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3 Steps To STEM The Gender Gap

With the world is reeling under the pressure of sustaining and growing in the ‘next normal’, future of work for women in technology is an even more important discussion to have.

Of the 40 per cent of women graduates in STEM, a mere 14 per cent actually end up pursuing a career in the field. Despite this statistic, India is writing for herself an extensive list of women who have made a notable impact on the industry and the economy. 

According to NASSCOM, the Indian workforce has seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of women in technology over the last decade. Overall, women constitute around 35 per cent of the workforce currently. One could say that women STEM professionals in the country are crossing the hurdles and are fighting the good fight. But the more important question is – what is causing a leaky funnel when it comes to women graduates choosing STEM careers. What are the major roadblocks? What steps do we need to take to make the funnel watertight? 

Two segments of women are seen to be facing drawbacks in pursuing their dreams. The first segment consists of those who get deprived of primary education which is well known, but quite surprisingly, the other segment consists of highly qualified women professionals.


Bringing about a mindset change

While a few women have broken stereotypes to emerge as impactful leaders, technology continues to be a male-dominated space. There are multiple factors that lead to the low conversion of women STEM graduates rising to senior leadership roles. 

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging at corporations are taking on a new meaning today. Companies across the globe are waking up to the significance of diversity in bringing better business results, as well as creating an inspiring workplace for more women to join STEM professions. Continuing with this approach, a mindset change is on the cards. First and foremost is educating hiring managers to conduct interviews using structured processes and tools to rule out bias. The same goes for identifying women with talent, encouraging them to take bigger positions and risks. Championing and rewarding those who champion the advancement of women is another strategy to boost gender diversity. Senior management has to become aggressive in personally championing diversity as a key business and cultural priority.

Being primary caregivers, women handle multiple obligations at home as well. This work-life integration requires a balance to curb women from dropping out. Offering policies beyond the de-reguier flexible working hours can prove crucial in retaining women technologists in mid-career and senior level positions. 


Tailored mentoring and counselling programs

Mentoring and counselling programs can go a long way in reversing the drain. Many women, though qualified for STEM careers, drop out owing to family duties and commitments. Interventions at critical junctures to encourage women to stay on- like post a marriage/ maternity break are crucial. This dilemma of having to ‘choose’ between two states of womanhood and professional, causes a confidence gap in women technologists, or at the least, slows them down. Women tend to become less confident than their male peers. This humility may lead them to take gaps in career or growth. This is where mentoring - and even sponsorship can come in. Women role models as mentors can also create the necessary bridge for many women technologists to embrace their potential. 

Women-led conferences, that are gaining popularity, serve as an avenue for aspiring female techies to learn from leaders in their fields of interest. 


Startups as a potential opportunity

There were approximately 297 women tech entrepreneurs running 285 tech start-ups in India in 2020. Yet, Indian start-ups with at least one woman founder accounted for just 5.77 per cent of the total start-up investments in India for the period between January 2018 to June 2020. 

These numbers call for a consolidated effort from tech companies and the government to introduce and execute favourable policies for women-led enterprises. This will bring in a heterogeneous mix of ideas, leading to better and faster innovation, empathetic leadership, allowing organizations to perform better overall, which in turn translates into job growth, increased profits, investment, and a direct impact on the progress of our economy. 

Following the success of its startup program, the NetApp Excellerator, NetApp launched a targeted program for women entrepreneurs, NetApp ExcellerateHER, in July 2020. Now over 40 per cent of the startups in this program are led by women founders. 


Implications of women in STEM

With the world is reeling under the pressure of sustaining and growing in the ‘next normal’, future of work for women in technology is an even more important discussion to have.

Organisations are prioritizing diversity hiring programs like never. Inducting more women on interview panels can improve the diverse talent pool. Since the inequity in senior leadership positions is starker, it is essential to empower more women to take up executive positions for achieving sustainable business growth. 

Women must do their part, too and stop selling themselves short. We must take ownership, create our own brand, inspire others around us, take risks, and pave the path for those who follow. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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