The IT sector has a reputation for being male-dominated, and unfortunately in most countries it’s a reputation that’s well-deserved. In India, though, women are making their mark in tech in ways that offer lessons for the rest of the world.
The economic benefits of a diverse IT industry are obvious.
If women did as many digital jobs as men, European gross domestic product would be boosted by almost $11 billion. Meanwhile, in the United States, diversity at senior management level often equates to higher market share.
Yet, despite all of this evidence, there remains a big gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or ‘STEM’ – professions. Fewer than 25% of IT jobs in developed countries are thought to be held by women.
In India there is a much healthier ratio, with female IT representation at almost 35%. What’s more, female enrolments in STEM education are up at around 65%.
The secret of India’s success can be found in the way its IT industry works alongside educational institutions to recruit female talent, as well as its proactive approach to retaining that talent.
Plugging the gender gap
In the largest survey of its kind, a UK-based research team from the Open University interviewed 150 Indian tech firms, including Tata Consultancy Services, in an attempt to shine a light on their approach to gender diversity.
The two-year study has identified three key factors that are helping the Indian IT industry recruit and retain women at higher rate than anywhere else in the world.
1. University-industry partnerships
By linking with higher education institutions, Indian tech companies have created a clearly-defined pipeline into the IT industry.
Companies actively engage with university students. On-campus recruitment is gender balanced and includes those who may not be studying traditional IT courses.
Professor Parvati Raghuram, who helped lead the research, explains: “A lot of these large companies, including TCS, recruit people from campuses. When they get into a job they have proper training to fit them into the job, because they’re coming from a range of different backgrounds.”
2. Helping new mothers return to work
Re-entering the workplace after a period of maternity leave can be a complicated undertaking. In India, the task is made easier via a targeted approach that involves utilizing technology.
Dr Gunjan Sondhi, from the Open University research team, says: “[Indian IT firms] are trying to manage that transition back into work more proactively. In certain cases [they] are using technology, particularly mobile apps, to enable women to transition back into work more effectively.”
Companies also run recruitment campaigns aimed at women who want to return to the IT industry following a career break. These campaigns often involve high-profile advertising in newspapers and billboards.
3. Creating a family-friendly environment
The key to retaining top-class female employees is ensuring the working environment meets their needs.
The research team found that IT companies in India have been particularly proactive in introducing family-friendly initiatives, such as transportation to and from work, flexible hours, on site creches, and longer maternity leave packages.
Professor Raghuram explains: “The Indian IT industry has gone out of its way to be women-friendly in a way that other industries have not. There are very specific, women-friendly support structures.”
Making a difference around the world
It is no secret that the global IT workforce is crying out for more female candidates. Partnership schemes like the Million Women Mentors project, which has already surpassed two million pledges, are helping, but more must be done by companies themselves.
As one of the largest IT companies in the world, TCS is well-placed to help bring through a new generation of digitally-skilled women.
In 2016, TCS was included in The Sunday Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, while the company has recently signed up for the UK’s Tech Talent Charter in a bid to deliver greater diversity in the tech workforce.
In Germany, TCS supports the ‘Hessen Technikum’ program. This provides female school leavers with the opportunity to gain practical experience of STEM professions through a combination of taster studies and a six month company internship.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, an all-female outsourcing service center is providing private sector career opportunities for hundreds of highly-educated Saudi women.
First opened in 2014 with a goal of having 200 employees, the center, which is a joint initiative between TCS, General Electric and Saudi Aramco, now has a workforce of around 1,000.
As an advocate of wider partnership initiatives, TCS promotes the ‘Mujeres Programadoras’ project in Chile. This is delivered by a local non-governmental organization and involves training women in coding and programming.
After her company went bust, 27-year-old Angie Patiño was forced to sell items at the local flea market to make ends meet. However, her career was given a much-needed boost when she was selected as one of 75 graduates from 1,000 applicants to the Mujeres Programadoras course.
Angie, who now works for TCS, says: “Programming is one of the sectors that allows you to personally grow. Now, I can see the paths that have been opened by TCS, not only here in Chile but around the world. That makes you dream.”