British philosopher and author James Allen wisely said, “A person is limited only by the thoughts that s/he chooses.” Women face immense difficulties in the pursuit of careers, specifically in technology and science, and these difficulties are larger within the Indian context. The socio-cultural conditioning that feeds into alienating women from the field of science and technology is still prevalent in controlling women’s career paths, although this phenomenon can be seen to be changing over time. Despite global conversations around diversity and inclusion in the technology sector, women are still underrepresented in IT roles and the technology sector predominantly remains an all-boys club.
Be-WISE (Women Innovators, Social Leaders and Entrepreneurs) an industry initiative that aims to accelerate inclusive participation of women in the workplace, in 2019 launched the Zinnov — Intel India Gender Diversity Benchmark. <1>
The study shows that women have a 30% overall representation in the corporate sectors while technical roles see a female representation of about 26% at corporates across India. Junior levels fare a little better on at 38%, but it dwindles down to a measly 11% in senior leadership roles. This begs a closer examination, because while we are rare, women in technology are very much here and are actively contributing to the field of technology and science.
The technology sector predominantly remains an all-boys club.
It is important to explore how the tech ecosystem supports or hinders women for taking up roles within the sector. While feminism pervades social conversations, in my opinion it is misunderstood. Equality does not mean sameness. It is about having equal rights, opportunities and choices — socially, economically and politically. While I see women move into entrepreneurial roles, the technology sector still sees very few women in it. This is largely due to stereotypes that we are fed within regressive cultural bounds. I believe the challenge lies in breaking the myth that women and science don’t mesh well. The only way to do this is for women to actively move into the tech industry and take up space, as we righteously deserve.
As a co-founder of a technology start-up, who does not come from a tech background, I can confidently say that to become an entrepreneur, the most critical thing to do is to dream it and do it. The challenges of being an entrepreneur are the same irrespective of gender or industry on most counts — mounting debts, lack of resources, pressure from family, building proof of concept etc. In building India Assist, I have experienced all of these firsthand and have overcome them as well. Like in everything else, persistence in our efforts to achieve our goals and the hope of making our vision a reality is what keeps me going. It is important to recognise that as leaders, women come with their own unique set of skills to the table. Women are multitaskers — at work and in life, who come armed with a keen eye for detail that almost always is a blind spot for men. Additionally, women tend to bring social discipline in any organisational setup. They add value with an evolved emotional quotient and astuteness that helps understand and anticipate the needs of employees and the end consumer alike, bringing keen insights into enhancing workplace norms and product development.
As a female entrepreneur in technology, I am aware of the lack of women in the Indian start up community. The reasons are many — ranging from insufficient institutional support systems for first timers, lack of risk covering possibilities financially, lack of professional mentorship and recognition. In addition to this, when it comes to funding, collaborations or running our businesses, women are put under closer scrutiny about how they would manage their personal lives parallelly, which is a filter that is never applied to men.
Equality does not mean sameness. It is about having equal rights, opportunities and choices — socially, economically and politically.
Having said that, as one of the many women who live in two universes, work and home, and accordingly lead two lives, it is imperative to understand that both of them cannot intertwine and cause effects on the other. While it is on women to decide how they juggle work and their personal lives — through healthy boundaries, effective time management, strong multitasking skills and building a strong support system; the onus also lies on the ecosystem and policy makers to make it conducive for women by creating more sensitised policies to do their part in supporting and encouraging women to pursue careers in technology. Government authorities and policy makers should make the effort to reach out to women entrepreneurs and educate them about available schemes and provide them with a framework of support to establish and grow thus creating an atmosphere of upliftment and independence. At India Assist, we are extremely focused on hiring women for organisational and service roles to maintain the gender equilibrium in our workspace. We also provide maternity benefits and equal pay grades and opportunities to our women staff.
I strongly believe that ensuring women have the same precedent and platform to excel and grow as their male counterparts is of utmost priority. Ellen Pao <2>
says, “If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.” I agree. I believe it is important to keep these conversations going so that women feel supported to step up and take on roles of responsibility in the technology sector and the ecosystem can understand how to support them better and help women in tech thrive.
Ellen Kangru Pao (born 1970) is an American investor and female rights activist who co-founded the diversity consulting
non-profit organization Project Include.
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