The disparity in numbers between men and women is perhaps nowhere more stark than in India’s IT workforce. For all the talk about gender justice and equality, women are still woefully under-represented in this field. The disparity begins early—fewer girls than boys opt for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) streams after secondary education—and is carried all the way till university and professional level.
Dynamic and diverse
This isn’t about promoting women; it’s about a level-playing field, with a diverse workforce. Diversity increases innovation and creativity at the workplace. Bringing more women into IT would mean increasing the talent pool. A better gender parity in the IT workforce could translate into bigger gains—up diversity of talent and productivity and bridge both social and gender divide. Not just that, gender diversity could make the workplace more dynamic. Women bring different skills and qualities to the table than men—multitasking, customer-focus, team-spirit and, most importantly, quality consciousness that complement men’s abilities. Modern HR outlook is more in line with the qualities women generally possess: compassion, empathy, inclusiveness and understanding. In fact, these soft skills among women go a long way in effective resource and manpower management skills, which they can bring to the table.
Their representation in the IT workforce is also important from the point of view of financial inclusion and purchasing power. Given that half the users of technology products and websites are women who have a far greater influence (85%, according to a study) than men on purchasing decisions, having more women not just on the staff but also in decision-making positions is good for promoting company’s financial interests. While this is not to suggest that all women working in IT are experts in creating products for women, a company could certainly benefit from her ideas and perspectives of the needs of the largest single consumer category.
Greater women representation in the IT workforce is desirable from another standpoint as well. Several empirical studies show that diverse teams often do better than the best team just on the basis of diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach. And women definitely have a different way of looking at things. There are several examples where women have demonstrated that they can be a driving force for innovation and ideas in technology. Women tech icons and the plethora of data showing the tangible benefit of having more women in the team will hopefully change things over time. Most job profiles today and increasingly more in the future will have a strong IT component. Women need to arm themselves with this valuable skill to compete. With Digital India, the IT sector is likely to witness more business expansion than other sectors of the economy. The government needs to do a better job of exposing women to IT. You never know, women may turn out to be better than men in leading a technology start-up!
So, how can the IT sector improve gender diversity? Initiation must begin early. Schools must invest in exposing girl students to new and emerging technologies. Parents must encourage daughters to get interested in this field. A supportive home environment can make all the difference in helping girls see IT as a viable career choice. Unfortunately, families often perpetuate the stereotype that logic and numbers are for men and the creative domains are for women.
By the time they finish school, most girls (at least in big cities and towns) are into Facebook and Instagram. We need to whet their appetite for IT with more interesting exposure. The media can play a big role here. Programmes that focus on educating women on the benefits of joining the industry workforce are critical. TV shows on women in technology they can look up to could help girls get inspired for a career in IT. There are lots of incredibly inspiring women who are doing a great job in IT whose achievements need to be highlighted. Young women aspirants need to be told that there are so many facets to technology now that they needn’t have to work in a male-dominated set-up; if they are willing to take risks, they can start their own venture. While the achievements of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other men tech leaders are well celebrated, how many young people today know of Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Meg Whitman and Ginni Rometty, heads of big businesses such as Facebook, YouTube, Hewlett Packard and IBM?
There are parity issues that could play spoilsport. For instance, the fact that women are often paid less than their male counterparts or that there are few women at the top in IT firms. The key is to identify the barriers at each rung of the ladder and then working towards eliminating them. Companies need to ensure gender parity in pay, policies and programmes. In addition, tech companies should be open to the thought of a parallel yet distinct growth trajectory for men and women. While things are changing, the pace of acceptance is very slow and a lot need to be evangelised around this message.
Women who are already in the field need to be vocal and supportive of other women and help junior colleagues feel more confident and move up the ladder. This is possible only if they themselves find their job satisfying, exciting and intellectually stimulating. They need to know they are making a difference and that they are noticed and appreciated. It is in the interest of IT companies to hire more women. At the end of the day, if the IT sector is to progress, it has to be diverse and gender-balanced.
As a society, we need to understand, accept and implement the belief that women are in no way less than men in knowledge, skills and ability. Unfortunately, a large swath of our men is still seeped in the traditional outlook of gender equality. The future of technology will be bleak if we continue to think this way.
The author is regional director, CompTIA, the IT industry association