Gender neutral environment important to encourage women in the workplace

by Sumana Sarkar 08 Mar 2021

Currently women comprise 5-7 percent of workforce across OEMs and Tier 1s. The image represents how MG Motor India is diversifying its workforce starting with Halol plant where 33% are women.

The celebration of International Women’s Day has been long debated. While there are some who feel it is a marketing gimmick when businesses go overboard trying to be politically right, some see it as a vehicle to increase awareness about women’s issues. Though the debate on that can continue, what can’t be ignored is how tackle gender parity, both professionally and socially.

In the automotive industry, which is long perceived to be a man’s domain, women are slowly but steadily making an impact. But is the work environment conducive to their needs and requirement? How exactly does the social bias creep in their professional ambit? Autocar Professional sought to find answers to all these questions and a lot more with its virtual forum celebrating the ‘gender benders’ called PowerWomenThe panellists included-

  • Ramkripa Ananthan, Design Head, Mahindra & Mahindra
  • Anupama Raman, Global Head, Software Academy, Continental Automotive
  • Aishwarya Pissay, TVS Racing
  • Mausam Joshi, Head, HR (Halol), MG Motor

Autocar India’s Renuka Kripalani moderated the discussion.

Talent vs gender
One of the primary questions that the speakers delved upon is the bias that we commonly see both in the workplace and at home? Quite unknown to most, they creep into the choices people make and the perception that they have about others. The automotive sector is no different. From the shopfloor to the retail segment, companies are going all out to showcase a gender diverse approach.

However, Ramkripa Ananthan, Design Head, Mahindra & Mahindra says it may not always be a case of bias against women, “The number of women studying industrial design are miniscule. Just like the work place, it is important to cultivate gender neutral environment at home.”

She clarifies, that, “most of the challenges that I have faced in my work place have not been gender based.”  In this context she feels family pressure, the environment at home and the overall social construct has a role to play. Moreover, she asserts that as women, it is “important to get over one’s own biases, sometimes that could be also limiting factors.”

That said, she was however quite candid about the lack of women-friendly infrastructure in most areas in the automotive sector. Especially when out in the field, she pointed out, “women-friendly infrastructure like appropriate restroom in outdoor locations, field can be a big challenge.” She feels that this kind of minor details can add to the comfort factor and encourage more women to join the sector.

According to her. “women come across as strong collaborators,” and her advice for women is to, “think about the labels that define you. There will be challenges but it is all about choosing your path and excel therein.”

Anupama Raman, Global Head, Software Academy, Continental Automotive and responsible for driving the software transformation in the automotive world agrees to Kripa’s point of view. She said that, “women need to be bold, be strong and stick by one’s decision to achieve success.”

According to her, “most times, it is trouble for women in the teething phase in the automotive sector as with most other sectors, once women are able to prove their point, it becomes relatively easy.”

According to her it is, “time to come out of conventional male stereotypes. Flexible working hours can play a big role in encouraging more women in the automotive sector. We need to change mindset and introduce more women friendly policies.”

She reiterated the need to create, “awareness and perspective about the role of women in automotive sector.” In this context she added that, “Continental plans to have 25% women in senior executive position by 2025.”

Though she maintained that talent more than gender should decide one’s employment decisions, she pointed out that women bring in some special qualities to the table, “women are good at financial management, they take calculated risk after due diligence. I would say a company’s finance is safe with women. They can bring in a dimension of calm cohesiveness.”

Mausam Joshi, Head, HR (Halol), MG Motor too added it is time that one, “stopped looking at segregating professionals on the basis of gender but more on their knowledge and expertise and contribution to the company.”

There is a business angle to this too. Mausam added that, “People have started realising that gender diversity makes business sense. Women are good at multi-tasking, collaboration and managing time. The collaborative approach brings about a cohesive work environment.”

According to her we are increasingly moving towards gender equality, “organisations understanding now it is important to concentrate on talent over gender. On an average you have 5-7 percent women working across OEMs and Tier-1s.”
No question on credibility
Often the battle is difficult for women as they are trying a bit too hard. Mausam asserted that, “Women should not succumb to performance pressure, peer expectation. Assumptions in place about hiring women. But the current era is of working towards gradual gender equality. Need to bring about culture change in work place, important to manage biases both on the behavioural and structural policies.”

While companies are taking some steps like, “Try to keep gender neutral job descriptions and avoid aggressive masculine references to make women comfortable and encourage more participation,” it is also important that, “women start challenging the status quo and come out of the comfort zone to bring about gender equality.”

She urges women to “be passionate about what you are doing, do not give up but speak up and no one’s perfect. Celebrate the imperfections about you.”

Aishwarya Pissay, TVS Racing
agrees it is never easy but it is, “important to get past stereotypes, look at women on the basis of their ability.” Speaking specifically about women in racing, she added that though they have “challenges same as any other male racer, social media often singles women out. Opportunity is available for anyone who wants to make it happen but when you achieve something, it does not become that easy to accept by many, especially on social media it can be unkind.”

Pissay pointed out that, “gender biases and cultural conditioning in the house environment plays a big role in the overall gender inequality eventually, even professionally. One needs to combine passion and devote adequate time to enhance one’s expertise to make a mark.”

Get past the inner bias
Ultimately, we are all human. The speakers agreed that, women need no validation and increasingly the glass wall is breaking on its own accord. While on the one hand companies are ready to invest in the advantages of a gender diverse workforce, women are able to overcome their inhibition and get past societal pressure to hold their own in work place. In the end, as Aishwarya Pissay says, it is important to, “take the leap of faith to realise your dreams.”

Autocar Professional thanks its associate partner Continental and wishes happy ‘Women’s Day’ today & every day to all its readers.

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