Covid pushes top manufacturing companies to bring more women to shop floors

MUMBAI: The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted leading Indian manufacturers in automobile, metals, mining and heavy engineering to increase the representation of women on shop floors.In the last six months, Tata Motors has increased the number of female employees on shop floor to 11% from 4%. The company aims to increase this number to 20% in the near term.Utility vehicle and tractor major Mahindra & Mahindra has increased the number of women on shop floor by 30% in the last 8-10 months in both auto and tractor manufacturing plants, said chief human resources officer Rajeshwar Tripathi.Others such as Tata Steel, Vedanta and Hero MotoCorp are also pushing for more women in their steel plants, assembly lines, mines and oil rigs.While many companies have been driving the gender diversity agenda as a business case on shop floor for the last few years, the pandemic has accelerated the entry of women into the shop floor as many highly strenuous roles — that have been hitherto a male bastion — have been automated, thus making way for women who can manage them.“Growing levels of automation has reduced the strenuous activities, thereby making it easier for women to work on the assembly lines in the automobile industry,” said a Tata Motors spokesperson.Also, several state governments have been relaxing the regulations about allowing women to work on night shifts in factories, thus enabling companies to induct more female workers.The country’s largest steelmaker, Tata Steel, is looking to increase the number of women at its steel plants and mines and plans to have 35-40% roles occupied by women, said vice president, human resources, Suresh Tripathi. “We have women not only on the shop floor now but also in mines. Earlier we had limitations of women working in mining, but with the law changing now we have in some places all three shifts managed by women,” said Tripathi. “At some of our steel plants we have two shifts managed by women … once the state governments allow night shifts for women in those places, it will open up more opportunities,” he added.79658611“During the course of the pandemic, certain governments relaxed the norms, thereby enabling women employees to work during the second shift/night shift after fulfilling conditions and ensuring their safety. This has helped us to increase the percentage women employees post pandemic,” said a Tata Motors spokesperson. The company has women in areas such as assembly, quality, inspection, material kitting and maintenance.Diversified miner Vedanta, which aims to increase the number of women from the current total representation of 15% to 33% in the next couple of years, is focussing on expanding the shop floor presence of women too. “We need more women in frontline shop floor roles. We have women as rig supervisors, control rooms led by women, lab in-charges, security guards and mining engineers. We are making a conscious effort to induct more women at the shop floor,” said Madhu Srivastava, group CHRO, Vedanta.Staffing companies have seen a 10-15% increase in the mandate for women on shop floors.“Some manufacturers, who lost a large chunk of their factory workers to migration, have started hiring from local areas and replacing the vacancies by taking in women … we have seen an increase in such hiring mandates from manufacturers,” said Sudeep Kumar Sen, business head – industrial, manufacturing & engineering at Teamlease Services.Two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp said it had been adding to the number of women in its factories.“Having more women on the shop floor is helping to improve output, quality and discipline, all critical aspects that are required to enhance competitiveness,” said a company spokesperson.However, while large companies have the resources, facilities and infrastructure — in terms of transport, security, etc. — to increase gender diversity on the shop floor, for small companies, getting the systems in place to appoint more women remains a challenge from the cost effectiveness and affordability standpoint, said Anshul Prakash, a partner at law firm Khaitan & Co, who is a specialist in employment and labour law.
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