India Inc’s key conundrum: Why are so many women in STEM leaving the workforce?

Here are ways in which companies can implement change and address the gender gap in tech leadership, towards inspiring employees across genders and roles to work their way to the top.

India Inc’s key conundrum: Why are so many women in STEM leaving the workforce?

Tuesday September 06, 2022,

5 min Read

Globally, tech firms have attempted to improve their hiring and diversity policies, with 2021 recording the highest percentage of women in senior management roles (31%). However, according to CMIE, women’s representation in India’s workforce dropped by 9.4% in 2022 and over 60% of graduated women remain unemployed.

Despite organisations facing pressures from the board, employees and external bodies to make D&I improvements, women remain underrepresented in leadership and C-level roles. India’s female workforce participation rate remains the lowest globally and amongst those who make it to the top, over 44% resign due to lack of recognition, growth and opportunities.

Companies are witnessing an environment where the fundamental role of business is shifting. The purpose of a corporation has transformed into prioritising the benefit of all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders alike. Aligning D&I goals to business objectives in such an ecosystem is vital to progress.

Here are ways in which companies can implement change and address the gender gap in tech leadership, towards inspiring employees across genders and roles to work their way to the top.

Cultural alignment

Improving workforce diversity and inclusion is on the agenda of several organisations globally. However, only 42% tech firms report having a documented D&I strategy in 2022. Women need the right roles, opportunities, flexibility, pay and organisational environment to advance to the top.

Hardwiring changes that support a diverse leadership calls for organisations to turn their attention towards implementing processes and documenting proof from the ground up. It can also help to establish programs that train women to enhance their leadership skills and work towards their dream roles.

Facilitating conversations between middle and upper management (especially during hybrid/work from home models where engagement can take a hit), allows front-line managers to understand the team and initiate required changes.

Senior leaders, especially those in charge of incorporating D&I practices can only make better decisions when they understand the employees and their pain points. Better values, inspires better output from existing and future employees, increasing the chances of witnessing diversity from the top down.

Making women feel welcome

Women have unique needs with regards to health and caregiving that companies need to recognise and support. While it is important to have maternal leave policies, flexible work options and smooth return to work facilities, it is equally necessary to not label these as ‘benefits.’ The label here matters, as it makes women feel more comfortable about shifting to the role of a caregiver and it also helps other employees let go of their conscious or unconscious biases, normalising the process.

Businesses also need to factor in the fact that women in India, irrespective of their job titles, have to perform the majority of the household chores. A recent report found that unpaid care work is causing women to return to their jobs with lower productivity and stress levels. Championing the needs of women employees, acknowledging everyday discrepancies and employing measures to dissipate them, plays a positive role in their decision to stick with a company long term.

Additionally, only 17% of companies globally publish their gender pay gap data. While several organisations are making efforts to include pay equity as part of their policy, the work doesn’t stop there. Policies can often be overlooked if the managers are not trained to implement them effectively.

Companies need to dedicate time into training upper level management to effectively engage with employees on pay related discussions. When leaders with an understanding of gender sensitivity hire, appraise and promote employees, they prioritise performance related metrics, experience and merit above all.

Men can endorse change

It is no secret that men make up the majority of the workforce, especially in STEM. By simply being more in number, men can become allies to engineer the right practices, policies and programs that promote inclusivity. In 2022, 48% of organisations reported that once men understand the extent and repercussions of inequality in the workplace, they want to make efforts to change it.

Companies need to enable an open communication system among senior and lower-level male employees to understand their perspectives and limitations. Men should also be encouraged to actively participate in D&I conferences, seminars or general discussions in the workplace to empathise and connect with challenges that they might be unaware of.

The general consensus, according to a report from Mercer, is that men across various roles want to have conversations about inclusivity and broaden their perspective–and a push from their employers often helps them take a step towards it.

Evolving workforce needs representation

It is rare to find women at the top. Minority of 5% of companies listed globally have a female CEO, and this number gets worse in APAC regions, according to a report by Equileaps.

But how does hiring or promoting deserving female employees to the top change anything? It stands out.

Young girls who are yet to start their professional careers or those in beginner-level roles notice the women in leadership positions. It is as simple a message as, if they can do it, you can too. It may seem like a small change to recognise and promote women to lead, guide and inspire a team, but these small changes add up over the years.

The gender gap in tech is large and certainly cannot be addressed overnight, but by analysing the workforce, identifying the biggest D&I challenges, evaluating and implementing consistent, scalable and unbiased solutions can bring companies closer towards building an inclusive workforce.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan