What does it take to retain women in the workforce and leadership roles?

Day 3 of TechSparks 2021 saw the launch of Elevate - an emerging women leaders’ community, and discussions around how women can thrive and climb the professional ladder.
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Serial entrepreneur Prukalpa Sankar believes that building a culture where people are recognised for their meritocracy, performance and feel valued for their work is key to ensuring that women stay and grow in the workforce. This, she emphasised, is more important than having only a hiring process that looks at diversity. 

She spoke at the launch of Elevate, a private community for emerging women leaders, at TechSparks 2021. Prukalpa also (co-founder of Atlan) recollected what the first woman engineer at her startup had told her.

"She told me that the interesting thing about working here is that I am just an engineer while at my previous company - which had a much higher ratio of women engineers - everyone made me feel like I am a woman engineer," Prukalpa shared, asserting on the different work culture can make.

Taking forward the panel discussion on Elevate-ing women through focused mentorships & more, Varun Khaitan shared how his service-based startup Urban Companycame to embrace diversity at work. 

"In the initial days, we were just thinking about survival and not actively prioritising diversity in hiring. Now, we are more conscious of having more women in the leadership team, and when the ecosystem is pegged against hiring women leaders, you have to go out of your way to make an effort,” he said. 

He added that a mere assurance and instilling confidence that one is working for a truly meritocratic company could make all the difference. 

Anjali Sasale, Partner at WaterBridge Ventures, highlighted India’s paradox lies in the fact that there is increasing women's participation in education but declining participation in the workforce. "The decision or the autonomy (to decide whether to work or not) hinges on several communal, cultural, and societal factors. It is not a straightforward decision to take a job, let alone become a founder and start a company," she said, adding that this goes on to create more significant problems around lack of diversity on corporate boards and senior leadership.

“However, in the last 15 years, I have more often than not, been the only woman in the room, but I am very excited that it is changing very quickly,” she added.

 

Mentorship matters

Prukalpa said that real change could be enabled through programmes at school and by having role models. She cites her own experience of being raised by a mother who had a full-time job she was passionate about. 

“My mother was working my whole life. She was part of a founding team of an education startup that grew from our living room. One thing I am going to appreciate more and more is the importance of role models... that helps you understand that you can be like that too,” she added.

“Becoming an entrepreneur is a tough thing, irrespective of gender. As VCs, we can solve for access, invest time, and give relevant feedback. While you can't force people to become founders, we (WaterBridge Ventures) guarantee women-led startups a pitch to the partnership,” Anjali said, noting that the number of programmes and accelerators for women have increased, and the ecosystem has become more collaborative. 

She also emphasised that a mix of policy-led and process-led changes, including public policy and corporate policy, can go a long way. 

"Less than two weeks ago, no one thought that Tesla shareholders would rally to the board to pass a resolution to disclose their diversity metrics.  That was not imaginable a few years ago," she explained. However, she said grassroots efforts to show real-world mentors and role models for the younger generation must be carried out simultaneously.

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For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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