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Beyond maternity leaves and flexi-hours: A new conversation on women in tech that needs to grow louder

Team YS
8th Mar 2017
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This article is sponsored by ThoughtWorks.

Women in India began joining the IT workforce in the 1990s around the time the dotcom boom first began. Enrolment in STEM courses soared because an IT career was lucrative, provided opportunities to do great work, offered options such as telecommuting, part-time work with flexible timings and extended maternity leave. Yet, even today women constitute only one-third of the IT workforce.

While the number of women working at entry-level and junior roles in IT has stagnated at 30 per cent of the workforce, these numbers plunge to single digits when it comes to women in senior and mid-managerial roles. And this status quo has not changed for a really long time. Even after two decades, women continuing in tech roles are more the exception than the norm.

What’s holding the women back?

According to a 2013 LinkedIn report titled What Women Want @Work, 48 per cent of women in India believe the lack of investment from the organisation towards professional development is the single biggest challenge affecting their career, followed by the absence of role models (43 per cent). So a majority of women remain quiet about their professional requirements and aspirations, continue to deal with biases and get stuck in roles they have outgrown, eventually dropping out of the workforce.

And none of these problems are the kind that get solved by writing up a new policy.

So how do we fix these gaps?

Companies like ThoughtWorks, with ambitious diversity goals, understand the value of gender parity in the workforce. They keep communicating with their employee base to better evolve as one of the most inclusive places to work in.

For example, based on conversations with multiple women, ThoughtWorks has understood that beyond policies and benefits, there are several softer, ‘intangible’ elements that matter to women. These intangibles include having a supportive team and manager, not having assumptions made about whether women can take up a challenging piece of work or not, and being trusted to deliver when one is working from home.

It is also important for a woman employee to be accepted in her entirety, and not just for the work she does. Every other aspect of her life that defines her - being a developer, a mother, a blogger, a daughter and/or an artist, should be taken into account.

When companies understand the value of these intangibles, they become more human and don’t draft a blanket set of policies for impact. This is because policies mandate a certain behaviour, but intangibles require every stakeholder to genuinely buy into the idea in order for it to succeed. And because they entail a change in mindsets, the intangibles take time and effort to come to fruition and make the workplace more conducive for the participation, growth and development of women in technology.

How can intangibles empower women to take centre stage?

The thought process at ThoughtWorks has resulted in some interesting numbers - Today, 39% of the company’s employees in India are women and 33% of technology-facing roles are fulfilled by women. In 2016, 28% of the company’s lateral hires and 43% of graduate hires were women. Key leadership positions too are held by women, starting with the Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Rebecca Parsons. Its largest office in India, in Bengaluru is headed by Namitha Anand. One of every two ThoughtWorks India’s Office Technical Principals (or Technology Lead) is a woman, as are two of the five Office Principals, a role very similar to a General Manager’s role.

Office Principals of ThoughtWorks India offices

Over the years, ThoughtWorks has been experimenting with, and bettering initiatives crafted for women in the tech community. One of these is the India Leadership Development programme that has over 50 per cent participation of women. The four strands of this program are - organisational leadership, technology specialist leadership, emerging/future leadership and bespoke coaching.

When it comes to technical events, ThoughtWorks has several Women in IT programmes that are designed to mentor and coach women techies who are at different stages of their career. Some of these include the Women in IT event in Hyderabad and The Pink Conf in Gurgaon.

Namitha Anand, Office Principal of Bengaluru, has this to say about such ThoughtWorks-hosted conferences: “Due to the demographics of our industry, it’s often difficult to get 50 per cent female attendance but it’s certainly possible to have 50 per cent of the speakers as women. Each time we achieve that, it sends out a powerful message about the kind of place we are.”

Interestingly, to mark International Women's Day this month, all Geeknights (a popular developer community driven event series hosted by ThoughtWorks) across locations in India will have a women-only speaker line-up.

No initiative ever succeeds in a silo. By definition, a movement needs far-reaching co-operation. And unless men from across the board at ThoughtWorks fully commit to the idea, it would be impossible to make the company’s workplace culture women-friendly. Savita Hortikar, Head of Recruitment for ThoughtWorks India, says, “It becomes imperative to set expectations and drive awareness about aspects such as inclusion at the interview stage itself, even before a candidate is hired.”

And who better to set the right tone than a company’s leaders. They must be instrumental in creating an open environment that naturally welcomes discussions on gender diversity and inclusivity, and not just limit it to special days like Women’s Day or Mother’s Day.

“It took decades for us as an industry to recognise and acknowledge the likes of Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper. It’s about time we write a new history for the future generations - one which tells how women not only contributed to shaping the tech world for tomorrow, but also led the way all along,”

says Sudhir Tiwari, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks India.

This article is part of #TalkTechToHer, a ThoughtWorks campaign directed towards women in technology who have more than 6 years of work experience. The campaign wants to elevate the conversation around inclusivity and drive an important message that women can achieve as much as men, or more, when they are presented with opportunities, without the biases.

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