Key Solutions for Advancing Women in Technology
The Indian technology sector and services market is expected to touch $350 billion by 2025. The Indian IT industry employs three million people directly and nearly nine million indirectly, making it the biggest job generators for the country. This clearly shows the impact India’s technology sector can have on the nation’s economic outlook. Tech intensive companies need employees who are adept at both technical and leadership skills to ensure future growth and success. To optimally utilize the available talent pool, organisations should tap into an important source of talent- women.
Unfortunately, women are highly underrepresented in India Inc. They currently represent less than a quarter of the labour force employed in organizations.Research found that more than 20% high potential women moved from their first job post MBA in a technology industry for a job in another sector. These women were not dropping out of the workforce, they were opting out of tech-intensive industry.
At the recently concluded Women Economic Forum organized, I was part of a discussion where instead of only discussing the dire state of women in technology we also put forth solutions that would improve the current situation. We came up with the following action points which tech intensive organisations can take to attract, develop and retain women employees:
1. Ensure equality in pay and opportunities
Catalyst researchfound that women and men in the technology sector start out with equal pay, responsibility and aspirations. However, a gender gap emerges overtime. In addition to this, Catalyst’s First Step: India Overview has shown that nearly 50% of Indian women drop out of the corporate employment pipeline between junior and mid-levels, compared to 29% across Asia. To retain women employees, organisations should ensure that employees in the same company, same level and equal performance should get paid equally, irrespective of their gender. A difference in pay can be justified only if it is based on the level of performance and merit.
2. Combat the unconscious bias
It has been observed in a Catalyst study that assignments that lead to advancement in the organization were not equally allocated to women and men. Men got more of the ‘hot jobs’ that mattered for pay or advancement.Existence of an unconscious bias could be one of the reasons for this. Many a times, well-meaning but misplaced care results in some managers overlooking new mothers for such opportunities, leading to women not getting promotions, or facing a delay in promotions. In such cases, women employees need to speak up and explicitly talk about their achievements and aspirations. This way the management will be clear of their ambitions and assign them responsibilities that will play a crucial role in climbing up the ladder.
3. Encourage a flexible work culture and provide reliable infrastructure
Women often shoulder more responsibilities at home and are considered to be the primary care givers. As per Catalyst’s High Potentials Under High Pressure In India’s Technology Sector report, women in dual career marriageswere four times more likely than men to assume the role of “stay-at-home partner” at some point in their careers. To enable women and men maintain a balance between their personal and professional lives, companies should create a work culture that empowers employees to take advantage of flexible work timings. Research shows that at every leadership level, at least half of high potentials reported that flexible work arrangements (FWAs) were very or extremely important. However, having flexi time policies only on paper is not enough. They should be implemented and tracked effectively. With an increase in nuclear families and lack of strong support systems, working parents need all the support that their employer can provide. Companies should set up reliable infrastructure like day care facilities in and around workplaces, provide transportation options, etc. Employee friendly policies like these will help individuals integrate work and life demands like raising children and pursuing a career.
4. Bring home the importance of role models/ Assign senior level executives as sponsors
Women working in tech-intensive sectors have fewer women role models compared to other industries. 20% high potential women in tech-intensive industries had a female supervisor compared to 31% women in other industries. One of the contributing factors for this could be the dearth of women in the top management of tech intensive companies. Senior-level men should act as role models and sponsors to women employees. Organisations should encourage them to champion more high potential women and help in building a strong leadership pipeline. Companies must ensure that existing women leaders are assigned as sponsors as well. According to Catalyst’s study High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward, 65% of women who had received developmental support were paying it forward, compared to 56% of men. Notably, paying it forward not only benefits protégés, but also leads to career advancement of those providing assistance.
5. Have transparent performance evaluation standards in place
Women in the tech sector experience lack of transparency when it comes to evaluating their performance. It is crucial to ensure that performance management systems are fair and do not penalize women for maternity breaks or sabbaticals. Organisations should evaluate women and men on the same criteria and see to it that they are promoted on proven performance. The Indian technology industry cannot afford a leaky pipeline of talented women. A strong network of individuals, organisations, government and society need to implement the above solutions to create equality in gender, pay and opportunities. By doing so companies can utilize the available talent pool to their maximum potential. Thereby becoming an employer of choice for high-potentials throughout the pipeline.
About the Author
Shachi Irde joined Catalyst in May 2013 as Executive Director of Catalyst India WRC. Ms. Irde brings a rich background in business development, marketing, human resources and diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices to her new role. Prior to joining Catalyst, she served as the Head of Diversity at Infosys, where she helped develop and manage D&I initiatives across the organization. Her efforts helped launch D&I Councils regionally and within business units as well as the first leadership development program for women. Ms. Irde also played an integral role in launching the organization’s ground-breaking employee resource group (ERG) for India-based LGBT employees. In addition, she conceptualized and delivered successful employee engagement programs focusing on communication, health and safety. Ms. Irde has also held HR leadership roles within Wipro –e-Peripherals Ltd. She is currently a member of the Advisory Council of D & I at NASSCOM. She is a frequent speaker and facilitator at D&I events in India and often quoted in the media. In addition to writing articles and blogs she has also co-authored a book chapter in the book Globalization of Professional Services published by Springer. A strong advocate for women’s empowerment, she works with voluntary organizations supporting under-privileged women in her spare time.
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