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Working in the automotive industry used to one of those things that was culturally labelled as a ‘man’s job’, which meant that women were shut out. While things have definitely improved, the industry’s gender difference, right from its production lines to the very top, is still quite remarkable. This holds true the world over and India is no exception.

On International Women’s Week, Auto Futures finds out what Indian automotive companies are doing to engage and empower the women in their workforce.

Automotive behemoth, Tata Motors, has been a flag-bearer for promoting inclusivity in the Indian automotive industry.

Speaking about the company’s efforts, Chief Human Resources Officer, Ravindra Kumar G.P, says: “We at Tata Motors embrace diversity and inclusion at all levels as a strategy to success. Over the years, we have strived to cultivate a gender diverse workplace, which is both sensitive and inclusive. It’s built on the foundation of creating an ecosystem that is attractive and supportive to women professionals at various stages of their career. This includes a structured cross-functional training program, that our recent campus recruits from Engineering and MBA colleges will benefit from, 38% of whom are women hires.”

“In addition to the training and interventions that all employees are eligible for, our talented experienced women also have the opportunity to participate in several programmes and initiatives dedicated to women’s development. As a part of celebrations around Women’s International Day, we have planned a series of initiatives that emphasise the importance of diversity while ensuring there are no gender biases,” adds Kumar.

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Made in India by Indian women

New entrant to the Indian market, MG Motors, has been promoting inclusivity with a certain vigour that the Indian automotive industry hasn’t seen before. Like for example, in this sector, representation of women is largely restricted to unchallenging administrative and desk jobs.

However, MG changed this in September 2017, when it inaugurated its new Halol manufacturing unit in the state of Gujarat.

Despite facing the daunting task of hiring completely fresh candidates for its plant, MG chose to design its hiring mandate with the principle: ‘maximum diversity’ – something that would initially seem far from achievable in a male-dominated sector. The company has been consistent with its hiring strategy based on diversity employing female candidates for the shop-floor from within a hundred kilometers of its Halol plant, primarily from the Panchmahals district.

MG India’s HR Department worked with the local councils to reach out to all villages through the local administration, to find out and encourage female candidates fresh out of graduation to join and be part of the automotive industry.

Even in critical manufacturing functions, MG has been employing women as well, in such facilities within the plant where quality and precision is key, as they pay greater attention to detail – an example of women performing “a far from mundane activity” at MG’s plant.

The ultimate testament to all its efforts was when the 50,000th MG Hector was manufactured with an all-women crew at the very same Halol plant, marking a special milestone for the company and its efforts towards gender parity.

Rajeev Chaba, President & Managing Director, MG Motor India, says: “MG has always been a progressive brand with diversity, community, innovation, and experiences as our cornerstones. We believe that it is something that has broadened our perspective as a brand and unlocked efficiencies in every aspect of our business operations. The rollout of our 50,000th Hector by an all-women crew comes as an honour to their contributions and hard work. It also demonstrates that glass ceilings no longer exist even in an erstwhile male-dominated industry such as automobile manufacturing.”

CEAT offers equal and fair opportunities

If you thought that all the action was led by the OEMs, let me assure you that tyre suppliers aren’t very far behind. Take India’s leading tyre manufacturer CEAT Tyres as an example. CEAT introduced the concept of women-only operated CEAT Shoppes across India, an endeavour to empower women especially in the male dominated tyre industry.

The Shoppes are owned, managed and run by a team of women, including manual jobs like wheel-changing, balancing and operating various machinery to service a vehicle being done by them.

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Amit Tolani, Chief Marketing Officer, CEAT explains: “CEAT recognizes the value of gender diversity at the workplace. We have been offering equal and fair opportunity to women in every field including our manufacturing plants. From shop-floor engineers to leadership roles, CEAT has a diversified female workforce taking up challenging roles and growing in their respective fields.

“The all Women CEAT Shoppe, is an industry first initiative which further reiterates our commitment to allow women to grow and make a mark in the tyre industry which is predominantly male driven business.”

“The initiative will not only provide financial stability to the women but will inspire many others to join this industry as we plan to expand our footprints across India with many more such outlets in the months to come,” adds Tolani.

Now more than ever, the Indian automotive industry is seeing women entrepreneurs enter the space and match their male counterparts. If reports are to be believed, India is expecting to see a wave of female-led start-ups in the mobility space like Rivigo, Cellerite Systems and Nexus Power.

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Leaving a mark on the mobility industry

Another area where India is witnessing a mini-revolution is the ride-hailing space, where companies like Uber and Ola are encouraging more and more women drivers to join up, helping and supporting them all the way.

An Uber spokesperson said: “Drivers are integral to our business and we’re committed to fostering a culture of inclusiveness and diversity on our platform. Through various initiatives, we’re committed to onboarding more women and gender-diverse drivers by offering them sustainable earnings, the best possible safety standards and a great support experience. We’re confident these will help them leave a mark on India’s mobility industry.”

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Life is tough, but you have to be tougher.

Take the example of Uber’s driver partner Shobha from New Delhi, who has been associated with the ride-hailing service as a driver partner since 2017 having previously worked for Meru and other cab services.

Life hasn’t been easy for Shobha, who is the sole breadwinner for her two children ever since the death of her husband. “Life is tough, but you have to be tougher,” has been her mantra. Uber empowered her to believe that she is no less than any man and helped hone her skillset, gave her the platform to do what she’s good at, and so allowing to fulfil her goal to look after her family and secure her children’s future, she tells us.

Shobha’s story is just one among many, where companies like Uber have empowered women to look beyond gender stereotypes and enabled them, with the right training and support, to build a career in the field that they choose to.

While there is far much more that needs to be done collectively by Indian automotive industry to achieve gender parity, we can’t discount the work that is being done in the area of inclusivity, which has definitely begun to make a dent.

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