Companies and change advocates must take an active role in pushing for greater representation and ensure that the capabilities of women tech leaders are recognized and rightly rewarded.
Gender biases and inequality in the tech industry has been a hot topic of conversation for a long time. In recent years however, several studies have shown that gender representation has improved at every level in the corporate pipeline. While a decade ago, women were 23-24% of the employees in the Indian IT sector; now it’s 34% of the 4.5 million employee base. That’s a phenomenal jump, as Sangeeta Gupta, VP & chief strategy officer at Nasscom, says, the current figure is much higher than in most countries’ tech industries, including the US, thanks to more girls (and their families) prioritizing science stream and also the tech industry’s effort to raise the number of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The problem however is, many women drop out mid-career, for a variety of family reasons, and do not return, making the percentage of women in senior management in tech reasonably low, as is evident from studies that women still occupy less than a quarter of current C-suite positions.
Women in tech, still not well represented
Navneet Gupta, Founder & CEO of YPay believes, “Women are still not very well represented in tech leadership, despite making up 42% of STEM degree holders in India. Evidence shows many women opt-out of pursuing careers in tech due to a couple of major factors, primarily as technology being a male-dominated field lead to not many women role models and the dual burden of work and domestic life on women.”
Dattatri Radhakrishna, VP of Engineering, Whatfix agrees that women are likely to face ‘dual role’ syndrome, wherein professional decisions are largely affected by their domestic responsibilities. He says, “This paucity is not merely due to skill inadequacy, but also is a result of assigned stereotypical gender roles.”
According to Global Gender Gap Report 2021, by World Economic Forum, the effects of COVID-19 have delayed their career progression due to family or home pressures. The social and economic impacts of gender inequality in tech are so far-reaching and there are a few implicit biases of the people who push women behind. As Hwa Choo Lim, VP-HR APAC, Equinix believes, one of the causes is the lack of hygienic amenities especially in schools and colleges in remote areas. This becomes a deterrent for adolescent girls who then fall out of education system in Asian countries, including India.
Ritu Sharma, Country Manager – India, AppsFlyer further stresses that there is a constant learning curve in this space which becomes challenging for women who need to take breaks in their careers for family reasons. “What kind of support are we giving to women at home and the workplace for them to shine? That is the question we need to answer,” she says.
More than ever, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, while women have made some gains in representation, they are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men. A 2021 “Women in Tech Report” revealed that Covid-19 has made it worse by overwhelming women with household responsibilities and hindering work-life balance with remote work. For instance, 57% of women feel burnout at work compared to 36% of men. They are also twice as likely compared to men to lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
The disparity is even more glaring in specialized domains like AI/ML, data science and cybersecurity, which has always been a male bastion. Jhilmil Kochar, Managing Director, CrowdStrike India, states, “With skills and contributions not being recognized enough, women are less motivated to perform. Shortage of female role models is also a major barrier while choosing technology courses. Several women take a break when they reach middle and senior management levels to prioritize personal commitments.”
Paving the way to success
Despite this added stress and exhaustion, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Many companies have demonstrated a strong commitment to gender diversity and inclusion in recent years, and especially in recent months, many have taken a wide range of steps to help employees weather the pandemic, including increasing mental health benefits, adding support for parents and caregivers, and offering more paid leave – which in turn have led to better outcomes for all employees – women in particular – to stay in their jobs and fare better. More importantly, the pandemic is driving a fundamental change in the way we work with many embracing flexibility and remote or hybrid work at levels that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago.
It has been observed that hiring based on future potential, rather than prior experience levels the playing field and allows women the opportunity to move past that “broken rung” and into the positions they deserve. But it’s time companies start to plan for the future and hire objectively based on traits like curiosity, engagement, drive, passion and insight to truly figure out who is on the fast-track for executive-level positions.
“It is important to establish a level playing field for all candidates and facilitate talent development. As upcoming technological areas like data science, machine learning, and AI development acquire greater relevance in the field, we also need to further invest in the upskilling of female talent and increase their exposure to these new realms of development. By proactively ensuring team development, we ensure both an equal standing for women in tech, while also improving the performance of talent within organizations,” says May Yang, Global Head of Operations at Synechron.
The outlook on female hiring must change from standard practice by HR executives to a team-sport, adds Anil Valluri, MD & Regional VP – India & SAARC, Palo Alto Networks, who believes that departments from across the enterprise collaborate to make the hiring process more inclusive and transparent. “Employee practices that focus on the growth of both current and returning female employees can also help in creating the necessary balance between men and women in mid and senior positions,” he says.
Radhika Chennakeshavula, Senior Director, Micron India, believes, with the multiple roles women play, the time and effort they can dedicate to upskilling can be limited at times. She believes, while much is expected, women need to accept that they do not always need to display heroic performance. When personal needs take precedence; it’s okay to go slow and pick up the pace when they are ready.
Self awareness plays a key role here. Sharma says, “It is of utmost importance that women believe in themselves and express their views, even if that means challenging the current biases. Women need to be self-aware and assertive in tackling challenges. Companies should have initiatives to support women in the workplace that need to be maximized and implemented effectively. Lastly, every leader needs to mentor women employees to transform and grow their role in the tech space.”
Leila Pourhashemi, CIO & VP, Technology Business Operations at Blackhawk Network also believes that women are often quiet leaders, less vocal about their accomplishments and the value they deliver for the company.
“To solve this, we must choose maximum impact and maximum learning. Raise your hand for the difficult work; that’s where you will learn the most and have the ability to create the largest impact, and deliver the highest value. Go for it, even when you are less than 100% confident, you can do it. Studies show men ask for a new role with 60% confidence,” suggests Pourhashemi.
Companies should facilitate networking events and provide mentorship programs and opportunities for professional growth for female tech professionals in order to thrive in their career. As Kochar opines, “Providing an environment conducive for women to contribute, learn and grow is crucial. Establishment of network through role models, mentors, and peer support can also help eradicate the gender gap. Promotion of tech based education, providing additional training opportunities and conducting guidance workshops to apprise women could help build the numbers of women in tech. Last but not the least, adoption of equal pay structure irrespective of gender significantly promote and facilitate participation of women in key roles in the business.”
“Women in leadership roles in tech companies can help encourage more women in the field as they would provide role models for young women to emulate. Mentoring women one-on-one or through professional groups, equitable pay for women, and a work culture that is fostering and sensitive to women’s needs can go a long way to addressing this problem,” Gupta says.
To capitalize on this seismic shift—and to create a better workplace that promotes diversity and inclusion, the need of the hour is to create a workplace where women, and every other employee, feel a sense of belongingness. Needless to mention, diversity has numerous benefits for businesses, such as increased employee engagement, retention and profits. But it also helps foster a positive work environment where workers feel respected, welcomed and motivated to achieve the best results.
The progress made by women in tech so far is applaudable and there no doubt that women leaders will continue to break barriers and crash through glass ceilings in the coming years. However, companies and change advocates must take an active role in pushing for greater representation and ensure that the capabilities of women tech leaders are recognized and rightly rewarded.