Two female co-workers working at IKEA in Hyderabad wearing blue and yellow t-shirts.

Opening doors to diversity in India

Time and time again, it’s been proven: more diversity in the workplace makes an organisation more creative and more relevant. So, when only 20% of co-worker applicants for the first IKEA Store in India were women, we saw a great opportunity.

“I think it’s a great time to be a young woman in India,” says Preet Dhupar, Chief Financial Officer at IKEA India. “If India wants to be a strong economy, then we can’t ignore 50% of the population. We can play an important part in the transformation.”
Preet Dhupar, Chief Financial Officer at IKEA India.
Preet Dhupar, Chief Financial Officer at IKEA India

If India wants to be a strong economy, then we can’t ignore 50% of the population.

Preet Dhupar, Chief Financial Officer at IKEA India

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.

Safia Begum, a co-worker at the IKEA Hydrabad store wearing glasses and a yellow and blue t-shirt.
Safia Begum sees her career as a springboard to meeting new people and other cultures.
Shireen Begum is working at IKEA in Hyderabad. She wears black glasses and a blue hijab.
For Shireen Begum, working at IKEA in Hyderabad serves a bigger purpose – she wants to inspire other women to follow suit.

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.

Shireen Begum, Co-worker, IKEA food

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.”

A forklift truck lifts a large wrapped box inside a warehouse. The woman driving it is wearing a yellow safety vest.

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.