Gender Diversity In IT Taking A Center-Stage In 2016

by Sohini Bagchi    Jan 20, 2016

centerstage

Studies have shown that companies with more female leaders have better financial results. If we go by the latest reports in the world of IT, surely Apple Inc has made a slight progress on the areas of boosting gender diversity in its US workforce, there’s a lot more that is left to be done - not only by the company but the IT industry has been criticized for the lack of diversity and have been facing increasing pressure to diversify their largely male workforces.

Some have shown slightly positive results, like in Apple, there is a slight improvement in gender diversity,where 30 percent of Apple’s U.S. employees were females as of August, compared with 28.7 percent in the previous year. Moreover, gender diversity is becoming a key topic of discussion in almost every technology forum - indicating that there is a growing pressure on companies from the investors as well to recruit more balanced, diverse teams - some even outlining the board diversity guidelines.

Men on the top

There is bo doubt that the pace of growth in gender diversity is very slow. The recent  World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a conclave for the world’s most powerful leaders, just 17.8 percent are women, according to the forum. While that is a slight improvement over previous years, it still reflects the reality of geopolitical and economic power today and indicates men are almost always the ones at the top.

Similarly, technology companies have increased the number of women in their boardrooms since 2010, but the sector as a whole continues to lag behind other industries in terms of diversity at the highest corporate levels, according to a new report from Equilar. The percentage of females on boards at S&P 500 technology companies increased from 13.7% in 2010 to 18.3% in 2014, collectively accounting for the second-lowest representation of female directors in any industry. Less than one-sixth of all directors in the basic materials sector were female in 2014, trailing all other industries. Overall, 19.8% of directors on S&P 500 boards were female in 2014, up from 15.7% in 2010.

“Shareholders are applying pressure for boards to align with the demographics of their investors and the population at large,” said Dan Marcec, Director of Content, Equilar in a recent statement. “While diversity encompasses a variety of characteristics—be it skillset, age, experience or ethnicity—gender diversity on corporate boards is a marquee topic in corporate governance.”

Despite the overall lag comparative to other sectors, tech companies have shown progress. The industry counted 72 companies in the S&P 500 in 2014, and five companies had zero females on their boards, compared to 15 in 2010.

Read on: Gender Diversity Is Good, But Where Is it?

In 2014, 29 tech companies in the S&P 500 had boards with more than one in five females, an increase from 17 companies with similar characteristics in 2010. Technology is among the leaders in gender diversity when it comes to board leadership positions. In 2014, there were 54 women occupying leadership positions on S&P 500 boards—such as chair, vice chair, lead director or presiding director—an increase of 22.7% from 44 in 2010. Female directors at tech companies sit in nine such positions, or one-sixth of the total.

Despite recent gains, females hold just 6.8% of all board leadership positions in the S&P 500 overall, and males occupy the other 739 board leadership roles, or 93.2%. “As more women join boards, it’s natural that they step into more leadership roles as well,” said Marcec. “However, the growth in female board leadership positions has not been steady and continues to oscillate from year to year across sectors.”

Parental leave benefits

At present, companies in the tech sector are however acting. Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Amazon Inc., Accenture, Netflix Inc., among others have expanded paid leave for new parents and added benefits to care for the child such as traveling with employees on business trips. Experts believe, the trend will continue in 2016, as companies court millennial employees who are beginning to start families and seeking roles that allow greater flexibility.

Back home, in India, a proposal from women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi was approved by the Indian labour ministry, which sought to increase maternity leave in private companies to 26 weeks. At present, this period is of 12 weeks.

For example, Indian IT company Intuit, increased paid maternity leave to 26 calendar weeks from 12 while paternity leave, which earlier was for five working days, will be increased to 15 working days. Similar to maternity leave, adoption leave would also be given for 26 calendar weeks.

“Employees should not have to slow down their professional careers when embarking upon motherhood or fatherhood, and we see it as our responsibility to provide them the enabling environment to take sufficient leave as required,” Somnath Baishya, director-HR at Intuit, told ET. 

Gender diversity to take centrestage

In a recent commentary published on McKinsey Quarterly, researchers further take a look into workplace gender equality. While finding the answer to why are women still underrepresented at every level of today’s corporations, authors Dominic Barton, Sandrine Devillard, and Judith Hazlewood mention one of the key reasons the gender gap so stubbornly persists is because in many organizations, senior leadership has only recently committed itself to addressing this challenge.”

In 2015, many organizations also announced appointment of women in leadership roles. Experts believe, this is going to take centre stage in 2016 as more and more organizations will do their utmost on retaining and hiring women employees at various levels in order to promote gender diversity.

This is indicated by McKinsey Global Institute’s report on ‘The power of parity’ which establishes that advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. As per the report, India could add $700 billion of additional GDP in 2025, upping the country’s annual GDP growth by 1.4 percentage points. Tech analysts also note, with the favourable Governmental policies and initiatives, women are being empowered with financial, technological and infrastructural support that can help them contribute to the Indian economy.

While recent data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) also shows on average women in India earn 20% lower than men, the positive lining is that the gap has narrowed by 9.2% during the last ten years, observes Anju Sethi, Head, Learning and Development, Tesco HSC. Some companies are publishing data on the pay gap (between genders) in their organization. These help sensitize people about the inequality prevalent across businesses and raise a strong cry for equal pay for equal work. Sadly though, for every company that does disclose such data, there are so many that don’t, she says.

Nonetheless, experts believe in 2016 many more tech firms globally as well as in India are going to show some progress in terms of gender diversity. Although the pace of growth may continue to be slow, it will be interesting to watch out this space in the coming months.