What prompted you or attracted you the most to get into the manufacturing industry given that it's quite male-dominated?
At the start of my career, I was not aware of this so-called glass ceiling concept. My decision to join manufacturing was inspired by the societal perception of it being a prestigious career choice. In my 25-year career, I have rarely experienced gender inequality. Of course, women are judged more than they are in other sectors and societal bias fuels those judgements adversely.
Do you think there is a male-female divide in manufacturing? What are the key components of a gender-balanced manufacturing organisation?
The need for this article says it all, and hence, a big yes. The ratio may vary between developed and developing countries and different levels in an organisation, but women are underrepresented. The key elements of a gender-balanced manufacturing organisation entail three aspects - to set a tone from the top that fosters gender diversity and a belief that a gender-balanced organisation contributes to enterprise value positively, to reset norms of recruitment & retention framework and to partner with technical institutes and universities to minimise the gender bias and eliminate taboo that manufacturing only means oil and grease, assembly lines & monotonous work.
When it comes to manufacturing industries, like aerospace or defence or automotive, we don’t see many initiatives/encouragement to attract female students. Do you think the situation is changing now? What initiatives can education institutions take to encourage women into the field?
The situation is changing but at a snail’s pace. COVID-19 has pushed gender equality and diversity efforts back by at least half a decade. Educational institutions can institute a lot of change. They can create awareness that working conditions are much different now with technological advancements and automation, that there are safety measures and women-friendly policies, like POSH. Institutes can be change ambassadors by partnering with manufacturing companies.
What are some myths related to women in manufacturing, that you would like to burst here? How can the industry work on creating a more women-friendly environment to encourage the upcoming workforce?
We have to get rid of the implicit bias. When we draw a picture of an engineer, it would often be a man. In the 21st century, we still live with several misconceptions, such as manufacturing jobs demanding physical activity and women not being able to handle them, the manufacturing sector does not prefer women and there is a remuneration difference. Today, the shop floors are clean, safety protocols are followed, there are robotics & digitalised operations and much more. Wage policies are as per level & not gender. The industry must showcase women leaders to attract more women.
Can you share any challenges you have faced/are facing being a woman in the manufacturing industry? How do you think these challenges can be overcome?
I would say that there are intentional and unintentional biases. We should not attempt to eliminate those. The way to achieve a meaningful gender diversity is to ensure equal opportunity. From small step of a gender-neutral recruitment form to assigning complex projects based on knowledge and merit, we can apply a range of meaningful changes.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the manufacturing industry? What would your advice be for women aspiring to enter this field?
The best part is the quick recognition since there is only a handful of us. Women can prove their presence in manufacturing organisations faster than in the service sector. Being a knowledge-intensive industry, as one builds up her knowledge and expertise, people listen and respect one’s views. Additionally, I also think that women in the industry should help other women.