The imbalance in the representation of women, can be attributed to perceptions, stereotypes and even bias, but it is irrefutable that there needs to be more female representation in tech companies.
By Dr Subi Chaturvedi
The idea that women are trying to find their place in tech is not only inaccurate but it is offensive to the countless women who, through their stellar achievements, have made the technology around us what it is today – pervasive, affordable and easy to use. From the first programming language to the first graphical user interface, women have contributed heavily to how we see technology today. As we celebrate the international women’s day 2021, it is befitting to celebrate these achievements and talk about the role women are playing in advancing technology and the roles they can play in the near future.
Women make up for around 50% of the world’s population and thus, they make up 50% of the potential market for tech products and solutions. And yet, we see a far smaller representation of women in the industry and an even smaller percentage in leadership positions. This leads to innovation that is skewed towards a relatively smaller percentage of users. As per a survey by Catalyst, women account for 73 percent of all household expenditure in the U.S. For businesses, the absence of women in decision making roles could easily lead to loss of ideas and business for this percentage of the users/customers.
The imbalance in the representation of women, can be attributed to perceptions, stereotypes and even bias, but it is irrefutable that there needs to be more female representation in tech companies. In fact, a survey conducted by Peterson Institute for International Economics across 22,000 organisations, concluded that for companies where representation of female corporate leadership went up from 0 to 30%, the companies witnessed a 15% improvement in profitability.
Despite demonstrable benefits of having more women leaders, there is a serious under-representation of women in boardrooms across the world, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathemathics). A PwC study found that a meagre15% of employees working in STEM roles are female in the UK, while it is just 20% in the US. This needs to change and the only way this issue can be addressed is through education and empowerment. An educational structure that encourages women to aspire for more STEM jobs and a regulatory environment that is facilitative and non-restrictive will go a long way in helping women realise their aspirations.
From Grace Hopper (first compiler that converted arithmetic to language) to Adele Goldberg (first graphical user interface) and from Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook to Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, women have brought their own style, ideas and inspirations to the table. This could be because they haven’t been conditioned to look at bottom lines and business outcomes only. Women bring the perspective of design and usability, experience and interface, and inclusivity and sustainability, which has proven to be the game changer ever so often. Imagine using computer without graphical icons or symbols that are integral to both Windows and Apple computers; this was the work of a certain Susan Kare.
Even from a pure business sense, it is critical to get more women in STEM roles. There is a scarcity of skilled industry-ready professionals in the world and with new startups coming up every day, a new army of working professionals will be needed and the women should be able to fill this gap. With proper support, women entrepreneurs could also be leading the unicorns of tomorrow and employing armies of their own. This is no longer a desirable outcome, it is a dire necessity.
And it is not just about the established STEM roles, it is the new, exciting innovations as well. If we could just look at gamification of learning, for example, we could look at gamification of education, make learning fun, make sure that that phone in your hand is doing far more than just delivering telephony services. This could be a path-breaking innovation and could have applications in healthcare, education, corporate, governance and military and women could surely be at the forefront due to the heavy reliance on user experience and design.
India as a knowledge-driven civilization that has celebrated, revered, recognized and allowed women to reach the highest levels of potential being in politics, sports, music, arts, science, technology and others. The list of outstanding examples of Indian women achieving their creative potential and the highest levels of leadership is endless and it keeps growing with each passing year.
To achieve the full potential of the Indian digital dream, we need every individual working towards it, and that means every woman too. In that regard, we have to ensure greater participation of women in leadership roles, who can then be role models to other women and inspire them. There is a critical need to increase the percentage of women in STEM from 15 to 30 percent in the next 5 years and then to 50% by 2031. Initiatives like Coding Girls will go a long way in achieving that coupled with better technology adoption in women, which can only be achieved with a change of perception at a societal level. We need to make technology so pervasive that everyone can access it at any time and then and only then can women realise their full potential. The opportunity for women is there, and it isn’t anyone’s to give but they will need the tools to access those opportunities and to deliver the best that they can.
(The author is a distinguished Public Policy professional and member of MAG of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum. She is currently the Chief Corporate Affairs & Communication Officer, Zupee. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)