A report by Deloitte says that across the globe, women are still largely under-represented on corporate boards globally, and progress to change this trend continues to be slow. When this is the position at the top level, one can easily understand the situation at the bottom level.
And the apparel sector, which is amongst the largest employer of women workers,all over the world is not an exception. As per ILO, globally, women represent an average of around 68 per cent of the garment workforce and 45 per cent of the textile sector workforce.
An important aspect in this scenario is that in India, women at shop floor are in big number;in fact few of the factories in South India and Bengaluru have more than 70 per cent women on the shopfloor across the departments or job profile.
One has to understand very clearly that women leadership is different from women empowerment and gender equality. Despite various efforts of various stakeholders, there is a lot more to be done to bring more and more women into a leadership role.
Why more women are required in leadership roles?
Investing in women for leadership is not just for the sake of women.It is the moral responsibility of the industry. It has another positive aspect too. Having more women on the shopfloor even at starting level like a tailor, checker, etc., increases efficiency on the shopfloor as women are more disciplined than men. Similarly having more women at the senior level attracts more women employees in the factory and motivates them to work together and grow in the same organisation. It also reduces the sad incidents against women.
Recent developments in North India
On the shopfloor, assistant supervisors, supervisors, line-in-charge, quality control, sampling-in-charge, etc.,are some of the profiles where few of the women get promoted –though North India has less number of women on the shopfloor especially compared to South India. However, India’s top apparel exporters like Pearl Global, Modelama Exports, Paramount Products and few others are having lines on the shopfloor, which are managed by women only.
Paramount Products has 50 per cent representation of women workers and at least 30 per cent of women supervisors. The company has also introduced one dedicated women line each in stitching and in finishing. These lines comprise all-women staff from workers to supervisors. This gives more comfort and confidence to women to work which enhances their efficiency and stability.
Moving one step forward, Anish India Exports (AIE), Gurugram has set up the first women-led garment finishing plant.
Support for women is primarily due to buyers’ push
Various buyers are supporting women across the supply chain with different initiatives. The majority of such initiatives include HERproject for improving women’s health knowledge and reduced absenteeism and staff turnover, GAP P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) created to support women in the global apparel industry. Such initiatives target to reach 1 million women and girl workers through supply chain vendor and community partnerships by 2022.
It is also pertinent to mention here that recently Gap Inc. set new goals to empower women in its supply chain. There are 6 female members in the Gap Inc. Board of Directors and women represent 76 per cent of Gap Inc.’s global employees and hold leadership roles at every level–from nearly 70 per cent women on the management team to 72 per cent leading global stores.
M&S also has a focus on the same and its suppliers in India get the push from this UK retail giant.
The retailer addresses the pipeline of women ready to move into senior roles and continues to be a part of the 30 per cent Club Cross Business Mentoring Programme – providing mentoring support for mid-senior women to help them progress their careers.
A recent report on gender data disclosure of world’s 36 most influential apparel companies by World Benchmarking Alliance says that all 36 companies disclosed less than 40 per cent of the information that stakeholders expect to see, both in terms of quality and quantity of information shared. Moreover, nearly 90 per cent of the companies assessed disclosed less than 30 per cent of that information. Only 7 of the 36 reported on the gender balance of their workforce across five levels of leadership including board of directors, senior executives, senior management, middle management and overall workforce. Without transparency, how can top brands set a good example for their suppliers?
It is also worth mentioning here that in some of the countries like UK, there is law that all UK organisations with over 250 employees are required to share details of their gender pay and bonus gaps; the percentage of men and women receiving the bonus; and the proportions of men and women in each pay quartile of workforce.
Lot of challenges at various levels
There are lot of challenges that women have to face in leadership positions and other levels.One of the major challenges is the mindset of women as well as men like on the shopfloor, many women feel that they lack the overall skill and personality required to become a senior in any department be it supervisor, QC, etc.
At the same time, apart from few exceptions, male workers don’t prefer to have a women leader or women at senior position on them.
Few of the companies are well aware of this challenge and are finding ways to overcome these. For example, Paramount Products is dedicatedly focusing to identify the potential women who can be groomed for leadership roles. It has a policy not to hire supervisors from outside and train them but rather it motivates its workers (including women) to become supervisors. “We are exploring women, across the departments, who can be trained for leadership roles and to motivate everyone for this training and counselling which will help in gender sensitisation,” shares Rupali Agarwal, Head- CSR, Paramount Products.
Many North Indian factories have the culture to work in ‘night shift’ when shipments are expected to delay but as an exception there are factories which prefer to have more and more women in leadership role as they show better productivity and quality in their work. Such factories get help to complete their shipments on time and avoid extra costing of overtime and night shifts.
A significant reason why a chunk of women workers don’t prefer or get motivated for leadership roles is their strong responsibility towards both professional as well as personal life. And in such a case,they prefer to work as they use to be at junior level to focus more on family rather than on leadership role.
Keeping these aspects in mind, there are factories which prefer to keep women at a little higher level, be it quality controller, sampling department or areas where requirement of night shift or urgent work pressure is comparatively less.
Education is also an important factor in this regard as young female workers, who are having any diploma or formal skill development training, are more confident than experienced but less educated female workers.
Aged women who are not much educated prefer to become members of any committee like ICC, canteen committee, etc.
Industry’s own push will bring the change
There is no doubt at all that most of the efforts in this direction are just because of buyers’ push. There is a positive aspect to this buyer-driven approach. Rupali, who has exposure of working with other industries, also believes, “It creates more organised way of working and exposure to global manners.”
However, industry should also take this up on priority without buyer push. With more and more such examples, women leadership can well contribute in an apparel manufacturing organisation’s growth.
More troubles for women-owned SMEs
Apparel Resources talked to few women owners of SMEs in this regard and found that they are facing even more challenges. Few of them told off record that when their organisations tried to bring women in leadership roles, male workers as well as mid-level management refused to work under a women leader. “In case of any blunder, it is okay for workers and middle level, that a male leader/boss can shout but they don’t tolerate the similar reaction from a woman,” shares a Noida-based young female director of an SME export house who doesn’t wish to share her name.
Agreeing with such attitude/mindset problems, Aastha Kapoor Khanna, Director, Affordable Exports, Delhi says, “Have anyone of us ever noticed that any woman is owner of fabricating (small subcontracting) unit?Such issues of ‘attitude’ are more in the smaller units.”
To bring more women in leadership role, the company is increasing women workers and employees across all its departments and its design/merchandising department is totally managed by female professionals. There are women-based, women-driven trade unions in India like SEWA and few others but there is still huge lack of such vision and efforts which can push women and especially workers towards leadership role. Therefore, all efforts should move in a single direction with the objective of having more women in the organisations, and giving equal treatment to them at all levels. Released by The World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 states that it will take another 257 years for men and women to have pay equality, i.e. by 2277.
“Women are there in apparel manufacturing and that too in leadership role as our company has women supervisor and women leaders in industrial engineering (IE) team. Our management is very keen to support women in leadership roles. It is also true that industry needs to increase their number. For that we need to focus much on training and awareness. Women do have good potential for being technical experts and have better analytical skills, which are must for leadership role,” says Indu Bhardwaj, Deputy Manager, 6 S and SOP, Pearl Global Industries, Gurugram.
So isn’t it high time to invest and focus more on women?