Tata Steel is aiming to bring more women into the manufacturing sector by equipping them with technical skills and providing guidance and motivation. Its yearly Women of Mettle programme, now in its second year, is a step in that direction.

“Traditionally, we have found fewer women in the technical and manufacturing sectors because of the nature of the job and the work hours, etc. Even if you find women, you find them in support functions but not actually handling production or research and development," says Atrayee S. Sanyal, chief diversity officer and chief group HR, Tata Steel.

The idea was to get women pursuing engineering interested in the sector. The company throws real-life challenges at the participants, who are in their third year, and asks them to come up with solutions with the help of mentors assigned to them. Tata Steel then offers a few select students an internship that is later converted into a pre-placement offer.

A team from Tata Steel goes to select engineering colleges and invites applications specifying the area of interest. The final shortlist is prepared on the basis of students’ performance in their chosen fields, domain knowledge (tested through an online test), and a written application. The mentors come in at the second stage of the programme. Each student is given one real-world issue Tata Steel is facing in any sphere of its business—be it manufacturing or production—and a month and a half to solve it with the help of the mentors.

For instance, Ananya Kant, 21, a third-year student of chemical engineering at BIT Mesra, Ranchi, was asked to find a way to increase the strength and reactivity of coke used in Tata Steel’s blast furnace in this year’s Women of Mettle programme, which finished last month. Debjani Nag, a principal researcher at Tata Steel, was her mentor. “The good thing was that while she (Nag) did not spoon-feed me, she nudged me towards the right direction with my presentation. She would recommend the right research papers to read, tell me how to write the presentation, and make me redo it if it was too long to read, etc," says Kant.

Tata Steel’s Debjani Nag says mentoring the students was an exciting experience. Photo courtesy: Tata Steel
Tata Steel’s Debjani Nag says mentoring the students was an exciting experience. Photo courtesy: Tata Steel

Nag says helping students find the correct research material was useful because they do not have a lot of time to test out every idea. “While they are too young to understand the implication of the project or the monetary value of the solution, it was exciting to mentor them because they were always open to new ideas and could take feedback positively, even when we rejected their ideas. For example, Ananya came to us with ideas to improve the coke quality by using plastic waste or tyres. But that alters the coke quality itself, so we had to explain that to her," explains Nag.

Gaining better technical knowledge was only one part of the benefit, says Anoushka Pal, 20, a third- year metallurgical engineering student at IIT- BHU, Varanasi. “During my month and half in Jamshedpur, we were also taken for industrial visits, which gave us an idea of the issues we might be facing a few years down the line. This isn’t something we get to see when we are in our college campus," she says.

Additionally, the programme also allowed the women to meet students from colleges across the country and understand which competitive exams to try for, which college offers a better research opportunity, etc. While the 10 girls selected from 780 total participants, including Pal and Kant, will have the opportunity to intern with the company next summer, the knowledge gained from the mentoring has been the cherry on the cake.

Mentor Me is a series that looks at how companies and individuals have taken steps towards mentoring and being mentored.