The issue of gender balance and diversity is driving Seema Nair, Executive Director, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages. Changing the mindset that does not allow increasing women participation at the shop floor, Seema spoke to Coca-ColaJourney about the challenges.

Ashutosh Sinha: Thank you so much, Seema, for speaking to Coca-Cola Journey. It is so important to get more women to the workforce, particularly in manufacturing setups. What is being done by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) to ensure that more women participate in its workforce? 

Seema Nair: Before we talk of manufacturing, as we take a look at the consumers for our products, 35 per cent of the consumers happen to be women at this point of time. So, even as a business imperative, it is extremely important for us to have that demographic represented in the workforce. It is important for us to be able to exploit the talent pool within the country, in different parts of the business, be it sales and marketing, be it supply chain and so on.

In fact the question we should be asking is why don’t we already have gender balance not just within HCCB but across the industry. In fact our upcoming greenfield at Sanand (Gujarat), we are planning to have at least a 50 per cent women on the shop floor and across the entire factory. The intent of doing that is first to prove the concept and then go back into all our existing manufacturing facilities and use the learning from that to ensure that over a period  of time we get to at least half of the population being women.

Ashutosh: So, is it mindset issue really? What steps are being taken to change that mindset?

Seema: I think there are multiple areas, and I don’t think these are unique to HCCB. We recently had our leadership visit the largest towel manufacturing facility in the world- it is based in India, and 40 per cent of the operators on the shop floor are women. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot do the same in other setups. 

Traditionally, the belief existed that in order to operate machinery, you needed to have a lot of physical force. We carried out a study and found that barring a couple of roles within the factory, which actually need more of muscle power, every single other role can be done by people of either gender. We already have our women operators existing in pockets in different facilities. For example, in one of our factories in Ameenpur, Telangana, we have our first woman operator who moved out of the quality function and actively took on this role and she has done amazingly well. She has gone on to take larger roles over the several years that she has been doing this.

Ashutosh: Diversity is not just a gender issue. There are many connotations to it. How can Coca-Cola standout and be seen as one of the champions for the cause of diversity? 

Seema: One interesting facet of diversity that often gets forgotten is that it is not just gender, it is all other forms. Examples of this could be coming from different religions, whether we have an elite educational background, or if we come from rural versus urban kind of a setup, what communities we have been brought up in, different points of view have been coming in, and so on. The more we are able to harness this at the workplace, the better it is. Diversity enables us to look at the same subject in multiple ways.  If you think of being inclusive it basically means you are able to harness different viewpoints to eventually get to solutions that are the most creative solutions.

Ashutosh: Again, inclusivity is also very much of a challenge. Whatever steps you take are just the beginnings, sometimes, of a journey and there is a very long road ahead. How to do grade those steps and what steps do you take so that you actually move ahead on the issue?

Seema: This year one of the journeys we have started off with is taking a very, very close look at all our policies, all our processes and some of our infrastructure and some of the basic fundamental elements that either stop us or enable us in our diversity journey. An example of that is small steps like setting up crèche facilities across all the 30 locations that we operate out of, be it plant, be it an office kind of a set up or a depot kind of a set up.

Now that is just one example. We can also think about the signage systems. We have people who cannot read or have sight related issues. Are they able to find their way around all the different facilities? They are just very, very tiny examples but the intent is that will all kinds of abilities or different kind of disabilities – are we creating a workplace that allows for all this? We are looking at things like how can female sales employees be out in the market where sometimes hygienic restroom facilities might be a challenge and what is a solution for that. 

There are some trials that we are doing right now. We are looking at safe transportation facilities, including female driver-led cabs for women who might be working late and hence need a safe drop home or to an airport if they are travelling on business. These are basic infrastructure facilities that we are talking about for tier one cities. Out of that, of course, it is a mindset conversation. The idea is to expands the conversation with all our associates to talk about how they can participate and enable this process because inclusivity is not the domain of a few. Inclusivity is something that all of need to practice on an everyday basis. 

Ashutosh: Thank you so much, Seema, for speaking to us at Coca-Cola Journey.