Numerous studies have shown that diversity at the workplace not only improves the work culture but has a direct impact on the profitability and productivity of a company. Unfortunately, the entire tech industry, even though widely perceived as progressive and forward-thinking with a lot of buzz around diversity and inclusion, continues to be a male-dominated profession.
While progress has been made over the past decades, gender equality is still far from achieved. Now that the global pandemic has further disrupted the world and organizations and individuals are geared towards the next normal there’s more reason to be concerned, for recent studies indicate, in the bigtech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) itself, women make up barely over a third of the workforce.
The divide becomes even more prevalent at the top, where men are 30% more likely to be hired for managerial roles than women, which further dissuades women from attaining executive positions. According to the latest available data, women hold 26.5% of executive, senior-level and management positions in S&P 500 companies, with women of color receiving even less recognition, making up just 4% of senior leadership team.
Of course there are reasons to be hopeful, as women leaders continue to break barriers and crash through glass ceilings amidst innumerable challenges. Moreover, 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.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day this year, CXOToday reaches out to some of the prominent women leaders in tech who offer insights on what still holds back women in tech in 2022 and how to solve this ongoing problem.
“While it is heartening to see positive conversations around women in tech growing, there are some challenges that persist. Research studies reveal that “affinity bias” where we tend to hire people like us results in biases and skew in hiring. Another challenge is the lack of a strong pipeline of women in STEM fields which means that you’re choosing from a smaller pool. I must also add that women professionals sometimes tend to limit themselves by believing in notions emanating from past experiences of others or societal beliefs.
I strongly believe that companies need to move from thinking about the diversity of gender to the diversity of thought and approach to overcome affinity bias. Diverse teams are more productive and yield better results. We can also systematically solve this by applying Rooney Rule during hiring for all key open roles, investing in unconscious bias training etc. Solving for more women in STEM is a long-term plan but corporate mentoring, campus engagement and lateral hiring can work wonders. I also encourage women professionals to break the mould and set their own standards. I believe it is also our responsibility to engage budding women in tech but also lead by example – leveraging flexible work policy, asking for help, integrating work-life priorities, advocating for policy iterations, and building communities. At Uber, we have employee resource groups, “Her Tech story”, She++, mentorship programs, and other initiatives to invest in young women professionals developing careers in Tech.” – Megha Yethadka, Senior Director, Program Management, Tech at Uber
“In the last few years, the Indian IT industry has made significant progress in helping bridge the gender gap by empowering women in urban areas through counseling and STEM education. And while this has encouraged the hiring of women in entry-level positions, there are still very few women in the middle management and senior leadership roles. The pandemic has also made it difficult for women to pursue their careers as it brought in a new set of challenges – balancing work and family commitments while working from home. Therefore, we need to ensure that women are provided with the right support to pursue their careers while also realizing that they can take roles beyond the fixed stereotypes. To encourage and enable our women associates, we at Walmart Global Tech India have been intentional in ensuring our work culture is inclusive, right from hiring to onboarding and promoting a diverse workforce.
As a long-term solution to encourage more women to pursue a career in science, organizations must support schools and educational institutes in rural areas by providing STEM education and empowering young women with the right skills. Organizations must also focus on creating incubation centers in rural areas to provide better opportunities to women and help them gain business knowledge. Alongside this, every organization should continue to hire women for entry-level roles and nurture talent by upskilling or re-skilling to enable them to take additional responsibilities. For instance, training them with new skills like digital, tech modernization to enhance customer experience can benefit both women and organizations. Through this, we can tap their capabilities given their intuitive mindsets and agility. Lastly, women tech leaders need to become role models and mentor women to help them fully realize their true potential and feel confident in the profession they choose.” – Prashanti Bodugum, Vice President – Technology and Chennai Center Head, Walmart Global Tech India
“IT and manufacturing sectors have long been perceived as male bastions. Despite years of innovation and growth, women remain under-represented in both industries – especially in leadership positions. Only 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women according to 2021 women CEOs in America report. There has been a visible change considering the inclusion-initiatives in the industry because of which more women are now taking charge at the corner office. Unconscious bias, lack of equal opportunities, and unavailability of leadership coaching are quoted as top reasons for women dropping out of careers early. The problem is not they are less qualified or not eager, but compared to their male counterparts, they sometimes face challenges that keep them from continuing as a result of getting burnt out at the mid-levels of an organization.
