Women in Tech: Time to Lead the Way

By Dedu Ajith John July 26, 2018
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The absence of women professionals who work  in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields is a critical problem in India. While technology as an industry is very progressive and women make up 40% of the world's workforce, women are still under-represented within India. At SHRMTech18, this topic was extensively deliberated  in a panel discussion, where industry experts shared their experiences, insights and ideas on the best way to build a more inclusive workforce.

Mohinish Sinha, Partner, Deloitte India was the moderator  of the discussion, and the panelists included Dr Ritu Anand, Senior VP & Deputy Head, Global HR, for TCS; Manu N Wadhwa, Head HR & Services, Coca-Cola, India & Southwest Asia; and Parag Pande, Managing Director, Accenture.

Here are the major barriers to the entry and sustainable employment of women in an industry that contributes one of the highest levels of GDP for India, according to the panelists: 

  1. Unconscious bias - This is one of the predominant reasons for fewer women in the technology space. Traditionally, STEM  jobs have been male-dominated domains of expertise. Whether  working in the corporate sector or academics, employees are typically men. There are underlying and implicit biases that the few women who work in these sectors deal with, which are hard to remove since they are rooted in stereotypes that are applied based on social conditioning and structure. Women leaders are seen as aggressive if they decide to take charge, and there is  an  unwritten rule that they have to work harder and perform better to be trusted with bigger roles. "Perspectives for women in technology are ingrained in the way our society is," says Wadhwa.  As a result, there are very few role models of women leaders in technology firms.   
  2. Lack of educational encouragement - Girls are not motivated enough by their teachers to excel in STEM subjects, nor are they questioned about why they did not choose to focus on subjects like computer science.  It is perceived that most girls will not join a technology fest or participate in a competitive hack-a-thon because none of the other women or girls are participating in the same. Career options in this area are also not seen as attractive due to limited information. There is a perception that technology is only about coding, which  tends to stop many girls from applying for suitable roles.  
  3. Limited support from organizations -  Few employers have a proactive mechanism to attract and retain women. Exciting job profiles as well as supportive internal policies that match the various life phases that women employees experience are needed. As Sinha points out, "Most organizations talk about inclusivity, but the preparedness is very low." This is where the challenge lies. While inclusion has become a buzzword, at the grass root level  little changes.
  4. Self-limiting thought process - Dr. Anand shares a different perspective. "It is not the corporation's problem, it is the woman's problem," he says, explaining that it's  an internal road-block that women personally impose on themselves. They limit their own thought process and  limit their growth within an organization, he says, adding that if  there is a will to succeed and the commitment to excel, gender will not make a difference or stop a person from performing.  

"The problem comes as we start going up the pyramid," says Dr. Anand. The solution to address this gap lies at two levels - the Individual and the Enterprise:

Individual - Individuals from both ends of the spectrum have a role to play. Lack of mentoring and of female role models in technology are the biggest barriers. Addressing that lies in the hands of women who have risen to top leadership roles in and can become mentors to young women and girls who aspire to join the STEM workforce. In addition, a large number of women drop out of the technology space due to family responsibilities. Without the requisite support, managing a small child and also working on project roll-outs or onsite assignments is impossible. Many of them aim to rejoin the workforce, and helping them also is the role that individual women leaders can play. On the other hand, women who want to pursue a STEM career should not be daunted by the male-domination that exists in that space. With sheer will and determination, they can excel and scale great heights. But to do that, they need to find the courage to follow this by overcoming what Dr. Anand refers to as their "confidence deficit."  

Enterprise - When discussing the role that an enterprise or the organizations need to play, Pande shares a valuable insight. "I think 'Girls Who Code' is an incredible, non-government and global initiative. It is operating in a way that it reaches out to girls who are very young and still in school," he says. The corporate sector needs to start getting involved in helping girls who are still in school to understand how a career in the STEM field is attractive.  For example, Women in Tech is a collaborative initiative in which the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), India started to address this gap through a multi-layered and long term approach, he said.

Apart from that, human resources has a key role to play in ensuring that more women enter this industry, said the panelists. HR needs to use numbers to convince their CEOs about the business reasons for hiring more women. When there is data to back such recommendations, there is a higher likelihood of top leadership accepting that inclusion is the best solution.

Finally, the panelists agreed that organizations need to regularly measure and monitor unconscious bias. They need to make sure that there are checkpoints within the organization for all processes to be evaluated for any bias that creeps into it.

Many major technology companies have been able to show great business results based on bias-free hiring decisions and inclusive policies. That is what needs to be demonstrated and showcased as best practices for other organizations.

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