“In the technology industry, where innovation is the key differentiator, encouraging and nurturing diverse perspectives help challenge the status quo. Including the perspective of the 50 percent buyer base [women] helps develop comprehensive user experience,” says Heena Raval, senior director of data sciences at CA Technologies India, who works in the machine learning and AI space.
But even as India’s share of women graduates from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses is far higher than in many advanced economies, women continue to be underrepresented in technology, especially in engineering roles up to the C-suite (see box). The reasons for this are varied—from the usual mindset and cultural barriers to women dropping out of their careers due to work-life imbalance, to reasons particular to technology.
“If you look at any other career, you can afford to rely on what you have learnt and you know and not necessarily have to build on it too much, but in a technical career you have to stay in touch with technology,” says Geetha Kannan, managing director of the India chapter of AnitaB.org, a global organisation that works towards recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in technology.
For this to happen though, companies sometimes need to revisit their policies. Kannan recollects an organisation that relooked at all its promotion policies and found that they stipulated that one had to be a star performer for three years before one landed a promotion.
“Because of that, people in their child-bearing years or those who were married and had children couldn’t be at their peak performances due to the balancing act between work and life. So a lot of women did not get promoted.” When they changed that to include it for a longer period, it gave them dramatic results.