There is not an iota of doubt that companies that are able to expand the roster of women leaders in tech stand to reap tangible benefits. But how do we move the needle towards a more equitable future for women in tech? How can leaders and businesses lead this much-needed change?
In an interesting panel discussion at People Matters TechHR 2021, Krishna Raghavan, CPO Flipkart, Mukta Nakra, Head-HR and Sustainability, Marks and Spencer Reliance India, Shreyasi Singh, Founder and CEO Harappa, and Ester Martinez, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, People Matters shared reflections on how some organizations and leaders are ‘walking the talk’ to drive change with female tech trailblazers and digital leaders.
Defining women in tech
As much as tech is glamorous and cool, it can also sound intimidating, shared Shreyasi. People have a stereotypical image of a techie as a superstar coder who has to be an engineer or computer science graduate. That stereotype is dated and does a huge disservice to women as they see their role in the tech industry.
However, after the pandemic, and especially since the last decade, we all have been working in tech. Women have to take it as a sign of confidence that that they are already working in tech and what more can they do now.
Expanding the pool at the grass roots level
However, when it comes to women representation in core tech, it is something organizations need to focus on, shared Krishna Raghavan. And for that, you have to focus a lot on the ecosystem itself because most of the barriers are at the mindset and institutional level. So what Flipkart has started doing is focus on women in engineering colleges very early on. Because the lack of exposure to industry or skilling proves to be a big barrier. So Flipkart has started to tap into women talent much early in the game, even focusing on women only engineering colleges in the country. Through programs like Runway and Girls Wanna Code, the firm also focusses on upskilling to give relevant experience to women in tier 2 cities to increase the pool of talent at the grass roots level.
Normalizing women representation from the top
One of the things that work well with women is encouragement, shared Mukta. So giving an ecosystem to encourage women to come together, to expand their limits, and go borderless to network with women in tech, goes a long way. Normalization sometimes ends up excluding people because you call them out but do women really need a special mention? All they need is a nudge and a push. So make sure your projects represent a gender mix, pick women to lead projects, and there is proper learning through these projects.
While the Indian education has started to fix the representation of women at the grass roots level as India is now graduating more women students, it is actually the workplace that is failing, believes Shreyasi. To fix this, companies need to push women with potential to product led roles and encourage role models.
Crafting the right policies and banking on data
Women employees need to go through many life transitions and organizations need to engage early with them to encourage them when they come back to the workplace. Companies need to inject a sense of optimism and confidence in women as research has shown they do not back themselves enough. Companies should ensure they have access to the same networks that men enjoy at the workplace and give them a strong mentorship and sponsorship network.
In addition, organizations should focus on doing a lot of pro-active career planning with women, grooming them for those roles by picking up skill adjacencies, and equipping them with the right skills to move them to CXO levels.
Mukta added that catch them early and encourage them, put them out as role models, even if it’s ahead of time, and give them that opportunity. Inclusion needs to be addressed at the manager level as well where organizations need to educate them about hiring and developing women in order to create products that are equal on a gender scale.
Also, crafting policies is one thing and implementing the other. You can craft policies but at the end of the day, they have to show outcomes, believes Krishna. These outcomes will be in the form of data. Organizations should look at people data in the same way as consumer data. For instance, what is the promotion rate of women, what roles are they occupying, what is the rating distribution of women as they come back from maternity leaves. Data can reveal all the biases in the organization, hence use that as a lens to hold business leaders accountable. That’s when behaviors start to change and you get to know if the policies are actually landing.
Role of learning
When it comes to learning and scripting your career, you have to take charge of it-just like learning, shared Shreyasi. You need an intrinsic motivation to learn and you can learn anything if you the discipline and the motivation for the same. So women need to take charge of their growth and learning, invest in themselves and upskilling themselves in the post-pandemic world, which has opened up a lot of opportunities for everyone.