Challenges faced in retaining women in tech sector

There has been an increase in women recruits recently in several technical roles like AI engineers, ML engineers, and data scientists. Representational image: fizkes / Shutterstock

Despite numerous conversations and deliberations on gender diversity in workplaces, the IT sector continues to be a male-dominated industry. There still are inhibitions to hiring or retaining women in the tech sector. A 2019 report by McKinsey Global Institute stated that women are at a higher risk of losing jobs due to the advancement in automation at workplaces across industries.

Limited growth opportunities, poor DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) policies, absence of women-friendly policies, and personal or family commitments are some of the reasons cited as challenges in retaining women in the tech industry.

But there is change and we are slowly witnessing an acceptance of women-friendly policies. People have now become more accommodating to the idea of women working in the IT sector. This renewed approach is reflected in a report by 451 Research. Women constitute about 34% of the workforce in India.

Challenges faced by women

According to the McKinsey study, women experience several barriers in tech that prevent them from reaching career heights.

Lack of Mentorship: Right mentoring can help boost one’s career graph immensely. Around 40% of women allude to the lack of mentors in the arena as one of the primary challenges for women. The absence of female role models in the industry creates a sense of hesitation among women to make a name.

Gender biases: Women in the IT sector experience slow growth in terms of opportunities or promotions. Familial responsibilities lack or insufficient childcare facilities, limited flexibility, and travel requirement without personal/professional support become causes of disagreement for people to believe that women can perform. This belief often leads to obstacles in women’s career journey.

Unequal pay: In the tech sector, women are often paid less for similar skill sets. Men are considered to make 61% more than women who are recruited for the same job. This prejudice creates an imbalance in the industry. However, times and opinions are changing. This particular challenge is fast making way for fair treatment of salaries as per skills and experience.

Gender disparity in tech

Engineering and technology have been labelled men’s world. Undoubtedly, India's youth is challenging such norms. A report by 451 Research stated that the country now has an equal gender parity rate for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates. While around 51% of women in the IT sector are currently in an entry-level position, approximately 25% belong to managerial positions, and less than 1% are in C-Suite roles. Hence, there is a need to push more women into executive positions to bridge the gap.

Role of women in tech

There has been an increase in women recruits in several technical roles like AI engineers, ML engineers, and data scientists. With an inclusive environment, women bring more diversity to the sector. Moreover, several organisations regard women as effective communicators who can bring change through their innovative thinking.

McKinsey’s research further portrayed a strong relationship with gender-diverse companies being 48% more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies.

Qualities such as team building, collaborating, multitasking and maintaining discipline make women excellent leaders. More women role models in the STEM industry are required to inspire a whole new generation of young women to take up jobs and bridge the existing gap.

Growth opportunities for women in tech

Government policies have put an impetus on giving women equal status in the workplace. Initiatives such as the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act have been a blessing. These policies and initiatives have given a path to facilities such as creches, a non-discriminatory appraisal, and even remote working policies.

Education and career development have become more accessible to women. Opportunities in the form of internships, externships, or skilling in emerging technologies are further helping them grow in the field.

Several premier institutions have witnessed a rise in women enrolling, helping them set foot in the industry.

The next step for women in tech is for the organisations to help build confidence and have an appropriate representation at the management level which will then gradually trickle down to other levels in companies.

Several global communities have taken up the responsibility to conduct tech conferences and summits to provide better networking opportunities for women in tech.

While women still have to overcome decades of stereotypes, the IT industry is proving to be an improving sector. Certain factors like equal opportunities for the development of skills, better workplace mobility, and the development and implementation of woman-friendly policies at work have seen noticeable progress.

Increasingly, women with career breaks can start working again without much reservation from the organisations. This acceptance is helping women break free from the vicious cycle of being under-represented in the sector.

(Sindhu Ramachandran is the director- technology, leader of Centre of Excellence (AI) at Quest Global and Lesly Peter is delivery head (automotive), at Quest Global, Technopark, Trivandrum)

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