It is time for stronger affirmative action to empower women in tech

Technology is not a goal but an enabler to reach our goals, and these goals for organisations need to not only include women but empower them so that they can turn the tides of time in a crisis.

Updated: Mar 22, 2021 07:40:58 PM UTC

Jagdish Mitra is a Chief Strategy Officer & Head of Growth at Tech Mahindra

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As we move towards an accelerated phase of digital transformation, leaders continue to reiterate the need towards eliminating bias and building an inclusive workplace. This is where technology will play the role of a great equaliser and enabler for unlocking lucrative opportunities strewn across sectors.

Today, technology is not a goal, but an enabler to reach our goals; and if technology is the backbone of our existence, then it becomes all the more relevant that it is developed with equal participation. This has increased the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the education system and the inclusion of women in tech. Giving wings to this idea, the government has launched some synchronous schemes including Vigyan Jyoti and Vigyan Prasar. These aim to promote STEM-education among female students and help immensely in bridging India’s gender gap, while simultaneously enhancing digital fluency, critical thinking, reasoning, and creative abilities.

However, in spite of these efforts and the strong support of the UN SDG pledge to empower women and girls, there is still a significant gender gap. According to the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, only half of the women in India use mobile internet compared to men; that is 21 percent women compared to 42 percent men. This is particularly relevant because mobile phones, besides having many other utilities, also are the gateway to a whole new world of opportunities.

Furthermore, the latest data by UNESCO shows that over 1.2 billion students worldwide have been affected due to school closures because of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than a quarter of these students (320 million) are in India. Also, as of 2020, women constitute a mere 28.8 percent of the global average of STEM workers and in India, this average is at an unfortunate 14 percent. The digital divide is responsible for such abysmally low figures and must be bridged immediately.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. Cloud computing has 12 percent women professionals and in engineering and data and AI (artificial intelligence), the numbers are 15 percent and 26 percent respectively. However, this is changing for good. Evolving job profiles are empowering women and levelling the playing field. In addressing the pandemic-induced changes, the new service economy is more focused on cognitive skills like determination, attention to detail, measured thinking, and reasoning, among others.

Fortunately, these skills are inherent in most women and supported by the advantages of remote working, more women will be able to drive change in the post Covid-19 world. However, an increased propensity to work from home (WFH) will require specialisation, multi-tasking and a program management approach to work from home. As businesses plan to build back better, leaders will have to develop ‘remote empathy’, clear ownerships, and invest in digital upskilling for driving a diverse and inclusive workplace.

This can serve as a strategic differentiator in shaping the future of work, which is going to be flexible, dynamic, and resilient, with a strong focus on crisis management and the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of employees.

There is already a distinct flavour of ‘feminisation’ in the tech space, which will drive the new era of technology. We must remember that a nation in which every woman is empowered, respected, and valued, grows up to turn the tides of time. Hence, diversity must be infused in an organisation’s culture along with affirmative action, with the intent to champion the cause of being ‘intentionally diverse and compulsorily inclusive’.

The writer is a Chief Strategy Officer & Head of Growth at Tech Mahindra

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