Sonavane was one of a collective of women who were offered the opportunity to join KP Sanghvi, an all-female cutting and polishing facility in the diamond city of Surat, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. It launched in 2012 to provide local women, who were previously struggling financially and socially, with lifelong skills and an income that would transform their lives.
While there is still a persisting stigma in India surrounding the idea of women working, and cultural expectations around women prioritizing marriage and housework, KP Sanghvi is spearheading a shift toward equality. The company recruits and trains women with little or no previous skills or experience. “We wanted to give back to society and didn’t feel that just giving money would do any long-term good, so we had an idea to give women employment; giving them training so they could have a livelihood,” the company’s president Jimit Sanghvi says.
Beginning with 17 trainee positions, their team expanded into one hundred full-time jobs — a growth that Sanghvi describes as an instant success. Prioritizing female employment meant that considerations such as equal pay and maternity leave benefits were front and center in conversations.“Women could feel safer commuting as well, because our all-female factory was closer to the station,” Sanghvi adds.
The workforce at the facility was made up of a tapestry of powerful stories, each with its own set of struggles and triumphs. Some women are widows or single parents, others had mounting debts or faced a cycle of poverty. For Dipti Sonavane, employment meant a second chance at a promising future. “My husband left me when I was five months pregnant over an argument about my dowry. I didn’t receive any help from relatives or society and things were hopeless,” she says. “Then, my life took a turn ten years ago when I had the opportunity to join KP Sanghvi as a trainee.”
Throughout her time at KP Sanghvi, Sonavane honed a sense of security and independence through her employment. “My job gave me dignity in society,” she says, describing how she built a career at KP Sanghvi and became one of the company’s most senior women. “I’ve been able to cultivate more decision-making power and I was able to give a good education to my son. Women surrounding me started seeing me as a role model.”
Daksha Rana similarly found empowerment through employment at the diamond studio. “Before joining this company, my husband and I struggled to support our household,” she says. “But then, this opportunity arose and I have not only financial freedom, but greater self-confidence. I have been able to save and contribute to my sons’ marriages and other family expenses.”
Absence of caste discrimination, flexible hours to allow for family priorities, and an overall safe feeling for female employees, have been workplace attributes that Rana, and many of her colleagues, have valued most. It’s this type of environment that nurtures talent, and in Rana’s case, helped her become a Top Care Worker, in charge of “final bruting”, essentially ensuring that all diamond girdles are perfectly round and smooth. Having never handled technical equipment before she joined the company, she has since confidently declared: “Give me any machine and I will operate it!”
Thanks to the success of the project, the women have now been integrated into coed facility operations elsewhere, where, in an environment of equality and gender parity, the workforce is currently over 40% female. The model is likely to inspire the wider sector to tackle gender discrimination; shift attitudes towards diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace; and tackle the low percentage of women in the country’s labor force.
The initiative has even garnered attention from iconic tennis player Serena Williams, who chose to source from KP Sanghvi for her Jewellery collection, which she says is a “celebration of the strong women in [her] life and around the world”.
“It’s thrilling to think we help to produce diamonds for Serena Williams Jewellery,” says Dipti. “If you had told me I would be doing this dream job twenty years ago, I would find this impossible to believe.”