Women leaders in IT face career challenges, biases, and self-created barriers in usually a male-dominated peer group. Surprisingly, 43% of STEM graduates in India are women, but only 34% of the IT workforce comprises women. As we go up the senior ranks, this number drastically drops to less than 17%. We see a massive drop out of women in STEM in the early stages of their careers in IT. Further, the pandemic has heightened inequalities at work and home, causing higher attrition in women than men.
Unless every organization intervenes and creates initiatives to enable women in STEM to have healthy career growth, we will end up with a shrinking pipeline of women in STEM to women leaders in IT.
Understanding the Existing Challenges
Over the last decade, many IT companies have become champions of inclusion, diversity, and meritocracy and oppose any form of gender discrimination. Yet, we still see lagging numbers of women IT leaders. Over my career, I noticed two significant challenges we face when growing women IT leaders.
The first challenge is the reluctance of women to internalize their accomplishments. Generations of patriarchal norms have made women hesitant to claim their success. A good intervention would be to have an unbiased celebration of successes at the workplace. Every leader in the organization must be an ally for women and mentor them to present their accomplishments authentically and persuasively. Celebrating successes would create a psychologically safe platform for women to claim their success and thrive in their careers.
The second challenge is that many women see risk and reward as orthogonal goals. In my career, I have seen multiple women who believe career growth implies taking on more responsibilities. They do not associate it with promotions, pay raises, or both. While additional responsibilities are a natural part of the job, there is a parallel increase in the benefits that come with them. Further, in an organization where many role models are male or have traditionally masculine qualities, there is a greater fear of failure and a stronger hesitance to take up these roles. Organizations must invest in mentorship programs for women connecting them with internal and external role models. I owe my career growth to my mentor, who instilled in me the confidence to be bold with risk and reward.
Developing a growth mindset
Few things in this world are as powerful as affirmation. By working with a mentor, women gain real-world insights that help them seize opportunities to achieve their career goals. Further, embracing a growth mindset will help women take charge of their careers and not get influenced by biases and beliefs from within and outside.
While this is a start, much more must be done. Creating an unbiased and non-prejudiced work atmosphere in traditionally male-dominated industries is a good start, followed by more robust policy recognition. We can achieve a more significant women-led presence on international platforms when representing corporate India. Together we can create a visible, more decisive leadership and equal opportunities for women to compete for and win based on merit and capabilities.