Combating this churn and encouraging more women to continue careers within IT, Manufacturing, and tech-related fields such as automation, data science, ERP, requires organizations to have a conscious commitment and a streamlined approach. The core of every inclusion strategy has to be driven by a shift in perspective and the archaic evaluation models on the ground – while recruiting/promoting talent, valuing merit above gender, and coaching for leadership. From providing the right opportunities to normalizing flexible working hours, from taking measures to ensure safety for women employees to being supportive of returning mothers, the opportunities are endless for organizations to build and stand for an equality-led future and to Move Forward, Together.” – Neha Aggarwal, Associate Vice President, Head – Vertical Strategy, Manufacturing Vertical, Birlasoft
“Two years into the pandemic, women have made significant strides in representation, especially in senior leadership. Previously we, as women, often took a back seat when it came to career growth for myriad reasons – family support, work-life balance and most importantly, the confidence to lead and have professional success. Lack of the right kind of mentorship, coaching and training on working in diverse and inclusive teams, and no strong allies at the workplace further adds to the challenges for women in the industry. Now, the tech industry is fast-paced and there is a realization of how women are bringing in deep empathy and diverse thought to the work culture, where there’s a form of realism in how we view and work with people.
My advice to women is always speak up and not allow prejudice to interfere with your capacity to express yourself. Women should have free flow of dialogues, and encourage other women who are on a similar growth path. At Intuit, we have built an environment where everyone has the freedom to express opinions and suggestions without being interrupted. Our employee network TechWomen@Intuit focuses on the growth of the women technologists’ community including sponsorship by leaders, development workshops and community building. With the right support, women in technical roles can thrive.” – Nidhi Gopal, Vice President – Product Development, SBSEG, Intuit
“Over the last decade, the Indian IT industry has made significant strides in driving inclusion and diversity at the workforce. As per a recent NASSCOM report, it is currently the largest private sector employer of women. Yet, there is more to be done. We need a continuous and intentional approach to drive equity and equality for greater representation of women by creating the right ecosystem and policies such as care giving support, flexi-work, equal pay, to name a few. Additionally, organizations must empower women with the right learning interventions, mentoring and networking opportunities to fast-track their career trajectories and to help them build long-term careers in tech.” – Aditi Kulkarni, Managing Director, Global Technology Solutions Lead, Accenture Technology.
