Women in manufacturing

Hardly one can perceive that manufacturing, especially automobiles or auto ancillaries can become a female domain because of the labour-intensive nature of work, multiple shifts and faraway factory locations. I saw a good number of women employees on shop floor in Western countries but I couldn’t think of doing that in India. Years ago, I found an auto component manufacturing company UCAL manufacturing carburetors near Chennai. The company was using very young girls in production. They were all from nearby villages. After certain amount of training, they proved to be good at the work with lesser error rate. At the same time the company was employing them at a lower cost. And that was perhaps an exploitation that is usual in manufacturing sector with smaller scale. At Hindustan Motors, we were never free to employ women even for the jobs suitable for the women such as the computer sections or planning and design. At one time I suggested for employing the female candidates for labour welfare department and for training in soft skills and attitudinal improvement. My argument was that the female employees will improve the work culture and reduce the arrogance of the male employees with the CPI-M dominated trade union. May be that we could have solved many problems easily. But it never happened. I was surprised to read the story in ‘Business World’ issue of December6,2004. $275 million Anand Group is one of the companies voted as ‘Great Places to Work’ based on the ratings for credibility, respect, fairness, pride, and camaraderie.

Anand group- manufacturers of auto components like shock absorbers, fuel filters and hydraulic brakes company is specifically targeting women for filling vacancies in operations, product development and finance. Currently, only 11 per cent of Anand’s 5,300 employees are women. The management intends to take it up to 30 per cent by 2007.

It’s not desk positions, but the shop floor, for which the bulk of the hiring is taking place. Given the stringent labour laws for women working in manufacturing, like getting an approval from the labour officer for working third shifts, or beyond 10:00 p.m., it’s a great feat. But is it for proving the gender equality only or some thing more? Why then is Anand trying to enhance the percentage of female employees?

At Anand, women perform all the tasks their male counterparts do. But Anand group has found women to do it somewhat better. The move started as social responsibility has triggered an increase in the group’s productivity. Women normally start work at the age of 22-23 years and stay on for 5-6 years, till they get married. The process keeps the workforce young and nimble.

Women are preferred in Anand Group to men in all positions – from working on the shop floor to supervisory positions at various plants, and even management at the plant and corporate levels… wherever there’s a vacancy. This is unlike other auto ancillary factories, where women are hired for their dexterity in handling smaller parts like screws and rings – works that rank low in terms of value addition.

Pays and perks aren’t differentiated on the basis of gender. Fifteen out of the group’s 32 plants have hostels for women close by. A lady doctor visits each hostel once a week. Each cluster has a female management mentor.

Is it not something great happening in manufacturing sector too now?

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