CHENNAI: Kamakshi sits comfortably folding copper coils in jet speed in the assembly line that makes intelligent toothbrushes for export. The air-conditioned manufacturing unit resembles a corporate office. Beside her stands a woman labour officer, keen to keep mix-ups at bay.
Syrma Technology’s manufacturing unit in Tambaram, Chennai, employs nearly 1,780 workers, of which 1,403 are women. The company, part of the Tandon Group, co-develops connected products like smart toothbrushes and connected surgical cotton swabs, among others, for the export market.
“Earlier, there was a dearth of female candidates willing to work on the shop floor or take up shifts, but the case is different now. They are qualified to function at an operational level and are willing to work in shifts. This trend of women taking up roles in the male-dominated manufacturing sector is something we have been observing only since the last three to four years,” says Sreeram Srinivasan, CEO, Syrma Technology.
Still, Srinivasan says, the paradox persists. “At the factory worker level, we have about 90-95 female employees. It drops to 26 per cent when it comes to one level above. It’s only three per cent at the middle to senior levels, and at the top management level, it is literally zero. This has been bothering us,” he said.
To turn this around, the company executives have identified 10-15 per cent of women at an operational level to be trained to function at the middle-to-senior level and eventually at the top.
“Through focus groups, we mould women with BEs and diplomas who join at the operational level, to reach the higher rungs in the company. We identify potential from their willingness to define a problem on the floor, make inferences from their observations and present it to the top management,” the CEO said, “We opened up the shop for kaizen competition. About 10-15 per cent could well-up to that level.”
A few women have shifted from working on the shop floor to managerial positions such as key account managers; a few others have become supervisors and assembly line leaders who have the capacity to ideate and improve processes.
The company also claims to provide equal opportunity and pay for both male and female workers.
“I’ve recently been promoted as a key account executive at Syrma, I started off with a role in quality testing. I’d stayed back after office hours to attend the free vocational training provided specially for women and attended the kaizen competition. I went through the ranks of the company to move from a back-end process to a client-facing one,” said Kritika*, an employee.
“At Syrma, there is an open system when it comes to filling a vacancy. Any person, male or female, is able to apply for the role. I shifted to a programme management role recently,” she added.
(*names changed on request)