This is not the first someone is writing about the ‘gender diversity challenge’ and the underrepresentation of women at the workplace. And unfortunately, nor will it be the last. Women, even those with influential backgrounds and on top of their game, have faced and fought gender bias for as long as memory serves us. Even today, women form a minuscule group in areas traditionally dominated by men—say engineering or STEM programs.
“Do you really understand the theory of relativity?”
“That a complicated equation. Are you sure you can solve it?”
“Don’t you think wanting to become an astronaut may be too much?”
Aim lower. That is how women have been conditioned to think. The writing is on the wall if the Gender Social Norms Index released this year on Women’s Day by UNDP is anything ot go by: despite some progress, no country in the world has achieved gender equality. In fact, the world is not even on track to be gender equal by 2030. The report also highlights that while societies often tell their girls that they can become anything they want and are capable of, and invest in their education, the same societies tend to block their access to power positions without giving them a fair chance.
In the engineering and STEM fields, gender disparity is simply shocking. UNESCO data shows that longstanding gender stereotypes are steering our girls away from reading science and only about 30% of women students opt for STEM-related fields in higher education. Research places the current percentage of women in the STEM fields at a dismal 25%. And the number falls significantly as women climb the corporate ladder with only 12% of board members in IT companies being women.
These numbers call for introspection, but more pressingly, an improvement.
Women Make the Workforce More Efficient
Studies have repeatedly shown that a workforce with a significantly higher number of women reports far greater productivity based on quantitative metrics. Women work 10% harder than men in the workplace, and if that is indeed the case, then why is there such a stigma surrounding women joining STEM fields?
Underestimation of women due to the lack of role models, lack of representation at managerial levels, and the inherent patriarchy that still pervades our society are some reasons as to why women have been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to mastering, or even just entering the field of technology
But when women do join the workforce in technology-driven fields, they lead to a tangible increase in workforce productivity. An example I like to quote often is Apple. A look at the representations of women in their workforce over the past few years shows that women employees under the age of 30 have seen an uptick from 31% in 2014 to 38% now, implying more diverse and positive hiring trends at the company. And Apple’s employee testimonials have demonstrated an interesting trend too, where teams with greater women representation year-over-year have performed quantifiably better too.
At Cyient, We Break Barriers
There is a strong precedent for having more and more women in the workplace. At Cyient, we are, and have always been committed to breaking inherent gender biases that prevent women from achieving their dreams in the field of technology. With supportive HR policies, learning and development initiatives, and positive mentorship programs, Cyient is grooming its women to take on the mantle and lead the company through its next growth phase.
One of the ways we do this is via enlightening discussions on this topic. To that end, we held a panel discussion on LinkedIn Live in September on ‘Riding the Digital Wave: Opportunities for Women Technologists’, that brought together tech mavericks and inspirational women to discuss their journeys. From Helene Trehin, Partner & Chief of Staff, Eolos, and Sangeeta Gupta, Chief Strategy Officer, NASSCOM, to Supria Dhanda, VP & Country Manager, Western Digital to Paul Robichaud, Managing Director - India, Society for Women Engineers, the panel comprised women with the odds stacked against them, and men who are championing the cause of women in technology.
The benefit of having such varied and esteemed guests from the panel is precisely this. When a statement of motivation comes from a person who has been there and done that, the credibility of that statement increases exponentially.
Reversing the Trend
The research and data on increased productivity by having women on the team was corroborated very effectively by Paul in the discussion. Paul, who headed a manufacturing unit, a traditionally male-dominated workspace, reversed this trend by hiring the first all-women team in the plant. The results were remarkable and instant—the all-women team outperformed teams with more men. The efficiency of the work increased and what was once a hypothesis turned into a powerful reality.
There are examples that corroborate, validate, and champion this reality outside Cyient too. NASA is a shining example. At NASA, over a third of the employees are women, with many at senior positions leading critical projects.
A Lost Generation
Another key point raised during the discussion was that if women are hired in good numbers, what is stopping them from ascending the ladder to C-suite?
The guests on our panel had a rather somber and thought-provoking answer to that:
There is a lost generation of women in the workforce who faced obstacles, and companies instead of providing a helping hand, looked to a quick fix. And in due time, women were left to make a choice between their personal and professional lives. While motherhood should be a monumental milestone in the life of a working woman, it instead puts a ticking clock on her career. Maternity leaves are deservedly long, but the fear of being cut out is very real. And what follows is a constant reminder of the fact that you are easily replaced.
Pause, Don’t Quit
For women, the advice is simple in theory but difficult in practice: “Don’t Quit!” Out panelists recognized that a problem as deeply rooted as this cannot be tackled with just these two words. But as responsible corporates, we can ensure that quitting becomes a choice, not a necessity. And that quitting becomes a ‘pause,’ not ‘stop’ button in a woman’s career.
The points raised during the 60-minute discussion were in tune with what I have believed is the ethos at Cyient. Like most things, it comes down to empathy. It is often seen that a break in your resume makes you a pariah in the eyes of potential employers. If companies have a little empathy and give chances to women looking to restart their careers, there is no limit as to what they can achieve. Karthik Natarajan, our President and COO, and Sai Lata Vanguri, our Director for New Business Development in Australia attested this philosophy by talking about how empathetic male counterparts can help uplift morale and rebuild the lost confidence in women returning to work after leave.
Following through on our values and driving goal-oriented action is not just lip service—at Cyient, we walk the talk. Providing women technologists with a nurturing platform while being wholly committed to diversity in the workplace is a fact reinforced by women like Germany-based Britta Olschner, who is a Site Lead at AnSem, a Cyient Company, and many other inspirational women like her.
Representation, Empathy, and Persistence
Overall, there will be a need for more than 1,000 CDOs and CTOs and a billion engineers in the next decade. This is a golden opportunity to tap into the talent and skills of women entrepreneurs and empower them on the road to success.
At the end of the day, a ‘REP’ approach can go a long way toward unleashing Women Imagineers.
And what is REP, you ask?
Representation of women.
Empathy for women.
Persistence by women.
Keeping the discussion alive, Cyient is proud to host women imagineer, Shalini Kapoor, IBM Fellow & CTO for AI - AI Applications, and Karthik Natarajan, President & COO, Cyient, on How Technology and Innovation Can Change the World and why it is critical to nurture women leaders in technology and STEM. Shalini is one of the 12 employees at IBM to be honored with a Fellow in 2020, the highest designation for the iconic company on its technical ladder. Join us for the power-packed and thought-provoking session on October 16, 2020.