How Reliance Jio, Idea, Vodafone and Airtel are adding female staff and customers at rapid pace
The telecommunications industry may be going through a shakeup that has put hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, but for women searching for a job, the sector looks brighter than ever before.
Companies from newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm to the industry’s Big Three of Idea Cellular, Vodafone India and Bharti Airtel are increasingly hiring women to manage everything from the front desk to key functions. It is partly driven by the focus among corporate houses in general to improve gender diversity. In the telecoms sector, say executives, it is also because women are found to be better suited for certain roles – customer service, for instance.
Laxmi Bhan has seen this shift from close quarters and has also been a part of it during her 11 years at the local unit of the Vodafone Group.
“If you look at the industry with a delivery perspective, the way customer experience has evolved, gender parity only helps improve our business,” said the 46-year-old country head of customer experience and operations.
With expansion in telecoms infrastructure and the ongoing digital wave, she expects opportunities for women to only go up.
Gender awareness in the sector has been increasing for three-four years, Bhan said. “Customer service was mostly held by men in telecoms previously. The last three-four years have seen conscious efforts to improve gender parity in the industry.”
Vodafone, the nation’s second largest telecoms operator, has also stepped up recruitment of women from business schools and engineering colleges. Last year, 52% of the 120 it hired from campuses were women.
One of the factors driving the change is the increasing number of woman customers the companies are signing up. Logged call record studies show that woman staff engage with customers better and guide them more efficiently. Also, women in customer service have attracted more female customers.
“Increasingly, Vodafone India’s customer mix is reflecting higher percentages of women. Our endeavour is to have our employee base and larger leadership teams reflect the proportion of women in our customer base,” said Suvamoy Roy, director of human resources at Vodafone India. “This makes having a diverse workforce a strategic business imperative for us.”
Women today comprise 22% of the company’s workforce, up from 14% two years earlier.
On Friday, the UK-based Vodafone Group launched ReConnect, an initiative aimed at taking back 1,000 women who have taken a mid-career break across 26 countries including India, by offering full-time job opportunities in the next three years. It comprises a coaching and onboarding programme to enable them to successfully return to the workforce.
Vodafone India is in talks with Idea Cellular to merge their operations. In the past few years, Idea Cellular, too, has upped hiring of women. And, that is not just in entry or the middle management, but in senior roles, too.
“Ten percent more have been hired in senior posts during 2016-17,” said Rituparna Chatterjee, cofounder and executive vice president of recruitment consultant TeamLease Services.
Airtel said it has women in key leadership roles and core functions with Harmeen Mehta, its global chief information officer, being among the few woman
CIOs in the country. Other women who hold senior positions at the market hold senior positions at the market leader include Vani Venkatesh, its chief executive of retail operations, and Swati Kamat, the vice president of networks.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm said its digital services business has seen a lot of women joining the workforce. The brand head, head of customer services and several senior members of the marketing teams at Jio are women. Jio, which has caused immense disruption in the sector, has launched a leadership development mentoring programme, R-Aadya, where senior business and functional leaders mentor women.
Most female employees at telecoms companies are still based in urban regions. Kumar Mangalam Birla-controlled Idea Cellular has seen an increase in women in sales and marketing, roles that typically were taken up by men earlier. The number of women employed at Idea has increased by more than 400 now from March of 2015.
The company has tied up with consultants who specialise in diversity hiring and has come up with ways to prevent mid-career breaks for women. In 2012, Vodafone launched ‘Angel’ stores that were operated exclusively by women. There are about 40 such shops across the country now.
And not just in the companies, app makers, too, have seen a diverse market opening up in India. With the increased usage of smartphones, expanding Internet coverage and accessibility to women, a woman-centric market segment is emerging for apps.
“Considering the customer retention goals of the telecoms operators, and the fact that woman-oriented mobile apps have a huge market, we can very soon expect woman-oriented apps being offered by telcos,” said Phani Kumar Sunnam, the chief executive at MobileWays, a Hyderabad-based app design and development company.
These apps go beyond just woman safety topics, and deal also with issues such as woman empowerment, health, fitness, communities, pregnancy guide, fashion, beauty products, shopping and games.
Idea Cellular, for example, is planning to launch gaming apps exclusively targeting women.
Alok Kejriwal, chief executive officer and cofounder at Games2win, told ET that unlike console gaming, mobile gaming for women caters to market that is much bigger than that of men.
Games for women usually include puzzles, fashion styling, driving, role playing in adventures and designing, he said.
“The game Fab Tattoo Design Studio, for instance, allows young girls to play with tattoos, something that is still kind of forbidden in India,” Kejriwal said. “We have also received a tremendous feedback on our game Car Driving and Parking School, suggesting that women enjoy driving games which traditionally are considered male-dominated.”