Women Rising



IT’s Most Powerful Women was our tribute last year (DQ, June 30, 2005) to
women in the technology industry who had managed to climb the ladder and rise to
the top. Whether it’s Neelam Dhawan of Microsoft or Rekha Menon of Accenture,
Jessie Paul of Wipro, Revathy Kasturi of Novell India (she’s recently moved
back to a professional role after founding Tarang) or Padma Ravichander of Perot
Systems, women have most definitely made their mark in the IT industry.

In 2003, in one of the most-reprinted Dataquest articles ever, columnist
Deepa Kandaswamy had written about “talibanism in technology”: why women
have remained invisible in technology through the ages. “I have found seven
reasons,” she wrote, “social myths, conditioning, media, networking,
deterrence, balance and marketing.” So how relevant is a statement like this
today? Says Indrani Ghose, VP, IT, Oberoi Group, “After 17 years in the
industry, I think that the glass ceiling for women in technology still exists to
a large extent and it will be a while before people are ready to shed their
stero-type images of suitable jobs for women.”

Breaking the Glass Ceiling
However, many would argue today that this is only one half of the story.
Although the proportion of women remains low as compared to men, the number in
hardcore technology segment and not just the IT industry is slowly rising.

Take for example Padmashree Warrior of Motorola or Jaysree Ullal of Cisco.
Warrior has been recently featured in Fortune as a strong contender for a berth
in the listing of the top 50 most powerful women in global business. Back home
we have Radha Shelat who has not just been the CTO at Veritas Software (now
Symantec, after the acquisition) but has almost single-handedly spearheaded
Veritas’ India operations till she quit the company this year to join a
Silicon Valley startup in Pune.

While the numbers might be low, they would be significantly higher especially
if one compares with the scenario even a couple of years back. The recently
conducted Dataquest-IDC Best Employers Survey revealed some interesting figures.
Around 24% of the workforce in the 32 companies that made it to the second round
of the survey were women, which is not a small proportion. According to industry
estimates, IT companies in India employ anything between 10-25% women while ITeS
averages at around 35-70%. The average of both IT and ITeS combined would be
around 40%.

Traditionally, the IT industry has been slow as compared to ITeS when it
comes to employing women. Given the huge manpower demand in the BPO industry,
ITeS has been quite proactive when it comes to hiring women. Says Amit Agarwal,
hiring leader, Genpact, “Historically, we have less of a baggage when it comes
to hiring women.”

According
to industry estimates, IT companies in India employ 20-25% women, while
BPO employs over 50%. The average across IT and BPO, combined, would be
roughly 35%

“Personally, I can only recall one instance of gender discrimination in my
working career to date, when several years ago two male colleagues left the
organization I was working with, rather than report in to a woman boss-me!”
says Neelam Dhawan. However the situation is a lot different today. Today more
and more companies in the IT industry are more consciously practicing gender
diversity. Says Ritu Madbhavi, head of IT at FCB Ulka, “I have never
encountered gender bias at the workplace.” Multinational IT companies are
actually spearheading the practice (of apponting women) primarily because they
have already reaped the benefits of the practice. Says C Mahalingam, senior VP,
HR, Symphony Services, “India is slowly opening its eyes to the business
benefits of diversity.”

To Attract and Retain
Today the IT industry is not just doing a lot to attract talent but even to
retain it. Attracting talent is not necessarily confined to attracting the
fairer sex but even talent with physical disability so as to ensure that the
workforce within the company reflects the demographic profile of the market.
While facilities are being provided in the form of day-care centers,
flexi-timings, work-from-home options, extended maternity leaves there are
conscious efforts to increase the intake of women during recruitment as well as
create leadership development programs to make sure that quality female talent
gets an equal opportunity to climb up the corporate ladder. IBM, for example,
has identified four women-only engineering institutes and ensures that a
sizeable proportion of their recruitment happens from these institutes.

Finally, as the proportion of women in the IT industry is on the rise, the
number of technologists still remains considerably low. Only one (Radha Shelat)
of the 10 most profiled last year was a hard core technologist. The percentage
of women in the information technology work force declined from a high of 41% in
1996 to 32.4% in 2004, according to a report by the Information Technology
Association of America trade group in 2005. The shrinking representation of
women is largely due to the fact that one out of every three women in the IT
work force falls into administrative job categories that have experienced
significant overall declines in recent years. While this is likely to be true in
case of IT Inc in India, we see more women today in the specialized technology
domain-which is most definitely very heartening.

Bhaswati Chakravorty

bhaswatic@cybermedia.co.in

profiles and columns compiled by Bhaswati
Chakravorty

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