Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Indian IT Firms

shwetha

Under-representation of women employees in the Indian IT industry is not an unfamiliar matter. The issue is often slipped under the rug when IT companies retort saying they are working on gender diversity. However, if we look at some statistics and numbers, it is clear that gender diversity in the Indian IT firms is still work in progress. The global gender diversity in IT companies averages at 31%, while for the Indian IT firms, it stands abysmally low at 21%, proving that the glass ceiling still exists.

Crunch in women talent is also cited as the reason for nearly non-existent women representation at the corporate leadership level. However, things are now changing. Companies have begun to realize that gender diversity is better for their business as it brings in varied viewpoints, which result in making more sound business decisions.

In spite of a rise in the number of women graduating with degrees in fields of science and technology, the dearth of women in tech roles is quite evident. To begin with, not many women choose careers in tech roles. From those who do, many take an early exit owing to factors like relocation due to marriage or spouse relocation or women going into motherhood. Motherhood usually results into a long break, after which, women often don’t find it easy to restart their careers, resulting in shortened career spans.

While it is completely fathomable that women give up their careers in the initial stages of motherhood, it is more important to understand what can be done to draw them back into their careers and give them the confidence that they can balance work and life. After all, women are known to be better at multi-tasking for a reason!

 Show women the Sheroes

Like in every other field, women have had exemplary careers to boast of even in the tech field. These women have inspiring stories to share that can motivate other women to follow their footsteps. A great way for women to witness these live success stories are women-only tech events and conferences. Here they can also meet and network with their peers and women in leadership roles in tech companies.

Women with success stories in their IT careers can share their experiences balancing work, life and family responsibilities and motivate others to achieve the same. Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) is one such initiative that brings together the community of women technologist. The GHC conference brings research and career interests of women in computing and creates a platform for them to be mentored and inspired by the women leaders in the same field.

Similarly, Global Tech Women and Women Who Code conduct periodic conferences and meetups with the goal to inspire women to excel in technology careers. Through conducting women-only events such as hackathons, tech talks and contests, organizations can encourage women to work towards innovations and research driven solutions. By showcasing the importance of their contributions to the organization and overall technology domain, the organizations can motivate other women to opt for more technology and research oriented career paths.

Women who are driven by passion and keen interest in pursuing their career goals are future role models for the coming generation, including their girl child who may be inspired to pursue a career in technology.

Introducing women-friendly policies and trainings

Organizations must start initiatives that address important women issues beyond maternity. For instance, Flipkart, in addition to upgrading their maternity leave period from mandatory 12 weeks to 24 weeks, now also offers extended maternity benefit of four months whereby women employees can take benefit of flexible working hours. Such initiatives are offered by many other major companies with an aim to offer women the facility to pursue their career along with fulfilling their family responsibilities.

Likewise, VMware, in addition to offering such facilities, also offers their employees with 150% referral bonus for every successful female candidate. Such programs encourage employees to refer more women candidates, and demonstrate the value women candidates add to VMware. Besides policies, companies can also help women employees to re-skill themselves, and update their skills. Many women try to re-enter the industry after a sabbatical when they dedicate time to their families. However, in technology domain, the rate of change is high and even a year of sabbatical can outdate anyone’s skills. Keeping this in perspective, VMware has introduced its Take 1 Program, which is intended to help women catch up with the current set of skills that are required as per the industry standards.

In the same vein, the Tata Group initiated the Second Career Internship Programme. This programme is aimed at women who have minimum of two year work experience and had taken a career break of six months to eight years. The program helps in bringing the talented and professional women back to pursue their careers in technology roles.

 Overcoming unconscious bias

It is not uncommon for women to face unconscious biasness at work, which may impact them negatively and make them feel out of place in a male largely male dominated industry like technology. For instance, unconscious bias can happen when male team members put in long working hours for a project while the female workers may leave the office at fixed times. This can be misconstrued as the male workers contributing more to the project, whereas in reality, both male and female employees could be contributing the same, or the latter even more for that matter.

Organizations are now actively working towards mitigating gender bias and bring in more transparency that would make women feel more inclusive. For instance, Pinterest announced its commitment to balance gender diversity as a goal for 2016, and one key aspect to achieve the goal would be that every employee undertakes the training to prevent unconscious bias.

 Inspiring them young

MasterCard has undertaken an initiative in India called Girls4Tech focusing on girls from middle schools and building awareness among them on subjects like science and maths. Dell India’s aptly named programme “IT is not just for Geeks” has women employees interacting with girl students. They talk to young girls about their own career in the IT industry and the various available options to pursue a career in the domain. Though it’s a long-term strategy, it’s an important one as it brings more female students to opt for technology subjects at higher education so that when they enter the workforce, they will bring more balanced gender diversity. This also helps greatly in building the potential women talent pipeline for the future.

By mentoring women employees, guiding them to improve their work-life balance, and making them aware of the career path and opportunities, companies can not only retain women talent but inspire a whole new set of women to opt for career in technology. This would result in bridging the gap and bringing balanced gender diversity into the workforce.

With such measures in place, women will feel more confident and passionate to pursue their careers in the long-term, benefiting the organizations in return. It is about time to make women feel at home!