If India wants to be a strong economy, then we can’t ignore 50% of the population.
But entering the workforce as a woman in India can sometimes be met with scepticism from the surrounding society. For Shireen Begum and Safia Begum – who were recently hired at the IKEA Store in Hyderabad – they saw it as a chance to inspire other girls and women.
Both in their early 20s, they are two driven women who have broken former social taboos by entering the workforce. “It’s about changing the mentality,” says Shireen.
It was at Shireen’s and Safia’s college in Hyderabad where they first came to hear that an IKEA Store would be opening in their city. They also found out that we were looking for applicants for our training programme, which could lead to a future career. They decided to apply, but knew that they needed to convince their families that it was the right thing to do. Neither Safia’s or Shireen’s parents have had higher educations, and were taken by surprise by their daughters’ ambitions.
“I actually never thought about working after my higher studies,” Shireen admits. “Being a girl, my parents didn’t expect me to have a career, [they] didn’t know that much about the working world, so I needed to explain a lot of things to them,” says Shireen. “They were very worried in the beginning and were afraid that it wasn’t safe enough. In India, there have been lots of reports regarding sexual harassments at work and these kinds of things. But today, seeing how I develop, it’s all different.”
Being a girl, my parents didn’t expect me to have a career.
Changing the mindset
In India, women often carry most of the responsibility of caring for their families, which makes balancing life at home and a career, a challenge. Shireen and Safia know first-hand what that feels like – they both cook for their siblings, clean and take care of the household, and contribute in other ways. For them, the family duties start hours before they step foot into the workplace.
Shireen and Safia both started working with us with very clear ambitions. In the future, both of them see themselves in managerial positions, and hope their careers will allow them to travel someday.
“I want to travel to meet people from other countries and religions, and learn new languages,” says Safia. “It’s important for people to understand more about others, and I think it’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings.”
Making hiring more fair
When recruitment started for the Hyderabad store, 80 percent of the applicants were men. “We couldn’t just sit and wait,” says Anna-Carin Månsson, Retail Country HR Manager at IKEA India.
Hence, IKEA India began a nationwide hunt for top female talent, reaching out to business networks, organisations and universities. Encouraging women to apply and supporting them in their career paths was a top priority.
“In the end, the best candidate will get the job,” says Preet. “But when I’m hiring, I want to make sure that I have a good representation of men and women to choose from.”
The fruit of IKEA India’s recruitment efforts, a 50:50 split of men to women, is something to be proud of. And with around 15,000 IKEA co-workers expected for the market over the coming years, an even more glorious future for women lies ahead.
Facilitating a balanced life
At IKEA India, both men and women are encouraged to find a better work-life balance. Great benefits including a child care program called DAGIS, or day care in Swedish, and a unique parental leave policy (no other company in India offers 6 months to fathers), are examples of how IKEA India is facilitating a work-life balance.