Lessons in Gender Equality

Capacity building

Lessons in Gender Equality

A career conversation with ITCILO Programme Manager Snehal Soneji

Indian interviewee speaking with his hands

In the midst of an early autumn morning at work, the new Programme Manager of the Employment Policy Analysis Programme shared his first impressions of the International Training Centre of the ILO. Snehal Soneji originated from India and has extensive international experience from working in the dairy industry to directing NGOs.

Past to Present

For the past six years Snehal worked as the director at an NGO in Bangladesh and the Philippines before moving to the ILO to head one of the largest skills projects that is currently being implemented throughout the European Union. He joined the ITCILO team this past September, bringing a unique perspective and valuable skill set.

I think my worldview has been shaped by the fact that there are large inequalities that exist in this country. The only way these inequalities are going to be addressed is by people, especially young people.

The countries he has worked in are characterized by their predominantly young population, with 50% around 27-years-old or below. He reflected on the potential solution: “The only way inequality is going to be reduced is if these young people find jobs. The only way these young people are going to find jobs is if they have good skills and the only way these people are going to have good skills is by ensuring that the skilling system, run primarily by the government, is essentially responding to the needs of the private sector.”

The private and public sectors have many distinct characteristics that both set them apart and unite them. Snehal has experience working in both domains.

He contemplated these distinctions: “The private sector is primarily for value maximization for the shareholder, while the public sector provides services without really worrying about a specific set of shareholders.” Nevertheless, “both focus on providing services to their stakeholders.”

Clearly these two fields require specific skills and the appropriate training to match.

Skills for the Future

The world of work is constantly evolving with new developments in science and technology. How can we guarantee jobs for the future and prepare these workers adequately?

Snehal reflected upon the preparation of these young workers: “When I say skills, people normally think about plumbing or electricians, but that’s not the skills we are talking about. When we’re talking about the 21st century, the internet, industrial revolution 4.0: you’re talking about soft skills.”

What exactly does he mean by soft skills? How can these facilitate the solution-based approach?

He outlined some of these soft skills: “To be open to learning, to collaborate with others, and to empathize.”

Empathy is going to be crucial for global peace and essentially reducing the inequality that exists, whether it be gender inequalities, whether it be the government and the governed, whether it be religious minorities and religious majorities…

When asked what he believed to be the most valuable skill for the future, he explained: “The core is the ability to be a lifelong learner. What we need to teach in school is how to be able to learn and how to develop the necessary skills to be able to adapt and be flexible.”

Participant smiling during interview

“There are always going to be jobs that are not going to be mechanizable or taken over by a robot,” he reassures. “The only way that can happen is for people to be able to continue to be more open to learning, which can therefore contribute to their economic well-being, their financial well-being, and their social well-being,” he concludes.

Lessons Learned

Snehal began his career in the Indian dairy industry, the largest milk producer in the world. In fact, his region of Gujarat is the largest dairy source in India. He described the surprising structure of the industry: “The entire milk producing process and business is run through a cooperative and is driven by women.”

This experience early in his professional life already had him reflecting on gender equality: “The amount of contribution that women can bring in the economic sphere is huge. These gender stereotypes have to be changed and that’s something that I learned during my experience working in the dairy industry with these amazing women that I met in the hundreds of thousands. Starting from one cow to managing a farm of hundreds.”

New Beginnings

Although Snehal has already traveled to Europe on numerous occasions for work, this is his first time living in the Global North.

Participant speaking to interviewer

He commented upon his first taste of Italian hospitality: “What I like most about the city is that I don’t speak a single word of Italian. Yet, everyone has been so helpful. Not only my colleagues on campus, but also taxi drivers, the people I buy my bread from. It’s been amazing to see. Very happy about that and it’s helped me settle a little bit.”

We wish him well on this new journey at the ITCILO. Welcome, Snehal!