Training program by World Bank's IFC to build female leaders in Bangladesh
WPT is a training program for female sewing operators designed to redress the imbalance on sewing lines in Bangladesh’s ready made garment factories.
IFC's Work-Progression and Productivity Toolkit (WPT) is a training program for female sewing operators designed to redress the imbalance on sewing lines in Bangladesh's readymade garment (RMG) factories, where more than nineteen of every 20 line supervisors are men despite 80% of line workers being women.
WPT provides female sewing operators with five days of classroom training in the technical skills required to supervise a production line (production process, solving bottlenecks, line-balancing, pre- and post-cutting activities, method study, work-study, types of needles, machines and motor types, types of pressure foot, guides and folders), as well as four days of soft skills training on leadership, communications, and how to be an effective supervisor.
WPT also includes training for middle- and upper-level managers in how to quantifiably assess the skills and attitude of candidates for promotion, and team building sessions to bring together the learners and their managers.
In 2016-2017, IFC partnered with Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to deliver the training to 144 female sewing operators and their middle-level managers in 28 factories. The trainee supervisors had an average of 6 years' experience in the RMG sector, including 5 as an operator; and 28% of them had an upper secondary education.
Professor Christopher Woodruff and Anaise Williams at the University of Oxford tested WPT's effectiveness by measuring how many trainees were offered and accepted promotion, as well as by testing the attitudes of the trainees, their colleagues and factory management. Out of the 144 trainees who completed the program, 92 were offered a promotion to a higher grade with an increase in salary, within weeks of completing the program and about 60% of them accepted the offer.
The number of female supervisors in participating factories increased from an average of 5.22% before the training to 11.86% post WPT. The program improved the confidence of these trainees, although the difference was only statistically significant for those who received both hard (technical) and soft (personal and leadership attributes) skills training. This shows women – like anyone – need training in the technical skills the role requires if they are to have the confidence to seek and accept a promotion.
The study also looked at the effect on line productivity and found that from before to after the training and trailing of female supervisors on the lines, the lines where trained female supervisors worked saw an average efficiency increase of 5%. Absenteeism was also reduced on the lines where trainees went on to work as supervisors or assistant supervisors.
This could very well be linked to how colleagues who remained on the sewing line viewed the successful trainees; operators reported them to be better at remaining calm than typical supervisors, and as slightly better at helping and motivating operators, all of which are clearly beneficial attributes for a leader to have.
The trainees' prior attitude seemed to be important here, with operators rating most highly the trainees with the highest initial interest and prior confidence in their ability to do the job. Aptitude for the job was important in whether management chose to make an offer, but it was the trainees' prior attitude that also gave the best indicator as to whether they would both complete the program and accept a promotion.
The Work-Production and Progression Toolkit (WPT) can be considered a success. Fifty-two women gained promotion to supervisor or assistant supervisor roles, and many more felt that they would soon be promoted. These women would likely not have had these opportunities without IFC's WPT program. Of the ten factories with no female line supervisors at the start of the program, seven promoted at least one trainee.
Overall, the percentage of women line supervisors across the 28 factories increased from just 5% to almost 12%. This, in turn, will give other women the confidence that they too have the requirements for the role, and show factory management that their traditional preference for promoting men doesn't stand up to scrutiny. And if they're in doubt, preliminary evidence suggests that having a trained female supervisor on a sewing line can increase line efficiency by 5% compared to lines led by untrained female supervisors.
Line workers report that trainees have a more cooperative supervisory style than typical supervisors, giving extra support and motivation, and using more respectful language. The supervisors who employ the more cooperative supervisory style were also viewed by operators as being more effective supervisors, which links back to the increase in efficiency and reduced days off from workers.
Managers have a big role to play in selecting the female line operators who might be more predisposed to moving into a more senior role. Selection Training, whereby managers were taught to use standardized worker evaluations taking into account attitude and aptitude for the job, resulted in them nominating candidates for the job that was more likely to accept a promotion by the end of it. This study is small, but the results are encouraging.
The benefits from providing career progression pathways for women workers are already becoming clear, both for the workers, their colleagues and the factories themselves. And it is equally clear that rolling out the WPT training on a wider scale will go a long way to redressing the imbalance on the sewing line to ensure that women have the opportunities to take up supervisory positions in proportions commensurate to their numbers behind the sewing machines.