The number of women in technology in the Indian workforce has risen by 10 percent over the last decade and women constitute around 35 percent of the workforce currently as per NASSCOM estimates. This number is higher than the 24 percent gender ratio across all industries showing the increasing participation in STEM careers by women. About 50 percent of the technology graduates in India are women, and the youth under thirty significantly contribute to gender parity.
The contribution of women has been invaluable in building India’s tech ecosystem. One of the iconic images of India’s Mangalyaan mission was that of the scientists behind the achievement — a group of women, in saris with flowers in their hair, celebrating the launch.
Women’s successes – prominent but not enough
Trailblazers like Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Founder, Chairperson, and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd. and one of India’s few self-made women billionaires, have made their mark in the global arena. Nivruti Rai, country head of Intel India, has risen through the ranks of one of the world’s foremost technology companies and brings her multi-dimensional product experience to pushing the boundaries of Indian research and development. Dr. Renu Swarup, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India), has been crucial in setting up a pipeline of early-stage high-risk scientific development ventures in the country. Vani Kola, founder and managing director of Kalaari Capital, has pioneered the role and deployment of early-stage risk capital in the development of indigenous technologies.
Unfortunately, these success stories are still just a few. When we move into the middle and higher management, the percentage of women starts falling drastically. However, the good news is that technology companies have recognized the value of having a woman’s perspective in senior leadership decision making. With women making up half the revenue-generating demographic, the insight at the leadership level becomes invaluable.
The barrier to reaching the top
The most common reason for women failing to pursue careers to the C-Suite level is family responsibilities. Traditionally, women have been seen as the caregivers in the family, and this expectation in almost all cases leads to women giving up promising careers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a brake on the gender diversity ratio increase. As per a new report by the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, 76 percent of Indian women in tech believe that the effects of COVID-19 have delayed their career advancement. While working from home is expected to increase gender equality, the reality is that most women struggled to balance the home needs with the work needs not due to capability issues but due to the societal expectations of needing to do more at home when compared to males.
Before 2020, Women in the Workplace research had consistently found that women and men leave their companies at comparable rates. However, due to the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, as many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce. If this happens, then all the progress gained over the last decade will be lost, and we will end up back at square one with far fewer women on the track to being future leaders.
New phase of women empowerment at work
Tackling this challenge of increasing gender diversity at the senior level is now entering a new phase. Several companies are having specifically targeted programs for developing women leaders. These programs have contributed significantly to grow the diversity ratios by over 10 percent. At Progress, under the internal “Progress for Her” initiative, mentoring and coaching of budding women leaders by senior leadership has yielded good results. Diversity hiring programs, women support groups under the larger diversity umbrella, flexibility, and many other such initiatives have helped move the diversity ratio northward.
Targeted programs for women who want to get back to work after taking a break is fast becoming a norm across tech companies. These programs provide upskilling and opportunities for women to assimilate back into the workforce faster and have proved to be a great talent pool enhancer. Peer coaching, experiential learning, networking workshops, leadership talk sessions, self-paced learning modules, business head metrics of women leader retention, and providing opportunities for visibility with the board and CXO staff are some of the other initiatives that are being seen in the Indian market.
Women need to commit themselves first
From my experience and perspective wearing the HR lens and as a woman leader, I believe there are several challenges that women face in the male-dominated tech space, especially at leadership levels. The key to success is to make learning a part of your commitment to yourself and keep looking for new ways to grow. Technology is an especially fast-paced career. Not only will you find the domain changing quickly, but career growth also demands being proficient in each new role. Joining user groups in your industry and national societies to keep current are just a couple of ways to stay sharp.
Multiple factors can help predict whether an organization has the right structure in place to support gender diversity. The degree of flexibility at the workplace, expectations to be available round the clock, enabling the workforce to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities as a result of the pandemic, performance management principles around the new hybrid model of working, and the support systems at the workplace are some of the factors to be considered. An organization committed to gender diversity will need to continually evaluate itself on these parameters and reinvent itself as needed to harness the full force of women power.