What will it take to boost women’s representation in tech? Here’s what leaders had to say at Future of Work 2022

On day 1 of the Future of Work 2022 conference, women leaders delved into the key gaps and challenges in the sector, and highlighted the way ahead to accelerate women’s careers in tech.
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Underrepresentation of women in technology is an ongoing debate across the globe. Despite several government interventions to boost women's education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives making concerted efforts to steer a diversified workforce and boost the number of women leaders in tech, the gaps still remain. 

On day 1 of the Future of Work conference 2022, YourStory’s Senior Editor, Ramarko Sengupta, took to unravelling some of the key gaps and challenges acting as barriers to the growth of women in tech domains in conversation with Vidhya Seetharaman, Chief of Staff to the CTO (chief technology officer) at Swiggy; Megha Yethadka, Senior Director, Programme Management Tech and Head Global Scale Solutions, Uber, and Dr Geetha Manjunath, founder and CEO (chief executive officer), Niramai

“Definitely things have changed since our time when we used to have two girls in a class of 150. Now more women are pursuing higher education. But clearly, we are not there yet,” said Dr Geetha.

Here’s a look at the key gaps and solutions

Some of the key gaps which hinder women's representation in tech include a lack of confidence among women themselves, as well as a lack of exposure to various tech domains such as design, data science, engineering offering diverse options and much more than just a career in coding. 

Returning to work after a long break

Statistics suggest more than 20 million Indian women quit their jobs between 2004 to 2012 with 65 percent to 70 percent never returning to work. But organisations are now working on policies to woo women back to the workforce. Sharing her experience of rejoining Swiggy in July 2020 after her maternity break, Vidhya shared how the constant support of the team and her family worked wonders for her.

“Remote working and flexible schedule was a huge blessing. And what really made it easy was just having open conversations with the manager, as well as with the extended team on what was their expectation and what was mine? How much can we really work together to make it all happen,” Vidhya added.

Lack of representation during hiring

As Megha highlighted, one of the key gaps lies at the grassroot level where the male to female ratio is skewed at the higher education level. This invariably leads to a narrower pipeline at the time of recruitment. 

So, is reserving seats for women in the tech workforce the solution?

The leaders shared a consensus on the fact that reserving women’s seats on board, particularly for senior roles, is not the right approach. Instead, Dr Geetha suggested following the Wilson Rule (Wilson’s theorem). This rule requires that women and minorities be among the final pool of qualified candidates for open management and senior-level professional positions. 

“Thereon, on the basis of the talent bar and further examinations, the most qualified personnel can be chosen for the role, irrespective of gender,” Dr Geetha added.

Lack of role models

To boost the number of women role models, companies will have to invest in development, training, sponsorship and mentorship opportunities to have more leaders, in effect, across all genders in the organisation. 

“This will help people see the possibility and build [positive] stories, and with the power of storytelling, you can encourage more [women] to get in there,” said Megha.

Dr Geetha also suggested that there can be some special classes or special forums where they [women] can talk about their difficulties and also channel confidence-building conversations. This would also help organisations improve their perception of women employees.

Expectations from stakeholders

Megha forefronted the need of a holistic approach, right from the grassroot education level to growing through the ranks in a corporate career, and investing in nurturing women’s communities and facilitating mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, to help increase women’s representation in tech.  

While Vidhya seconded Megha’s thoughts, she highlighted that effective skilling is one of the key ways to help solve some of these challenges. Organisations will have to work on building accountability, awareness, and creating transparency towards achieving gender parity as well as pay parity goals.

The government, on the other hand, can help women with financial challenges in pursuing higher education, developing soft skills and enhancing confidence across communities, mentioned Dr Geetha.

The government can also double down on industry partnerships, because almost every company in tech has a plethora of initiatives to really focus on building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

In all, the panellists advocated that women need to build their confidence, and stop self-doubting themselves. They should learn to have clarity on their goals and be vocal about what they want to achieve. 

“I would just say invest in your strengths, believe in yourself and conquer your dreams,” concluded Megha.

Edited by Sanhati Banerjee

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