Deepa Sasidharan Is Aiming For An Innovative Future Of Growth

Deepa Sasidharan, the head of Corporate Communications in India for Continental, is working to cut down the gender-gap in the manufacturing Industry.

Deepa Sasidharan, the head of Corporate Communications in India for Continental, is working to cut down the gender-gap in the manufacturing Industry.

In the expansive landscape of India’s manufacturing sector, where the clatter of machinery and the pulse of production shape the nation’s economic narrative, the role of women has been a topic of both scrutiny and transformation.

Despite the sector’s historical association with male-dominated workforce dynamics, a discernible shift has occurred as more women have stepped into the heart of manufacturing. According to recent statistics, the percentage of women in India’s manufacturing workforce has been on a steady incline, challenging traditional gender norms.

According to the Wire report: Of the 8 million workers employed in India’s formal manufacturing industries in 2019-20, 1.6 million (19.7%) were women, data from the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) shows. This share has remained largely unchanged for over two decades.

Of the 1.6 million women workers across India, 0.68 million (43%) were working in the factories of Tamil Nadu alone. In fact, nearly three-fourths (72%) of all women working in industries were employed in the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

In addition to this skew in regional distribution, the gender gap in manufacturing employment varies widely across states.

Amidst this evolving narrative, individuals and companies around India have initiated changes, whose journey embodies the nuanced experiences of women navigating this realm. These forays into manufacturing were not just a career choice for many women workers but a necessity.

Now for women leaders and their organisations, it has become a commitment to challenging gender stereotypes within a sector historically defined by its male-centric ethos. Women’s experiences, emblematic of a broader societal shift, shed light on the ongoing transformation of the manufacturing sector, where women are not just participants but architects of change, dismantling barriers with every shift they oversee.

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To discuss this issue of gender in the manufacturing industry and how to bridge this gap, we sat down with Deepa Sasidharan, who is the head of Communications at Continental India.

Who is Deepa Sasidharan?

Deepa Sasidharan leads a group of communication experts. Together, they have made many plans for the company. These plans helped the company go from being known just for making car parts to being seen as a leader in technology. Deepa has won many awards in her industry.

She believes in something called “Communications 2.0.” This means using different ways of talking to people to make sure the message is clear. Deepa works with different teams in Continental, both in India and around the world. She brings their plans together in a very good way. This makes sure that the company looks the same to all the different people who see it, like customers and partners.

Deepa Sasidharan

What is your journey in the communications industry, from your earlier career at IPA software to your current role as head of Corporate Communications India for Continental, and what are some key milestones and learnings along the way?

I have about 20 years of experience in the communications field, primarily in marketing and corporate communications. I began my career at IPA Software, which was a startup in the airline industry. Then I moved to Applied Materials, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, and eventually to Continental, an automotive manufacturer.

How does the culture at Continental promote gender neutrality, and what initiatives or programs have you implemented to foster gender diversity and equality within the organization?

Continental is committed to fostering gender diversity and equality. We have various initiatives, such as “We Lead,” a program for high-potential women, “Launch Pad” to support women returning to work after a career break, and a target to have 25% of leadership positions filled by women by 2025.

We also run programs like “Women for Manufacturing” to increase the representation of women in blue-collar roles. These initiatives are aimed at creating a more inclusive workplace.

Tell us more about the ‘Women in Manufacturing’ initiative.

Continental, launched the “Women for Manufacturing” initiative as part of its 150th-anniversary campaign in collaboration with the Centum Foundation. This program, initiated in June 2021 in Bengaluru and Gurugram, aims to empower women by addressing the gender disparity in manufacturing. It targets high school girls, ITI and engineering students, and unemployed women from underprivileged backgrounds. The program will expand to other industry hubs through partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Prashanth Doreswamy, CEO of Continental India, highlighted the low female workforce participation in manufacturing, worsened by the pandemic. The program challenges stereotypes and aims to increase women’s presence by offering awareness, plant visits, training, internships, placements, and mentoring.

How will women in the manufacturing industry benefit from the program?

A central component is a certification program providing 320 hours of training, machinery operations, and plant exposure. Graduates receive mentoring and placement support, with companies in Bengaluru and Gurugram achieving 100% placement for completed batches.

The program’s primary objective is to challenge the stereotypes that have contributed to women’s underrepresentation in manufacturing. The initiative involves raising awareness, facilitating plant visits for direct experience, ensuring safety and inclusivity, showcasing technological advancements, and providing training, internships, placements, mentoring, and counselling. Both participants and their families receive guidance to counter societal biases.

Continental’s NGO partner, Centum Foundation, will implement the multi-year program to establish a sustainable model for women’s skill development, empowerment, guidance, and placement support in manufacturing.

The initiative includes skilling programs, curriculum development, certification, leadership training, plant tours, and collaborations with industries and educational institutions to facilitate internships and placements.

Have you personally experienced gender bias in your career, and if so, how did you handle it? What advice would you give to people facing similar challenges due to their gender and sexuality?

While I have encountered gender biases in society, I haven’t faced them within Continental. In corporate environments, biases are being actively addressed through initiatives like unconscious bias training. My advice to those facing gender or sexuality-related challenges is to seek organizations that actively promote diversity and equality.

Don’t hesitate to voice concerns and participate in programs aimed at eliminating biases. Change is happening, and the younger generation can play a significant role in driving it forward.

The final question pertains to your future goals and aspirations in the field of corporate communications and how you plan to continue evolving in the industry.

My future goals in the field of corporate communications are centred around continued growth and innovation. This is a dynamic field, constantly evolving with new technologies, platforms, and communication trends. To stay at the forefront, I plan to:

  • Embrace Technological Advancements: The digital landscape is continuously evolving, and I intend to stay updated on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and new communication tools. Leveraging these technologies can enhance the effectiveness of communication strategies.
  • Global Perspective: As someone working in both national and global roles, I plan to further expand my global perspective. Understanding the nuances of communication in diverse cultural contexts is essential in today’s interconnected world.
  • Mentoring and Talent Development: I believe in the importance of mentoring and nurturing young talent in the communication industry. I aspire to take an active role in mentoring the next generation of communication professionals, sharing my experiences, and helping them grow in their careers.
  • Environmental and Social Responsibility: With the increasing focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, I plan to incorporate these principles into communication strategies. This includes effectively communicating an organization’s commitment to sustainability and ethical practices.
  • Thought Leadership: I aim to continue contributing to thought leadership in the field of corporate communications by sharing insights, best practices, and innovative approaches through speaking engagements, articles, and participation in industry forums.
  • Networking: Networking is vital in this industry. I will continue to build strong relationships with peers, industry leaders, and associations to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects, and stay informed about industry trends.
  • Crisis Preparedness: Given the unpredictable nature of crises, I will remain dedicated to enhancing crisis preparedness within organizations, ensuring that robust crisis communication plans are in place.

In essence, my future in corporate communications is about growth, innovation, mentorship, and a commitment to responsible and effective communication practices. It’s an exciting journey, and I look forward to navigating it with enthusiasm and dedication to excellence.

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Image source: Courtesy Deepa Sasidharan, edited on CanvaPro

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