Breaking the glass ceiling in India’s tea industry: WSAF convenes key stakeholders

The Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) recently organized a discussion on “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” within India’s tea industry. The event brought together CEOs, proprietors, and leaders from the tea industry, as well as representatives from the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industries, to address the pressing issue of gender inequality and explore ways to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for women in the sector. Program partners including  Unilever, Twinings, Taylors, Ethical Tea Partnership, Trustea, and Rainforest Alliance also participated in the discussion.

The Indian tea industry plays a vital role in the global tea market, contributing to 25% of the world’s tea production and providing livelihoods for 1.6 million people directly. Notably, it is one of the largest employers of women in the organized sector in India, with women constituting over 60% of the tea workforce. Despite their significant presence, women remain predominantly confined to low-paying and laborious tasks, facing wage disparities and severe underrepresentation in management positions. Upward mobility within the industry is limited, with only one tea estate in Assam having a woman manager (0.06%) out of approximately 1600 estates across the country.

Lack of women in decision-making roles is one of the major challenges in the tea industry today. To address this and align with gender equality policies, Business and Human Rights principles, and ILO standards, it is imperative to break the glass ceiling that impedes women’s career advancement. For instance, the Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund’s efforts to ensure compliance with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplaces Act (POSH) face challenges due to the absence of women in decision-making positions on the tea estates. The POSH Act mandates that the presiding officer in the Internal Committee must be a senior woman officer from the tea estate.

Recognizing the importance of empowering women in the tea industry, leaders and stakeholders in the discussion explored strategies to overcome the stereotypical mindset that hinders women from becoming estate managers. Encouraging young women to join the tea industry and creating an ecosystem that fosters women’s pursuit of careers in this sector emerged as essential goals. Moreover, establishing an enabling environment to support women’s growth and performance was considered vital for transforming the industry. Several key action points and next steps were identified during the discussion:

  1. Inclusive Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): To drive change, leaders suggested incorporating gender equality into the Key Result Areas (KRAs) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of Managing Directors and CEOs. This approach would compel organizations to prioritize and actively promote gender diversity.
  2. Infrastructure Support: Creating a workplace conducive to the needs of women is crucial. Adequate infrastructural requirements, such as safe and accessible facilities, can significantly enhance women’s performance and satisfaction within the tea industry.
  3. Regular Review and Collaborative Feedback: Implementing periodic reviews and collaborative feedback mechanisms will enable organizations to monitor progress effectively. This approach ensures that gender-inclusive policies and practices are continually evaluated and improved upon.
  4. Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Acceptance: Encouraging a culture that values learning from mistakes can lead to personal and professional growth. Embracing mistakes as part of the learning process is essential for the empowerment and advancement of women in the tea industry.

The event also featured two inspiring guest speakers: the Chief of Raw Material – Planning & Delivery at Tata Steel and the Joint Managing Director of Gainwell Commosales. These women shared their journeys and experiences, which served as a testament to the potential and capabilities of women to excel in leadership roles.

WSAF will continue to work with industry stakeholders to foster collaborative efforts by all stakeholders, including industry leaders, government, and civil society organizations, will be essential to drive lasting change and pave the way for a thriving and diverse future in the tea industry.