Ride-hailing firm Ola’s electric scooter facility will be run entirely by women, in a move that will potentially spur other companies to create more employment opportunities for them and raise their share in India’s overall workforce.
“We have invested significantly to train and upskill them in core manufacturing skills and they will be responsible for the entire production of every vehicle manufactured at Ola Futurefactory,” Chief Executive Officer Bhavish Aggarwal said in a blog post on Monday.
When fully operational, Ola Electric Mobility aims to have more than 10,000 women running its Futurefactory being built at Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri. The company plans to churn out 10 million two-wheelers a year by 2022.
“At full capacity, Futurefactory will employ over 10,000 women, making it the world’s largest women-only factory and the only all-women automotive manufacturing facility globally,” he said.
The future of work clearly lies in greater automation, as demonstrated by Ola’s e-scooter factory that will deploy more than 3,000 robots powered by artificial intelligence.
Companies around the world are increasingly realising the benefits of having women across functions and devising inclusive policies to boost their participation. Boosting gender diversity at the workplace has been shown to improve productivity, efficiency and innovation, leading to an enlargement of the overall economic pie.
To be sure, Ola Electric is not the first company to have an all-women shopfloor. ITC Foods’ unit at Karnataka’s Nanjangud has an all-women facility, while Taiwanese electronic contract manufacturer Foxconn’s arm Rising Star also has a women-only team cranking out devices and appliances.
Pune-based two-wheeler maker Bajaj Auto has been hiring women at its factories for years, and they make up a large chunk of employees at its Chetak electric scooter factory.
“If women show eagerness to take up such vocational courses and training, then we are nobody to stop them,” Ravi Kyran, President HR, Bajaj Auto, said.
Social mores in a conservative country like India are often blamed to have held back women from participating fully in the country’s economic life. Also, their physical endurance, or the perceived lack of it, has discouraged manufacturers from employing them at their factories. But such attitudes are changing, and with technology as an enabler, they seem determined to succeed.
“Capability, dedication and application are the three elements that companies seek from their employees and women are showing these,” said Kyran.
Women have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In July last year, McKinsey, a consultancy, said that women’s jobs and livelihoods were more vulnerable to the pandemic-related economic shock. It is estimated that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs.
It’s not difficult to imagine that this trend, in varying degrees, has been a global phenomenon in the wake of the pandemic, and governments, as well as companies, need to evolve flexible policies and create conditions for more women to join the workforce. Gender equality is not merely a politically correct slogan but has tangible socio-economic benefits.