“It is unfortunate that women have to work harder to earn the recognition that they deserve. Most women lack confidence and refrain from applying for leadership roles even if in most cases they are as qualified as their male counterparts. This could be due to a few reasons – to start with, women hold themselves back, other reasons include the lack of support and right guidance from peers and their support system. It could also be the lack of awareness of the unique traits they bring to the table, or they don’t come across sufficiently aggressive and competitive or sometimes comes out to be ‘too soft’. According to McKinsey, companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies as compared to organizations, where the percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all. Organizations will benefit from building teams that are truly diverse and those based on merit than just gender. They can also develop a programmatic approach around mentorship, leadership,and DEI initiatives that are focused on inspiring and encouraging women to aspire for leadership roles. The lack of strong pipeline of women professionals and women leaders is an industry issue and organizations need to create opportunities that help the ecosystem. Sponsorship and support from senior leaders for women to grow into senior roles would be helpful.” – Roopa Raj, Vice President, Head of IT, APJ and Global Head of Engineering, SaaS Transformation at VMware
“Pre-pandemic, in the traditional office environment, women regularly deprioritized professional activities outside of work. This was often a result of long days spent in the office, lengthy commutes, and caretaking responsibilities for the family. However, Covid-19 created a paradigm shift in the way we now live work and live – the hybrid work model enabled women to become actively engaged. With the introduction of virtual networking tools, women are now able to network and participate in professional activities that offer greater collaboration with colleagues, provide them more visibility within their organization, and increase their opportunities to step into leadership roles. This holds true for women not only in tech but also across industries where women today feel more motivated to challenge and push themselves to achieve new goals and higher standards.” – Pranali Save, CHRO, Icertis
“Historically, any male-dominated field poses several challenges for women and the underrepresented minorities who want to work in that field. And this is certainly true of STEM. Inspite of the progress towards inclusion in the field, there still exist micro-aggressions that aren’t always easy to spot. An instance could be an unconscious bias that stops someone from calling a woman by her name in a group conversation, while her male peer’s name is being constantly called out. This kind of behavior can make people feel invisible. Yet, most passionate technologists who are women are showing up to work with the same grit every day.
Another example of challenges that women deal with is having to prove their worth to every new stakeholder they work with. While she might have gotten a seat at the table, the expectation is having to justify her presence every time a new stakeholder joins the conversation.”
In support of ensuring more women are part of the technical community, Thoughtworks runs a couple of initiatives, for example, Vapasi, a certified and free technical training program designed for women who are on a career break and are keen to get back to tech. We also have a flurry of other initiatives to support and empower women in technology and have heavily invested on STEM education, upskilling, training to help women thrive in a digital world. To get more women into tech and help them move forward should begin at home. While still marred by a historical gender bias that’s prevalent in the deepest trenches of this country, I have observed more and more parents from all sections of society realizing the value of educating their children.
I believe as the country builds more awareness about how education is key to a family and its members’ financial independence and stability, only then, can we progress to promoting a larger number of girls and women to take up STEM education. For this to take place, efficient policymaking and governance are important. While we have good policies on paper, what really matters is the grassroot and unbiased execution of these across the country.
Over the last two years, we have committed ourselves to move the needle and supporting promising initiatives in different capacities aligned to four focal UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of which SDG 5 is centered on Gender Equality.” – Vanya Seth, Head of Technology at Thoughtworks
“With more women stepping into leadership roles, they are inspiring other women to pursue and grow in their careers. While this is a positive development, we still have a long way to go in this journey. Studies report that only 5% of CIO/CTO of Fortune 1000 companies are women. While women-friendly initiatives, education, and mentorship are lowering some of the barriers to women entering the technology industry and rising to positions of leadership, there are still many challenges to overcome. These include unconscious bias, imbalance in the representation of women in institutions of higher education, particularly in STEM and cultural norms around expectations of women in family settings. While the last two are broader issues to be tackled through macro-interventions at a country/state level, the challenge around bias needs to be addressed by each organization through micro-interventions.
The government’s regulations and progressive policies towards women at the workplace have been instrumental in improving the diversity ratio in organizations. While organizations should continue building on the momentum and improve their diversity ratio, they also need to focus on tackling the unconscious and conscious bias still widely prevalent, which can become an impediment in providing equal opportunities and impact the career progression of the diverse talent pool. Organizations need to reinforce & encourage a more inclusive leadership style constantly. Inclusive leaders understand that equality is not the same as equity, are cognizant of bias, and set specific goals centered around DEI. These leaders must also commit to accelerating equality in the future workforce, regardless of gender. They need to provide a level playing field to all genders with similar opportunities, challenges, and treatment and ensure that ‘the truly deserving wins”. When people feel like they belong and that their organizations value their contributions and opinions, they are more productive and empowered to innovate. At Cyient, we are constantly striving to create an environment where associates feel welcome, at ease, and free to be themselves at work. We believe that as a company and as a country, we are stronger when people are included, heard, and empowered.” – Pallavi Katiyar, VP & Chief Information Officer, Cyient
“Gender biases associated with STEM fields continue to be the biggest challenge. At the graduate level, these biases lead to fewer women entering STEM fields. In recruitment processes, they affect the overall hiring numbers of women. For example, studies show that most recruiters still use “masculine characteristics” to describe a job. Even in hiring and rejection decisions, women tend to be judged for their morality and sociability more than their competence. The fact that there are comparatively fewer women leaders and role models in STEM fields also tends to reinforce these biases.”
