I didn’t truly appreciate how different working overseas would be until I began my internship at Shahi. I had arrived in India naively thinking that any differences between how business were run in the United States versus in India would be relatively minor. After all, how many different ways could there be to make profit? After spending a month in India immersed in the Indian workplace, I have realized just how significant the differences between Indian and American workplaces are and how that impacts the way businesses are run. For example, one of the first things I noticed at Shahi was that many of the staff members juggle multiple responsibilities, regardless of their formal job description. In contrast, employees in professional sectors in the US typically seem to work on a limited number of projects at a time, contributing very specific skill sets. For a business like Shahi however, staff is limited, so everyone on the team has to be ready to step up and do the work that needs to be done. I admire the staff at Shahi a lot for their ability to adapt to a constantly changing work environment. Shahi’s workplace has certainly pushed me to learn new ways to accomplish my projects.
At Shahi, I am currently working on two projects. The first project focuses on implementing a “women in leadership” program that empowers more women to become supervisors on the factory floor. With this project, my co-intern Amanpreet and I aim to:
- Identify ways to dispel negative perceptions about the supervisor position to encourage more women on the factory floor to seek promotion
- Develop programs to foster more interaction between current female supervisors and factory workers interested in becoming supervisors or showing potential
- Outline clear accountability mechanisms for leadership to ensure implementation is enacted
My second project focuses on reducing worker attrition and promoting worker retention through the use of non-monetary incentives. I designed this project on my own after hearing from multiple managers at Shahi that one of the biggest problems the company faces is high levels of worker attrition on the factory floor. Through this project, my goals are to:
- Illustrate how a multitude of factors cause worker attrition
- Design non-monetary incentives that encourage workers to stay at Shahi
- Use research based on behavioral insights to prove why the non-monetary incentives I have chosen would be effective at reducing worker attrition
- Implement accountability mechanisms to ensure these incentives are actually implemented if management approves them
Some of the challenges I’ve encountered in my projects so far include navigating the language barrier and making my solutions palatable to production heads and management. In terms of the language barrier, I find myself struggling because although I understand Hindi, I cannot speak it very well. I also can’t understand Kannada, which is the primary language spoken in Bangalore. This makes speaking with factory workers at Shahi difficult because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable by not understanding them when they communicate their stories to me. I am also working to figure out ways to receive honest answers from workers about their issues because many workers are hesitant to tell us about the negative aspects of Shahi. Despite the language barrier, I have been pleasantly surprised to see how excited some of the workers have been to speak to us. Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying most of the time, the smiles on their faces and their body language made it possible for me to still connect with the workers in small ways.
Making my projects’ solutions palatable to production heads and management has also been a point of focus for me. At the end of the day, Shahi is a business and faces enormous production pressure from Western brands to manufacture garments under increasingly tight deadlines. The company’s funds are tight, so in my projects I focus on how to prove the cost effectiveness of recommendations to make my presentations as effective as possible. This also opened my eyes to how we, as consumers in America, have been causing a significant amount of this production pressure indirectly through our demand for fast fashion. We have a responsibility to choose brands who source responsibly, and I wish more consumers could see how difficult the garment making process is to appreciate the effort that goes into manufacturing and delivering clothes to brands so quickly.
I am excited to see how all of our projects at Shahi progress over the next few weeks. We hope everyone else is too!