2 months ago

Few women in RMG management

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A recent study, one that's funded by The Sustainable Textile Initiative: Together for Change (STITCH) with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands found some interesting facts about the readymade garment (RMG) industry, which contributes to the bulk of Bangladesh's exports. The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), GIZ and Brac University jointly carried out the research titled 'The Declining Number of Women Workers in the Bangladesh RMG Industry'. One area that may be disconcerting for many is that although the RMG industry is overly dependent on women workers, the same cannot be said about women's participation in supervisory roles.

Indeed, career progression of women in the sector remains very poor. According to the report, "an estimated 86 per cent of the workers joined garment factories as helpers while 66 per cent left as operators and only 1.0 per cent as supervisors". Hence, where nearly 09 out of 10 workers on the factory floor are women, only 6 or 7 make it to operator level, and a measly one percent become supervisors! What one can glean from the research study is that women who come to work for this industry, are resigned to the fact that there is next to nil chance of any of them making it to supervisor.

Apparently, this has much to do with the way male counterparts think of women workers. Gender disparity doesn't come out of the blue, rather there are entrenched societal beliefs which make it next to impossible for women to climb up the management ladder. Most male managers and supervisors are not comfortable in dealing with women at their level as colleagues. Rather, women are considered to be fit for work as helpers or as assistants to supervisors. Regardless of the proficiency that many women in RMG factories have, the negative attitudes that seem to be ingrained into the management thought process have helped perpetuate this archaic belief - that women are inferior and cannot perform as well as men.

One would think that ever since the restoration of democracy in 1991, the country has been governed by women prime ministers; where women have increasingly become members of parliament, led chambers of commerce & industry in both domestic and international arenas, become more proactive in the corporate and banking sectors, such attitudes should have changed by now. But then, change only happens when it is initiated at the top. Nobody wants to change, especially when one particular gender has had nurtured the biased attitude for millennia. The idea of male superiority has been reinforced in art, culture and at the very basic family level.

Getting back to the study, it was found that the fact that women can't work for long hours (as they have duties beyond the workplace), and this has been held against them. Had women stopped performing the herculean task of finding ways to manage work and family, where would society end up is a question that is seldom asked and even answered less. But of course there are other reasons touted for this discrimination. One interesting finding is that operators can work overtime, whereas supervisors are on fixed salary. Since working in factories is all about maximising take-home pay, most women would opt for operators' role, and fewer would prefer to work as supervisors. Having said that, there will always be women who will aspire to work in a managerial role, which is being supervisor of the factory floor or a particular production line, just like men. But excuses are brought forth when a woman wishes to be a supervisor, and that could be one of the reasons why only 1.0 per cent makes it to that position.

A woman works much more than her male counterpart in any given day. While society may not be willing to consider the work at home as work per se, it is work nonetheless. A woman is not just the average human being, she is a mother, a caregiver and a bread winner. Her role deserves much greater attention and respect. She may be just as proficient as her male colleague on the factory floor. Her output (in production terms) is probably more than her male colleague, which is why the bulk of the workforce in the RMG sector is constituted by women. Depriving women of upward mobility at work is gender discrimination which is most likely harms productivity and profitability of the company. For things to change here, mindsets have to go for a paradigm shift at the top - not only at the factory level but also at ownership level. Only then, could we see changes in management style which would allow for competent women to take up greater roles in the RMG sector.


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