Are our women ready to take on the jobs in the $120 billion Indian IT industry?
The Indian tech sector employs an estimated one million highly qualified women. It is also one of the few sectors attempting to build a robust pipeline of women employees and initiating policies to continuously hire and retain them. Given that NASSCOM has predicted the Indian IT industry to be a $120 billion sector, it will be imperative to plan for a large percentage of the jobs in this sector for women. Are our women ready?
At the entry level, we see around 25–30 per cent women in the technical sector. However, by the time one reaches senior levels, the ratio drops to 12 per cent. How does one plan, encourage and motivate women to elect and pursue a technical career?
With more and more women making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) education choices, the available talent pool is increasing. Additionally, today most of the companies welcome diversity in the workplace. From here on, what happens next? Women are thrown into the workplace challenges and have to meet/exceed expectations. Many struggle with self-doubt, inadequacy, lack of mentors, lack of role models at work and lack of forums for networking. Studies have shown that the country’s tech sector is seeing an almost 30 per cent dropout among women employees after short career stints. This is despite so many girls embracing STEM education, and companies chalking out progressive policies, especially for the 28–40 age group, a time in the career cycle when employees are at their most productive. It takes a lot for a woman to choose technology as an area of career, study, excel and then pursue a career. Even in the US, women make up only 25 per cent of jobs in the technical or computing fields.
There are various questions that arise, such as what does it take to keep a woman techie from not falling off the ramp and what does she need to do to succeed. Today, the world is becoming more and more digital, and hence, the work of individual contributors can be managed differently than before. If women are in different kinds of jobs, such as leadership or management, then their presence at work is very much required and support systems have to be explored. I can quote the case of my niece, who has got a doctorate in a specialised field. She is able to pursue her career choice at a University abroad. What women have to remember is that choices have to be made and planning both at the work front as well as the family front has to be done.
Tech women have to explore various opportunities offered by the workplace and the digital world today. One can learn and acquire competencies leveraging various online courses on offer. One can join various ‘Women in Technology’ forums, expand networks and learn from peers. At the workplace, one can join diversity initiatives and gain through mentors. All of this requires focus, belief in oneself, and a good deal of planning. If you are a 22–year-old at the threshold of a career, make a 15-year or 20-year plan.
We are in a wonderful age of technical innovations and the digital world is offering more and more career options. How does the woman techie leverage this? Many of the colleges bring out students who are ill-equipped to handle the demands of the software/hardware development needs of organisations. A new entrants may need mentors, a sandbox where they can experiment and learn or a platform available to network with experienced developers and gain from their knowledge.
One feels proud to see Padmashree Warrier, CTO of Cisco, a role model for women pursuing a technical career. Quoting from Forbes, “Cathryn Posey, founder of Tech by Superwomen —an organisation aimed at connecting and empowering women working in the technology industry — tells that women often face obstacles in the technology workplace, given their proportionately low numbers. The most important thing that women in the industry already do in order to gain success, she states, is press ahead and go for their dreams.”
The advice I would give from what I have learnt from all my career experiences is, “Be courageous, follow your dreams, put in the hard work. It is not going to be a fairy tale but you would be proud of what you accomplish. The journey is worth the effort.”
(The author is an HR Consultant.)