For every girl or woman who has ever aspired to have a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the role models have always been few and far between – especially in a country like India. Leaders like Soumya Swaminathan and Gagandeep Kang were early entrants and exceptions at a time when women’s participation was unheard of in science and technology.
In 2023, India Inc. Is pushing for increased representation of women in STEM roles. Today, there is a range of ideas in technological innovation, and the talent pool is widening. Research points to the fact that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative. Industry leaders are therefore making way for inclusive workforces and executive teams. But are we there yet?
According to estimates by Deloitte, the share of women in the overall global tech workforce has increased by 6.9% from 2019 to 2022. As per a NASSCOM report, women make up about 34% of the Indian IT workforce. However, only 7% of them are in executive-level positions. Although the entry barrier is being lowered by women-friendly initiatives, education, and mentorship, there is more that needs to be done. There is a long way to go in terms of ensuring gender equality and overcoming the unconscious bias in the industry and the imbalance in the representation of women in STEM in higher educational institutions.
While the broader issues can be tackled through macro-interventions, biases in organizations must be addressed at a deeper level. Another major challenge that is not often focused on is self-doubt among women professionals, which limits them from applying for leadership roles.
Optimizing Workplaces and Making Them Equitable
Women at leadership levels are known to support diversity and inclusion and mentor their teams. The outcome is a better culture and work environment for all. An annual study suggests that “Women leaders are up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities.” However, a report by Catalyst indicates that women hold only 9.3% of board seats in Indian companies.
Recognizing women’s presence in science and technology as something that is necessary for organizational success is just the tip of the iceberg. It is important to engage with girls early and boost their interest in STEM through a range of initiatives in schools and institutions. They must also be encouraged to pursue a profession in technology and be provided with the much-needed balance and flexibility through the critical years when they are juggling multiple roles. Organizations need to inspire and encourage women to move up the ladder and opt for leadership positions by instilling confidence in them.
The pandemic brought about some changes. The tech industry offered a better work-life balance and increased flexibility to women, in particular. To keep up this momentum, not only must organizations come up with supporting policies but also ensure that women coming back after a break, like maternity, are welcomed back. It will also help to recognize women’s contributions to the tech workforce and get an understanding of the resources and support they require to succeed and forge ahead.
One strategy to achieve better gender balance in companies is to establish creative programs to hire, retain, and promote women. For instance, organizations like Uber have employee resource groups, mentorship programs, and other initiatives to invest in young women professionals developing careers in technology. Another notable example is Indusface, which not only has a woman co-founder but also places a strong emphasis on hiring women in the workforce. This helps to maintain a current female ratio of 25% to 30%.
Businesses making efforts towards better gender balance in their companies are those that are breaking the barriers today. For some, it is about social justice and corporate social responsibility, and for others, a part of their growth strategy. However, in a developing country like India, women have an integral role in all decision-making processes. They thus need to be where decisions are being made for better outcomes. The need of the hour is a proactive approach towards building a pipeline of talented women in the workforce as a better business choice that will also become essential to the nation-building process.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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