If there are only a few women CEOs, women CTOs are even fewer. The gender gap in individuals pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers is a sharp and vexing one throughout the world, including in India. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), India has kicked start a collaborative industry initiative aimed at addressing the sharp lack of women in STEM careers by launching a new forum called ‘WomenInTech,’ which will tackled the problem at various levels via a multi-pronged approach. The forum was officially launched in the presence of Amo Kalar, Deputy Director, Trade Economics and Prosperity, British High Commission in Delhi on Tuesday.
According to the World Bank, women make up 40 per cent of the world’s workforce. Yet, the tech field is notoriously male-dominated at all levels and fares considerably worse that non-technology industries, as per the website PayScale. Tech industry has been the fifth largest contributor to the nation’s GDP, and the Information Technology and IT-enabled Service sector alone is posed to create approximately 2.5-3 million new jobs by 2025. The sector ought to be in a strong position to attract qualified women talent, yet frequently levels with merely 10 – 15 per cent female workforce. While studies continuously corroborate a strong business case for inclusion of more women in tech for enhanced profitability and innovativeness, the percent continues to be low and the pipeline often inconsistent and unavailable.
WomenInTech is mainly being nurtured and driven by Anuranjita Kumar, the HR Head of RBS International Hubs and has been conceived in association with a number of technology corporates, academia and NGOs. The forum has been designed “to help accelerate the national agenda of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and further [to] work in alignment with the UN’s focus area this year – ‘Turning promises into action’,” said Kumar, adding that it would “address the need for policy making collectively as an industry to ensure that workplaces prod more girls to take up careers in STEM on one end and on the other hand are conducive for working women to aspire for senior level roles”.
One of its initiatives is to build an independent corpus of funds, in collaboration with education NGOs, to sponsor the tertiary education of at least three young women to begin with from economically weak backgrounds in the field of engineering to top universities in the United States and United Kingdom.
Kumar has a larger concern and perspective, that STEM careers — despite considered to be the future of skill economy — are often precluded in girls’ imagination of an attractive and engaging career quite early to societal and familial biases. “Toys like legos which enhance problem solving and hand-to-eye coordination are often not made attractive to little girls. From our academic partners, we learn that girls do opt for science in class XII, but they go for biology, they choose medical”, she told indianexpress.com, adding, “The hospital setup is somehow perceived as a more suitable work environment for girls than an industrial plant, even though the former is no more forgiving in any realistic sense”.
Lack of mentoring and lack of female role models are two of the most quoted barriers that women in technology workspace identify. The starting point of WomenInTech would be to target 100,000 women through different approaches, she told indianexpress.com. “A part of it would be to work with young school going girls in tier one and tier two cities, by introducing coding games and meeting with the parents, especially the mothers,” she added. Another area of emphasis would be to empower and increase the employability of women in technology careers by promoting constant upskilling — especially after sabbaticals — that can ensure a definitive career path leading to senior roles.