Article: What lies behind the increase in the number of women employees in Target India

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), India’s gender gap in labor force participation remains alarmingly wide, with only 19.2% of women employed, compared to 70.1% of men. This high inequality places India 135th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2022, lagging behind smaller neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these problems, leading to a ‘shecession’ that has disproportionately affected sectors that employ predominantly women, such as retail and hospitality. The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current pace it will take 132 years to achieve full gender equality in the global workforce. However, according to a report by Indian Express, increasing women’s participation in the workforce could have substantial economic benefits, potentially increasing India’s gross domestic product by $0.7 trillion by 2025.

Despite these clear benefits, many factors hinder women’s participation in the labor market, both in rural and urban areas. Unpaid work, such as domestic duties and caregiving, is often not recognized in labor force statistics, leading to women’s contributions being underestimated. Many women are also employed in low-paid, exploitative jobs without social protection or legal rights, such as maternity leave.

Societal norms further exacerbate these challenges, with many women expected to prioritize domestic responsibilities over their careers. The gender pay gap is another major obstacle. The Oxfam India Discrimination Report 2022 highlights widespread bias in recruitment and pay, with women earning less than men in several sectors, including technology roles and senior management positions. Insufficient government action, weak economic policies and inadequate investment in sectors that could provide better employment opportunities for women exacerbate these problems.

In rural areas, dependence on agriculture for employment persists, limiting the transition to better-paying industries and limiting employment opportunities for women. Meanwhile, rising household incomes in urban areas have led some women to leave the workforce and choose to focus on family responsibilities.

Safety concerns, inadequate urban infrastructure and societal expectations further limit women’s employment opportunities, especially in urban environments. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving individual, societal and government efforts.

Target India appears to be a notable example of a company taking significant steps to empower women in the workforce. Arun Kulkarni, VP HR at Target India, during an exclusive interview with People Matters, shared the initiatives they have implemented to support female employees and promote gender equality within their organization. These efforts are crucial to creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace, setting a precedent for other companies to follow.

Excerpts from the interview:

Can you provide an overview of the Target program for talented and high-performing female team members in India, designed to prepare them for leadership roles?

At Target in India, DE&I is a key consideration every step of the way – from hiring to providing a supportive work environment to enabling career growth. Our inclusive policies and programs, underpinned by Target’s Culture of Care, Grow and Win Together, empower our female team members to purposefully achieve their professional ambitions. Women are encouraged to dream big. We create opportunities for them to learn and grow into leadership roles, and explore their passions through diverse career experiences.

We have developed several programs to support women in the workplace, including programs that encourage more women to take on leadership roles. Ignite, a program for talented and high-performing female team members in India, is one of them. It helps them prepare for leadership roles through a curriculum spread over six months that includes negotiation skills, personal branding, networking, allyship and more. Since its founding in 2017, over 300 female team members have been part of Ignite, helping to create a tremendously talented pipeline of female leaders.

More than 40% of Ignite graduates have held senior positions and more than 32% of them have moved laterally within the organization to a new role. Graduates credit Ignite with boosting their self-confidence and silencing their inner critic, gaining new perspectives, and building a strong peer network of powerful women leaders from whom they can learn.

Regarding women engineers, how does Target provide training and development opportunities for women engineers within and outside the organization to prepare them for senior and leadership positions?

At Target, we’ve made intentional efforts to build a strong leadership pipeline of women engineers within the organization and beyond.

One way we have done this is through our Engineering Manager Immersion Program (eMIP). It is a 12-month on-the-job training program designed to equip women in technology with the tools, experience and mentorship connections needed to take on leadership roles on technology teams within Target. eMIP is open to engineers within and outside the organization. Graduates are eligible to be selected for a senior engineering manager (SEM) role within Target. Nearly 80% of our total eMIP cohort transitioned into leadership positions within a year of completing the program. We have been successfully running this program for more than five years and now that we have achieved our diversity goals, we will no longer continue this particular program, although our focus will remain on building a diverse workforce.

Target Elevate, our flagship conference for women in technology, is another initiative. It seeks to empower female technologists, not only from Target but also from the external ecosystem, to advance in their careers (or return to the workforce) by bringing them together on a platform where they can connect with like-minded colleagues and mentors, activate their networks and achieve success together. The initiative is a platform for women in technology to discover new ways to lead, learn and network in a world that requires new skills, new ways of thinking and new leadership styles. Since 2020, more than 2,000 women in technology have participated in the annual Target Elevate conference, an event rich in acquiring new knowledge, developing leadership insight and building deeper connections with each other and with Target. Targeted programs will continue throughout the year to engage participants and provide additional learning opportunities for women in technology.

Can you tell us more about Target’s specialized recruitment program, which is specifically designed for women returning to work after a career break? How does the program support their reintegration into the workforce and their advancement within the organization?

We have developed a BounceBack internship program for women who have taken a career break and want to return to the workforce and build a career. BounceBack aims to facilitate the process of returning to work after a break. It gives women the technical and management skills and confidence they need through training, mentorship, “Buddy” support and the inclusive culture at Target. Successful candidates will have the opportunity to gain relevant work experience while being part of collaborative, fun and committed teams. They work for 16 weeks in different business sectors before returning to work. Between 2016 and 2023, we hired 28 candidates through BounceBack, and 22 of them moved into full-time positions in technology and business functions.

For young women pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)? What are the main objectives of this initiative, and how does it help encourage and support women in STEM fields?

UpCurve is a mentorship initiative for young women who want to pursue careers in STEM at non-top colleges (external ecosystem program). It allows them to think about their career early and helps bridge the gap between education and experience. The program provides students with training and guidance in non-technical and soft skills, which research shows are critical to succeeding in technology. This puts them in a better position to enter the labor market and become aware of their career from the start.

Since the program’s inception in 2020, we have built a community of 284 strong UpCurve alumni communities spanning three streams: Product Engineering, Data Sciences and Data Analysis. Although we started with a focus on gender diversity, this year we have gone further and have a heterogeneous group with different dimensions of diversity, such as gender, age, skills and experience. In total, we hired 68 UpCurve graduates.

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How does Target measure the success and impact of these programs in terms of advancing women’s representation in leadership roles and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace?

DE&I is deeply embedded in our culture through purposeful strategy, leadership accountability, and the all-encompassing commitment needed to build a thriving ecosystem both internally and externally.

But the bigger impact can be seen in the significant growth of gender diversity among team members across the organization and in leadership positions. Today, Target has an industry-leading gender diversity ratio of 46% in India. We have also seen an increase in the number of female leaders.