Millennium Post

Vedanta Aluminium: painting the manufacturing shopfloor rainbow

Vedanta Aluminium: painting the manufacturing shopfloor rainbow

Every individual in an organisation brings with them diverse perspectives, work and life experiences, competencies, and a whole host of socio-cultural differences that add to the richness of workplace, in terms of skillsets and culture. The key to unleashing the potential of this diversity lies in inclusivity and belongingness. In other words, the benefits of diversity can be reaped by organizations that value these individual differences and strive to nurture a sense of belongingness within each individual for the team and company, so they align their strengths to pursue common goals.

India's largest aluminium producer, Vedanta Aluminium, is one such organization leading the way in making the manufacturing industry gender inclusive. Earlier this year, the company welcomed transgender professionals into the workforce – a significant stride in its mission of fostering diversity & inclusion. This puts the company among the handful of manufacturing companies in India and the world to have LGBTQIA+ employees in core operations.

Change is good

Globally, the manufacturing industry has long been a man's world, with prevalent stereotypical notions of jobs being dull, rugged and low-skilled. For decades, regressive norms questioning women's role in manufacturing shopfloors had deterred them from actively considering a meaningful career in manufacturing. This is despite the fact that women have successfully made their mark across various industry sectors, from banking to defence. Now take the case of LGBTQIA+ professionals, the world is yet to begin imagining a place for them in the manufacturing industry.

Even though manufacturing companies have leapfrogged into the future with extensive deployment of new age technologies, digital solutions and automations, which have made job roles smart, interesting and automated, the status quo has not changed a lot. The result being, a low gender diversity ratio, which is even more acute in the metals and mining sector, with the ratio being in low single digits.

In a heartening trend of late, we are witnessing increase in diversity in the metals and mining industry, thanks to greater awareness about various job roles, better education and the great equaliser known as technology. Take the case of Vedanta Aluminium. To build a diverse workforce, Vedanta Aluminium has been working extensively towards attracting high-potential women and LGBTQIA+ professionals to join its ranks. While the company has a higher percentage of women in its workforce, compared to industry average, this year, it crossed a milestone when it hired the first transgender employees at its Chhattisgarh-based subsidiary, the Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO). Four of the transgender employees are engaged as forklift operators at its Cast House, and three others in the Security function.

Unleashing the power of people

Vedanta Aluminium is not only India's largest producer of aluminium, but also one of the top global names in aluminium. Its products are market leaders the world-over, catering to core industries and sunrise sectors like electric mobility, aviation, construction, renewable energy, defence, aerospace, etc. across 30-40 countries. Most recently, Vedanta Aluminium was the first in India to produce low carbon 'green' aluminium, branded Restora, for climate-conscious customers looking to source responsibly. It is also the first company to supply Primary Foundry Alloy, Cylinderhead Alloy, High-Speed Billets, and many other special alloys for the first time in India, curbing the import-reliance of Indian industries. So, how does diversity and inclusion fit into this equation?

As Vedanta Aluminium's CEO, Mr. Rahul Sharma would say, "Diversity and inclusion are not just ingrained in our organisational culture, but it is how we do business. Our markets, customers and businesses are diverse and complex. To match that, we need to recruit people with diverse points of view, experiences, skills, backgrounds and education so that our business strategies are well-rounded to manage and grow our business. Within just one decade, Vedanta Aluminium became one of the world's top aluminium producers – a feat that would have been nigh impossible without the quality of our people and the rich diversity of thoughts, skills and ideas that they bring to the table. We take great pride and responsibility in being equal opportunity employers."

To address the prevalent gender gap and foster a culture of diversity & inclusion, in a sustainable manner, Vedanta Aluminium works on fundamental pillars of equitable workplace practices. These include:

• All job roles, no matter how non-traditional, are gender-agnostic and empowering.

• Employees are hired for their attitude, passion to learn and grow, and sound educational and technical qualifications.

• They are then provided with the best possible training from global experts, and professionally groomed by the leadership. In other words, they are set up to succeed.

