XX IN­JEC­TION FOR IN­DIAN IT?

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The dis­par­ity in num­bers be­tween men and women is per­haps nowhere more stark than in In­dia’s IT work­force. For all the talk about gen­der jus­tice and equal­ity, women are still woe­fully un­der­rep­re­sented in this field. The dis­par­ity be­gins early -- fewer girls than boys opt for STEM (Science Tech­nol­ogy En­gi­neer­ing and Math) streams af­ter sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion -- and is car­ried all the way univer­sity and pro­fes­sional level.

DY­NAMIC AND DI­VERSE

There’s no deny­ing that the IT sec­tor in In­dia needs more women. This isn’t about pro­mot­ing women; it’s about a level play­ing field, with a di­verse work­force. Di­ver­sity in­creases in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity in the work­place. Bring­ing more women into IT would mean in­creas­ing the tal­ent pool. A bet­ter gen­der par­ity in the IT work­force could trans­late into big gains – up di­ver­sity of tal­ent and pro­duc­tiv­ity and bridge both so­cial and gen­der di­vide. Not just that, gen­der di­ver­sity could make the work­place more dy­namic. Women bring dif­fer­ent skills and qual­i­ties to the ta­ble – mul­ti­task­ing, cus­tomer-fo­cus, team spirit and most im­por­tantly qual­ity con­scious­ness that com­ple­ment men’s abil­i­ties. Mod­ern HR out­look is more in line with qual­i­ties women gen­er­ally pos­sess: com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy, in­clu­sive­ness and un­der­stand­ing. In fact these soft skills among women go a long way in ef­fec­tive re­source and man­power man­age­ment skills, which they can bring to the ta­ble.

ECO­NOMIC FORCE

Their rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the IT work­force is also im­por­tant from the point of view of fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion and pur­chas­ing power. Given the fact that half the users of tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts and web­sites are women who have a far greater in­flu­ence (85 per cent ac­cord­ing to one study), than men, on pur­chase de­ci­sion, hav­ing more women not just on the staff, but in de­ci­sion-mak-

ing po­si­tions, is good for pro­mot­ing a com­pany’s fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. While this is not to sug­gest that all women work­ing in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy are ex­perts in cre­ate prod­ucts for women, the com­pany could cer­tainly ben­e­fit from her ideas and per­spec­tives of needs of the largest sin­gle con­sumer cat­e­gory. DIF­FER­ENT PER­SPEC­TIVE Greater women rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the IT work­force is de­sir­able from an­other stand­point as well. Sev­eral em­pir­i­cal stud­ies show that di­verse teams of­ten do bet­ter than the best team just on the ba­sis of di­ver­sity of per­spec­tive and prob­lem-solv­ing ap­proach. And women def­i­nitely have a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at things. There are sev­eral ex­am­ples where women have demon­strated that they can be a driv­ing force for in­no­va­tion and ideas in tech­nol­ogy. Women tech icons and the plethora of data show­ing the tan­gi­ble ben­e­fit of hav­ing more women in the team will hope­fully change things over­time.

This also seems to be the evitable pro­gres­sion. Most job pro­files to­day and in­creas­ingly more in the fu­ture, will have a strong IT com­po­nent. Women need to arm them­selves with this valu­able skill to com­pete in the job mar­ket.

With PM Modi’s fo­cus on ‘Dig­i­tal In­dia’, the IT sec­tor is more likely to wit­ness busi­ness ex­pan­sion than other sec­tors of the econ­omy. The govern­ment needs to do a bet­ter job of ex­pos­ing women to IT. You never know, women may turn out to be bet­ter than men in lead­ing a tech­nol­ogy start-up! NEW LEARN­ING So how can the IT sec­tor im­prove gen­der di­ver­sity? Ini­ti­a­tion must be­gin early. Schools must in­vest in ex­pos­ing girl stu­dents to new and emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy. Par­ents must en­cour­age daugh­ters to get in­ter­ested in this field. A sup­port­ive home en­vi­ron­ment can make all the dif­fer­ence in help­ing girls see IT as a vi­able ca­reer choice. Un­for­tu­nately, fam­i­lies of­ten per­pet­u­ate the stereo­type that logic and num­bers are for men and the cre­ative do­mains are for women. ROLE MOD­ELS By the time they fin­ish school most girls (at least in big cities and towns) are into Face­book and In­sta­gram. We need to whet their ap­petite for IT with more in­ter­est­ing ex­po­sure. The me­dia can play a big role here. Pro­grams that fo­cus on ed­u­cat­ing women on the ben­e­fits of join­ing the in­dus­try work­force are crit­i­cal. TV shows on women in tech­nol­ogy they can look up to could help girls get in­spired for a ca­reer in IT. There are lots of in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing women who are do­ing a great job in IT whose achieve­ments need to be high­lighted. Young women as­pi­rants need to be told that there are so many facets to tech­nol­ogy now that they needn’t have to work in a male-dom­i­nated set-up; if they are will­ing to take risks, they can start their own ven­ture. While the achieve­ments of Gates, Jobs and other men tech lead­ers are well cel­e­brated, how many young peo­ple to­day know of Sheryl Sand­berg, Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki, Meg Whit­man and Ginni Rometty, CEOs of big busi­nesses such as YouTube, Hewlett Packard and IBM? PAY PAR­ITY There are par­ity is­sues that could spoil sport. Take for in­stance the fact that women are of­ten paid less than their male coun­ter­parts or that there are few women at the top in IT firms. The key is to iden­tify the bar­ri­ers at each rung of the lad­der and elim­i­nate them. Com­pa­nies need to en­sure gen­der par­ity in pay, poli­cies and pro­grammes. In ad­di­tion tech com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially in In­dia should be open to the thought of a par­al­lel yet dis­tinct growth tra­jec­tory for men and women. While things are chang­ing in terms of this un­der­stand­ing, the pace of ac­cep­tance is very slow and lots need to be evan­ge­lized around this mes­sage. PEER SUP­PORT Women who are al­ready in the field need to be vo­cal and sup­port­ive of other women and help ju­nior col­leagues feel more con­fi­dent and move up the lad­der. This is pos­si­ble only if they them­selves find their job sat­is­fy­ing, ex­cit­ing and in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing. They need to know they are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and that they are no­ticed and ap­pre­ci­ated. It is in the in­ter­est of IT com­pa­nies to hire more women. At the end of the day, if the IT sec­tor is to progress, it has to be di­verse and gen­der­bal­anced. SO­CI­ETAL TRANS­FOR­MA­TION The most im­por­tant as­pect of this is­sue is of course the gen­der in­equal­ity mind-set that per­vades In­dia. This needs to change dras­ti­cally. As a so­ci­ety, we need to un­der­stand, ac­cept and im­ple­ment the be­lief that women are in no way less than men in knowl­edge, skill and abil­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, a large swath of our men is still seeped in the tra­di­tional out­look of gen­der equal­ity. The fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy will be bleak if we con­tinue to think this way. BY PRADIPTO CHAKRABARTY, (The writer is Re­gional Di­rec­tor, Com­pTIA, the voice of the world’s in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try. Com­pTIA is ded­i­cated to ad­vanc­ing in­dus­try growth through its ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and pub­lic pol­icy ad­vo­cacy)

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