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Companies take steps to boost gender ratio in STEM

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NEW DELHI: Gender diversity is tough to crack in STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics). Some sectors like realty and infrastructure are also largely male-dominated. But role models are now emerging with insights into how the tide can be turned.
Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has achieved a genderbalanced workforce across levels in its R&D function, which houses over 750 employees. HUL executive director (R&D) Vibhav Sanzgiri said, “We realised there was a significant issue in terms of having women representation in science and technology across India. Women constitute approximately 16% of R&D manpower. We decided to drive gender balance, not just at an entry level, but at every level across our R&D team. Women scientists and technologists now account for 50% of our entire HUL R&D function, and 50% of our R&D leaders are women. ”
The pool for STEM talent is restricted. Companies across IT, tech and other sectors are constantly vying for this talent, and HUL decided to think out of the box. “We reached out to a more diverse set of women talent — beyond engineers — to tap into other sciences such as microbiology, nutrition, cosmetology, chemists and even psychologists. This gave us a larger and wider pool to choose from,” said Sanzgiri.
HUL executive director (HR) Anuradha Razdan said, since it’s harder to bring more women into functions like R&D, supply chain, manufacturing and sales, HUL has created accelerator feeder programmes to ensure there’s a steady stream of talent.

On the other hand, at digital networks company STL, which has a full-time employee strength of 5,000, about 300 women are working in plants across different domains and roles. The entire colouring section in its optical cable factory across three facilities is run by an all-women team. STL CHRO Anjali Byce said, “We believe that a gender-diverse workforce enables a diversity of thought, new ways of working,equal opportunity, and creative problem-solving. ”
STL has over 150 female operators working in core operations across units. “The team recently exported a large shipment of connectivity solutions to a key European customer, boosting new revenues. This is a feat that we are proud of, and we are not resting. We want to take the diversity ratio to 50% from the current approximately 20%,” said Byce.
Another traditionally male-dominated sector is realty. Mahindra Lifespaces has, for the first time, hired 15 female civil engineers from its campus recruitment programme as graduate engineer trainees (GETs). Mahindra Lifespaces chief people officer Krity Sharma said, “We are taking another step towards a diverse workplace. ” The company has achieved a gender diversity ratio of 21%, which is relatively higher with respect to industry standards. The aim now is to enhance this to 30% by fiscal year 2030.
Another area where companies across India Inc find it difficult to get adequate gender diversity is the leadership level. Some are enabling women to shatter the glass ceiling. Kellogg India now has 50:50 gender representation at its leadership level. Also, for the first time at the company’s Taloja plant, which has 200 workers, there’s around 45% representation of women in the leadership team. “It’s nolonger about having the statutory 25-30% women, but truly becoming an organisation which is gender-balanced,” said Kellogg South Asia director (HR) Nimisha Das.
In a study by Dale Carnegie on diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at hybrid workplaces in India, 95% of organisations agree that diversity creates a favourable environment for taking decisions on common issues without any conflicts. The study states while most organisations are aware about importance of diversity, the degree of adoption remains under 25% of the total employee strength.
Based on feedback HUL received from employees, Razdan said it’s clear that women stay with an organisation because of the culture, the flexibility offered and work policies but, above all, it’s the quality of work that influences their decision.
For HUL, it’s been a journey that started in 2010 when the gender diversity was 18% in the managerial workforce. “Today we are 45% in the management workforce, and we will get to 50% by 2025. The next level is to raise the diversity numbers on the manufacturing side and frontline sales,” said Razdan.
The company is now launching the HUL STEM Women’s Scholarship under the aegis of Ficci-WISE Council. “We will sponsor the education for 20 female Masters/ PhD students with India’s top educational institutes. What will be unique about this scholarship is that in addition to the financial grant, the selected scholars will be mentored by HUL leadership and both internal and external scientists,” said Sanzgiri.



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