Leaders Talk

Empowering Women in Tech: Challenges and Opportunities

Gitanjali Singh is the Head of Strategy and Client Success, Visionet BFSI, an IT company, headquartered in New Jersey, US with offices in Bangalore, Mumbai and Coimbatore in India. She, along with Mr. Alok Bansal, Visionet Systems India's MD and Global Head of BFSI Business has conceptualized a free skill development program 'Unnati for India' for the underserved youngsters, to generate employment for them. She is skilled in scaling businesses, managing high performance sales team, working on strategic initiatives and managing data operations.

 

“Gender inequality should shame us all in the 21st century because it is not only unacceptable, it is stupid”, so said UN Chief Antonio Guterres but the statistics continue to paint a bleak picture of inequity when it comes to equal representation of women in tech.

A recent World Economic Review article underscores the gender gap in STEM disciplines around the world and I firmly believe that without repairing the broken rungs that prevent women from rising further, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not reach its fullest potential. Today, be it politics or environmental activism, journalism or the struggle for gender equity, civil or land rights, women are leading from the front. Technology is one arena, where with the help of apprenticeships, mentoring, skilling, growth opportunities and equal wages, women can soar past multiple challenges to claim their rightful place in the digital ecosystem.

The clear and present visibility gap

Multiple reports and surveys indicate a yawning gender gap in tech fields. According to the website builtin.com, reported in March 2021, the five largest tech companies on the planet (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) only have a workforce of about 34.4% women.

In a survey by review site TrustRadius, 72% of the women participants said that they are usually outnumbered by men in tech business meetings. This is just a small example of how inadequate female representation is in STEM fields. A February 2022 Forbes article also noted that among the current tech newsmakers, only about 10% to 20% are women.  And as the World Economic Review piece observes, even in a first world country like the UK, just 17% of  tech jobs are held by women and only 19% of computer science and technology graduates are female. The piece also cites a UN report according to which, in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, only one in five professionals globally (22%) is a woman. This means that in a world where digital transformation is essential for businesses to survive in the post pandemic world, women without technological skills will be marginalised even more in the job market.

What causes the low retention rate?

While battling perceptions about their suitability for technology centric jobs, women face multiple challenges even while competing for entry level positions as traditionally more companies hire men than women. Even when women initiate their own companies, TrustRadius reports that  there's very little VC funding available for female-owned startups.   The pandemic has also impacted women more than men. The 2021 TrustRadius survey says that 57% of women in tech feel burned out at work compared to 36% of men and are nearly twice as likely than men to have lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the pandemic.

 Builtin.com reports that in 2020 alone, 1.2 million parents exited the workforce and a large number of them were working mothers. According to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with over 800 companies around the world to accelerate women into leadership, structural barriers within organisations and cultural impediments often push women into unpaid caregiving responsibilities and housekeeping tasks, leading to inevitable fatigue and burnout, resulting in them dropping out of high-pressure jobs.  

 Addressing the visibility gap

 According to the Harvard Business Review, to empower women in tech, companies must equalize access to assignments and to high-visibility working groups. They must make networking opportunities available easily and create more opportunities for them to connect with mentors in senior positions. The keyword is inclusivity not just in companies but in social, cultural and educational spheres where prejudices and gender based discrimination push women back constantly. Digital training camps, coding workshops and incentivising STEM education via scholarships will go a long way in increasing the number of women in tech.

 Changing the narrative

If we want to welcome more women in tech, structural changes within organisations are a must so that diversity becomes more than just a buzzword. Fair hiring systems and a work culture that encourages women to stay and thrive rather than leave, is a priority. Providing flexibility and ample support to enable women to strike a work-life balance is important as well. Providing ownership opportunities, freedom to innovate and to challenge pre-existing systems, will empower women to bring their unique perspectives to the table.    

 The upside of the downside

According to Deloitte’s Women @ Work global survey, for women in tech, work-life balance has dropped to 32% from 70% pre-pandemic. But retaining women in the workforce is beneficial for companies because when they drop out, the cost of training and skilling new employees will cost them money they can invest elsewhere. This is why companies all over the world are looking to expand their talent pool and offer a hybrid work model to bring more women back to work. Upskilling women so that they can aspire and apply to higher positions is another positive trend. 

I can vouch from my own experience that women in leadership positions inspire other women to dream bigger and take more chances. Women can skill themselves to get absorbed in areas like cybersecurity, design, data analytics, AI, network administration and a lot more. As a tech leader who also happens to be a woman, I am committed to creating new avenues for women and girls and encourage them to reach for the stars.