Women in the Chemical Industry

Shweta Bhanot Mehrotra

12 Mar 2018

Women in Indian chemical industry is like finding a needle in the haystack. This International Women's Day, we bring to you two dynamic women personalities in the industry who talk about what is making women shy away from the chemical industry and what needs to change.
Ms. Surabhi Mittal, Vice President HR and Administration, LANXESS India
Surabhi Mittal LANXESS

There are nuances that you face due to the gender in a manufacturing industry, especially chemical industry. Since chemical industry is associated with hazardous materials, one finds male gender in dominance. The attributes of the industry are 24*7operations, and many a times the machinery and material used could be risky. Therefore, even if you are working in the capacity of HR head in such a company and not spending significant time on the shop floor, you are still dealing with people who get work done at the shop floor. And  when a woman approaches them to talk about issues or they want to address issues - the stereotypical notions emerge. Questions like, how would she know what happens at the shop floor? She does not know what happens in a chemical space! arise.

Moreover, if you are a favourably western in your dressing and approach, and going to the shop floor then the stereotypical turn into prejudice. The fact that you are strong in your subject takes a back seat over your appearance and they judge you by that. I would not say I have suffered due to this in the industry, but yes of course, women need to take extra efforts to prove themselves. 

Surabhi Mittal LANXESS Ms. Mittal with the team.

The major issues while attracting talent to chemical industry is the thought process of the younger population who rate comfort, convenience and glamour quotient at the top of the list. Moreover, the influence of the start-up culture has created an impression that everything will be available to them on the tip of their fingers. The millennial’s understanding of functioning of a manufacturing plant is limited. It has been observed that the majority of candidates, especially female, are not keen on working in chemical industry as the job demands working in plants, travelling across small cities and working in volatile environments. When we go for on-campus placement, the first thing the female candidates ask us is whether the job requires them to be on the plant or the corporate office. Even if they are willing to work on the shop floor and put that extra efforts, we observe many a times the families not that supportive. Hence, the idea about how chemical industry works today, and the stringent safety and working norms we follow, is yet to be a known fact among the population. I would say we are a benchmark with any other industry in terms of the safety norms and working conditions. And I would encourage more women to be part of this critical industry.

The women who stay and continue in this endeavour will be the leaders of tomorrow as there is more and more emphasis from the industry to give fair opportunities to both genders with added safeguards to make the workplace more conducive and safe for the ladies.

Dr. Padma S Vankar, Director Academic, Axis Colleges, Kanpur, and an Ex-Principal Research Scientist, Facility for Ecological and Analytical Testing, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur

In the run for modernisation and industralisation, chemical industry has faced the maximum development. We have come a long way, however little have we realised that in this journey for modernisation, issues like gender parity have been still lying on the shelf. Even today,  the women representation in the chemical industry is far less in proportion to their fraction in the Indian society. This underrepresentation of women in the industry is due to the less conducive environment presented to them in terms of fewer women at various levels in the industry, stricter shift timings and less supportive families who discourage them from picking plant operations. More so, the idea about dealing with hazardous materials. This trickles down to lack of women talent with doctoral degree. There is a need to ensure sufficient number of women at every level by the organisation along with encouraging work environment.

Dr. Padma  with students at the college Dr. Padma with students at the college

Though scenario is changing and finding women at many levels in the chemical industry is no longer the oddity now. However, it is just the beginning and there is a need for a cohesive effort required by families, colleges and corporates to make strategic plans in the hire, retain, and advancement of women workforce in order to have equality in employment.


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