since its inception in 2017, more than 300 women team members have been a part of Ignite and this has helped create a tremendously talented pipeline of women leaders.  

Over 40% of Ignite graduates have stepped into elevated roles and more than 32% of them have moved laterally within the organisation to new roles. Graduates credit Ignite with increasing their confidence and silencing their inner critic, acquiring new perspectives and building a strong peer network of powerful women leaders whose experiences they can learn from. 

Moving on to women engineers, how does Target provide training and development opportunities for women engineers within and outside the organisation to prepare them for senior and leadership positions?

At Target we’ve made intentional efforts to build a strong leadership pipeline of women engineers within the organisation and beyond.

One way we have done this is through our Engineering Manager Immersion Program (eMIP) . It is a 12-month, on-the-job training program designed to equip women in technology with the tools, experience and mentorship connections needed to take on leadership roles across technology teams within Target. eMIP is open to engineers within and outside the organisation.  Graduates qualify to be selected to a senior engineering manager (SEM) role within Target. Nearly 80% of our total eMIP cohort has transitioned into leadership positions within a year of completing the program. We have successfully run this program for 5+ years and having met our diversity goals, will no longer continue this specific program although our focus will continue on building a diverse workforce. 

Target Elevate, our flagship conference for women in tech is another initiative. It seeks to empower women technologists, not just from Target but from the external ecosystem as well,  to get ahead in their career (or return to the workforce) by bringing them together on a platform where they can connect with like-minded peers and mentors, activate their networks and succeed together. The initiative is a platform for women in technology to discover new ways to lead, learn and network in a world that demands new skills, new ways of thinking and new leadership styles.  Since 2020, more than 2000 women in tech have participated in the annual Target Elevate conference, an event rich in acquiring new knowledge, developing leadership acumen, and building deeper connections with each other, and with Target. Targeted programs continue through the year to engage with and provide participants with additional learning opportunities for women in tech.

Could you elaborate on Target's specialised hiring program designed specifically for women returning to work after a career break? How does the program support their reintegration into the workforce and advancement within the organization?

We’ve developed an internship program BounceBack for women who have taken a career break and are looking to return to the workforce and build a career. BounceBack aims to ease the process of returning to work after a break. It gives women the technical and managerial skills and the confidence they need through training, mentorship, ‘Buddy’ support and the inclusive culture at Target. Successful candidates get an opportunity to gain relevant work experience while being part of collaborative, fun and engaging teams. They work across various business verticals for 16 weeks to transition back to work. Between 2016 and 2023, we’ve hired 28 candidates through BounceBack, and 22 of them moved into full time roles across technology and business functions.

For young women aspiring to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)? What are the key objectives of this initiative, and how does it help in encouraging and supporting women in STEM fields?

UpCurve is a mentorship initiative for young women aspiring to pursue careers in STEM from beyond-the-top-tier colleges (external ecosystem program). It empowers them to start thinking about their career early on and helps bridge the gap between education and experience. The program provides the students training and mentoring in non-technical and soft skills, which studies show are critical to succeed In technology. This better equips them to enter the workforce and become intentional about their career right from the beginning. 

Since 2020 when the program started, we have built a community of 284 strong UpCurve alumni community spanning across three streams – Product Engineering, Data Sciences and Data Analysis. Although we started with a focus on gender diversity, this year we have progressed beyond and have a heterogenous batch with different dimensions of diversity like gender, age, ability and experience. In all, we have hired 68 UpCurve graduates.

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How does Target measure the success and impact of these programs in terms of advancing women's representation in leadership roles and fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace culture? 

DE&I is embedded deep in our culture through an intentional strategy, leadership accountability and all-in-commitment that goes into building a thriving ecosystem internally, as well as externally.   

But the larger impact can be seen in the significant growth in gender diversity among team members organization-wide and in leadership positions. Today, Target in India has an industry-leading gender diversity ratio of 46%. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of women people leaders.

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Topics: Recruitment, #Hiring, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

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