• High potential talent is provided interventions such as classroom trainings, executive coaching, mentoring and put into accelerated developmental programmes.

• With world-class townships having ultra-modern amenities in the vicinity of the plants such as hospitals, schools, day-care centres, swimming pools, stadiums, gyms and advanced security systems, combined with industry leading people-practices, they are given an ecosystem designed to ensure they are supported at various life stages.

If that wasn't enough, Vedanta Aluminium is at a remarkable inflection point which allows for a lot of innovation, new ways of working – and a truly diverse and inclusive workplace that allows for unprecedented learning and a ringside view of global best practices. Since the company is constantly growing, developing new products and expanding its operations, its work-culture has the excitement of a start-up and the stability of a large global conglomerate, both at the same time!

Pride in diversity

The company realised very early on that it is the mindset and behaviour it needed to tackle to promote diversity at the workplace, and so, it set about creating an environment of inclusion and respect. Rahul Sharma adds, "Our objective is to build a wholesome culture, that makes our employees and partners feel welcomed, encouraged and empowered to deliver to the best of their potential. A diverse workforce ensures more prolific ideation, a better mix of skills and robust decision-making which leads to better rounded solutions and makes for enriching experiences. LGBTQIA+ professionals have long been an untapped talent pool for the manufacturing industry. Hence, we are now casting our talent acquisition net wider and looking to attract competent and ambitious LGBTQIA+ people to our workforce, for we truly believe that merit has no gender."

To ease the transgender hires' transition from the fringes of society to smart manufacturing plants, and help them evolve from semi-skilled people into professionals, Vedanta Aluminium adopted a three-step process:

Identification: Vedanta Aluminium worked with local NGOs and the transgender community at Korba, Chhattisgarh, to conduct a skill mapping study and identify transgender people with minimum required skills for working in a manufacturing industry.

Training: Post selection of such candidates, the company is taking them through an extensive training program aimed at honing the required skillsets, including soft-skills and business knowledge.

Building an empathetic & inclusive environment: Parallelly, Vedanta BALCO is also conducting gender-sensitization sessions for its workforce, with respect to the social and psychological challenges of trans people, proper code of conduct and ways of working to build a cohesive and encouraging environment for all.

And what do Vedanta Aluminium's transgender employees have to say about their experiences so far?

"I feel great working at Vedanta BALCO. The company has provided us with all required amenities, including housing. Whenever I go out, whether it is to buy groceries or to go to the hospital, people treat me with respect and talk to me nicely. I hope other companies follow the example set by Vedanta Aluminium and give transgender people opportunities in their organizations." – Ayesha Kumar, Security Professional

"Vedanta BALCO has given us a great platform to prove what we are capable of. Since we started working here, the local public's respect and acceptance of us has visibly grown. This is extremely heartening for me as an individual and to our transgender community." – Aysa Vishwakarma, Forklift Operator

"It has been 4 months since I started working at Vedanta BALCO. The workplace environment here is very conducive. People do not look at us or treat us differently. I feel really proud and happy working here." – Madhu Manikpuri, Security Professional

"The company is playing a significant role in bringing people from transgender communities to the mainstream by providing them with employment opportunities. I am really happy to be working here." – Roopa Kurrey, Forklift Operator

Shaping an inclusive tomorrow

With diversity and inclusion ingrained in Vedanta Aluminium's work culture, Respect, Care and Trust form three critical pillars of its value system. Together, they allow the company to explore the myriad dimensions of diversity of its workforce, and through inclusivity, nurture the best in its people to create sustainable value for its customers, communities and the country. The way the global economic order is evolving creates prime conditions for India to establish itself strongly as the manufacturing and value-addition destination of the world, with all the right levers like abundant natural resources, a strategic geographic location, huge captive demand, immense social & cultural diversity, and a deep talent pool of young professionals. It is, therefore, high time for manufacturing companies to capitalize on these emerging opportunities by closing their talent gap with the right people, without gender being a bar. May our diversity be the differentiator in the new world order.

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