There is a need to systematically eliminate gender biases associated with STEM fields. For example, the InMobi Group follows a gender-neutral hiring philosophy which ensures that our job descriptions, selection criteria and process don’t favor a particular gender. Furthermore, creating and promoting women leaders and role models from STEM fields will ultimately improve the numbers at all levels. Lastly, it is imperative to enable mentorship for entry-level women employees through peers and women leaders. At Glance, we run many mentorship and training programs to ensure that women smoothly transition from entry-level to mid and senior levels.” – Khushboo Maheshwari, Vice President & GM – International Markets, Glance
“Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), Sales and Marketing have always been seen as a male dominant career, leading to many stereotypical biases against women. National Science Foundation revealed that out of 52 percent of women who enrolled in STEM courses, only 29 percent joined the STEM workforce. Broadly speaking, media & advertising play a critical role in building perceptions and immortalizing stereotypes. Women, unlike men, still counter more rejection, judgment, pay-check differences and denied promotion even if they have equal or better merits as they are assumed to be primary caregivers or too emotional.
In my opinion, this is the era of equality, diversity and inclusion. Women of all ages need to open up, embrace themselves and break the traditional barriers. Women in leadership roles must invest in mentoring young women and help establish open knowledge and networking platforms. Lastly, media needs to promote positive gender roles for an equity based sustainable future.” – Shweta Berry, Head of Strategic Alliances – Industry & Academia, Marcom, Sales Enablement and CSR Divisions, Aeris Communications, India
“This women’s Day let’s work towards #BreakingtheBias in the technology world and help bring gender parity in the sector. Setting a diverse and inclusive culture is the need of the hour for a sustainable tomorrow. Family, friends, work peers should form a supportive ecosystem to help women in technology take up various roles at work and in their personal lives. Corporates need to work together to help women manage their personal and professional lives rather than giving up their careers for the family’s good. Allowing flexible work hours, return to work programs, mentorship, counselling sessions, equal upskilling, and growth opportunities will encourage women to continue their career paths and inspire others to achieve their career goals.” – Anjali Mahajan, Regional Vice President at Amdocs
“This year’s theme Break the Bias is important and timely because it’s time to speak up. Really speak up. It’s about finding opportunities to use your voice to affect change. We can all do this. You may not get it right every time, but you will learn every time you speak up. And then, when you start to see things changing because of what you’ve said, embrace it and own what you’ve asked for. International Women’s Day is a reminder to celebrate the role women play in industry and to support and learn from each other. There are markets I work in that I can be myself and then there are some where I have faced criticism based on my approach. Often these are criticisms that a man wouldn’t face in the same situation. And so, as a woman you must have strength to stand your ground. There is a quote that I love, which is, ‘don’t try to be a man, it’s a waste of a good woman’. We were chosen for a reason, to bring that diversity of thought and our unique strengths to the table.
Overall, we do not have enough women in the IT industry. There is no distinct education path to many of the jobs in this industry, and there is a long way to go in promoting the different types of roles that exist and encouraging more women to explore IT as a career. It’s important to highlight the importance of a support network at both home and work. I am a firm believer that those in more senior positions have a supportive partner or extra support in home life to enable them to focus on their career.” – Belinda Jurisic, Vice President Channel, Cloud and Service Provider Strategy & Management, Veeam