29 April, 2022

Encouraging women in IT careers: What needs to change

India is fast developing as a global IT hub. It is also a leading global sourcing destination accounting for approximately 55% market share of the international services sourcing business in 2019-20. A NASSCOM report estimates that the Indian IT industry accounted for total direct employment of 4.47 million and contributed 52% to overall service exports. Infrastructural advancements, ubiquitous internet connectivity, the proliferation of smart devices, and the emergence of new-age technologies such as AI, IoT, etc., have catalysed the growth of the Indian IT sector in the past few decades.

Nevertheless, similar to most sectors, the Indian IT sector is a male-dominated industry. A Zinnov-Intel Gender Diversity Benchmark Report highlights that women comprise merely 26% of IT/ITes roles at corporates in India compared to 31% representation in non-technical roles. Moreover, women accounted for only 11% representation in senior leadership roles, 38% in the junior level and 20% in mid-level roles. This stark reality of the abysmal representation of women in leadership positions needs urgent redressal. It warrants a paradigm shift in the entire ecosystem rather than only in the internal environment shaped by human resources and corporate policies.

Ironically, in India, approximately 40% of STEM graduates are women, as per the UN report. This indicates that the root problem is the under-representation of women in STEM careers rather than at the educational level. Gendered stereotypes considering the household and childcare as women’s primary responsibilities lead to several dropouts at the mid-career level. Additionally, the perception of women as emotional, supportive and caring rather than achievers and risk act as a key obstacle for women to move up the career ladder. Moreover, women in technology companies and startups often face a lack of representation. A TrustRadius Survey highlights that 72% of women in technology agreed that they are outnumbered by men in business meetings by 2:1, while 26% admitted to being outnumbered by 5:1.

The favorable representation of women in the workplace confers several benefits to companies as well. The BCG study highlights that improving the diversity of leadership fosters innovation and improved financial performance. The need of the hour is to ensure the presence of more women in the boardroom, which will encourage diversity of perspectives and enable a collaborative approach to problem-solving. Celebrating the role of women in technology will inspire more girls to emulate their role models and take up careers in STEM.

At the policy level, measures such as the increase in maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks under The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, the launch of the Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) by NITI Aayog and SIDBI, women technology parks to showcase livelihood and scientific technologies for women serve as a formidable framework for encouraging women in STEM careers. The pandemic has further reaffirmed the need for flexibility and employee-centricity to attract, nurture and retain talent. It is heartening that several corporates are now taking the lead in implementing women-friendly initiatives such as flexible working hours, creches for kids, childcare leave, and paternity leaves to encourage diversity in the workforce. Moreover, steps such as LeanIn circles, volunteer opportunities, Women in Technology programs, and a Woman of the Month series have also shown favorable results in improving the visibility of women in the workplace.

Nevertheless, this success story is limited to only a few global companies. There is a need to mainstream these gender concerns and ensure that such measures are implemented at a broader level. Incentivising companies with a healthy representation of women and recognition for able women technology leaders will be a good beginning towards bridging the gender gap. At the ecosystem level, upskilling and reskilling of women, access to professional mentorship and networking, and academia-industry collaborations will go a long way in facilitating women’s re-entry into the workforce. Companies should also invest in promoting a sense of belonging among the workforce, encourage continuous feedback and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Moreover, instituting mentorship programs, funding and supporting workshops, conferences and training sessions to upgrade their skills and collaboration among HR professionals and hiring managers for the cause of gender diversity will encourage arrest dropouts and encourage women retention at mid-career levels.

The struggle to ensure more women in STEM careers is a protracted one; the onus is on us to sustain the momentum to reap benefits for future generations.

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