International Women's Day: India Inc vows to promote gender diversity

The technology sector is also not leaving any stone unturned to make Women’s Day a success story.
Even as employment of women in the formal sector shows a marked decline in recent years, top Indian companies are going out of their way to celebrate International Women’s Day by offering special offers and organising events for women. The long-term goal of many well-run companies is to hire more women and empower them.

From financial services to manufacturing firms, corporate leaders are taking steps to ensure diversity and inclusiveness. “In line with the values of Tata, Indian Hotels Company has created a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion. We are committed to creating equal opportunities for women and encouraging them to undertake various roles across the company,” said Puneet Chhatwal, managing director and chief executive officer of Indian Hotels.

Tobacco-to-hotel conglomerate ITC is also encouraging participation of women in the manufacturing sector. For example, some of ITC's state-of-the-art food manufacturing units have witnessed an increasing number of women engaged on the shop floor. ITC’s Pudukkottai (Trichy) unit in Tamil Nadu is one of the largest factories in India, and deploys close to 85 per cent women as workforce.

Similarly, ITC’s foods unit at Mysuru in Karnataka is the first FMCG factory in the region to deploy women workforce across all shifts — taking the ratio of women in the unit to around 60 per cent.

To encourage participation of women in the workforce, ITC’s food business has been carrying out several other initiatives at its factory locations, and providing food and creche facilities. “As a confidence-building measure, family members of women employees are invited to the factory to show them the work environment and culture, and the factory leadership team engages with them to address their concerns regarding safety, food, transportation etc,” said an ITC official.

The Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Group has decided not only to meet its diversity targets, but to also change the mindset of people. “We, at Vedanta Aluminium & Power Business, believe in hiring women professionals for roles that involve critical job responsibilities at the shop floor, as well as strategic decision making. Currently, we have a gender diversity at 12 per cent against our goal of 30 per cent, out of which 20 per cent will be in operations & maintenance,” said Dilip Ranjan Sahoo, CHRO of Vedanta's aluminium & power business.
The Group is looking at every role, no matter how non-traditional, as absolutely ‘gender-agnostic’, “Meaning women can, and should, preferably be hired for every role from plant operations, security, R&D, marketing, maintenance, right up to fire-fighters, literally — there are no holy cows in terms of roles being gender-specific,” he said.

The technology sector is also not leaving any stone unturned to make Women’s Day a success story. Google is hosting a series of interactive events this International Women’s Week from March 2-13 across India.

Organised by Women@Google, the employee resource group is committed to helping women Googlers achieve their full potential by conducting an allyship workshop for Googlers. The workshop is designed to help employees understand how awareness, involvement, and positive changes can help build allyship at the workplace. Mid-sized IT firm Hewaware is also conducting a series of workshops that focus on women’s health.

In the aviation sector, Emirates airlines said women constitute more than 40 per cent of its total workforce, with the majority working as cabin crew.  To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, Emirates is highlighting critically-acclaimed movies by women directors on the airline’s in-flight entertainment system. Interestingly, women should not only be hired for inclusiveness, but it may also help in increasing profits. In a report, BoFA Global Research says Asia Pacific stocks with at least two female board members have exhibited a price-to-earnings premium, and higher net profit margins. “A tremendous amount of work remains to be done to close the gender gap, but progress is being made in tertiary education and laws to support equal pay and government-supported childcare. Industry sources value the potential uplift at $3.2 trillion to $4.5 trillion of incremental GDP,” it said.

BoFA’s proprietary database shows that 66 per cent of Asian companies have less than two females on the board. The lack of gender diversity is most acute in Infotech, industrials, and consumer discretionary sectors.

There is still a long way to go, as gender gaps in labour force participation and economic participation have stagnated, or even increased, meaning that women are only set to reach equal economic participation in 257 years. “Pay gaps are exacerbated by an unequal share of unpaid domestic work and childcare, which has seen limited transferral to men. Governments and companies are now experimenting with solutions from ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ paternity leave, to egg-freezing benefits for female employees,” BoFA Global Research said.

(Dev Chatterjee with Pavan Lall, Avishek Rakshit, Aditi Divekar, and Aneesh Phadnis)

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