Breaking the glass ceiling has long been a goal for women professionals in the technology sector. But lack of flexible working policy and indifference of senior management often dissuade them from securing a place in the boardroom, despite studies showing time and again that women have proven themselves to be capable leaders all over the planet. The COVID-19 era that is disrupting every industry and individual across the world may change that. Experts believe with work from home (WFH) becoming the new normal now, the pandemic in some ways, can create new and exciting opportunities, especially, for women in technology.
Currently, there are only 26% of women in engineering roles in India and only 7% of women manage to reach the C-suite level. The Belong Survey shows that flexibility, backed by strong senior management support draws more women, and retains them, in the workplace, especially in the senior positions. The WFH policy during the lockdown is only paving the way for women techies to eye a better career pitch.
COVID-19 creates new opportunities
Bhuvaneswari Natarajan, Senior Director, Corporate Quality, CSS Corp, believes WFH has brought forth endless possibilities, especially for women who are planning to get back to work after a career break. “The flexibility that remote working brings has allowed women to balance their work and life better with increased collaboration from the other family members. It can not only help women upskill themselves but also be a part of conversations that were earlier dominated by men,” she says.
Several tech companies are open to hiring remote workers on full-time payroll, which was not the case even a year ago. In fact, in the present scenario, WFH is proving to be more productive and a lot of companies are planning to adopt a wider use of this model even after COVID-19. This opens up the market for diverse tech talent, where companies look for talent in locations where they don’t have a physical office.
Women with skills in emerging technologies can bank upon this opportunity to restart their IT career, believes Sindhu Gangadharan – Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP, who opines that WFH will benefit both male and female employees, as it decouples them from a specific location.
“It certainly will be a boon to many women employees, who were forced to ‘pause’ their career due to family compulsions, as they now can balance both work and family more effectively. It also will give women more options to choose jobs from different locations, without having to uproot their family and social circles,” she says.
Pooja Subramanian, Technology Principal at ThoughtWorks, agrees that WFH or remote work will eliminate a lot of restrictions like travel time and enable flexible work schedules for people who can benefit from it – say women with kids or elderly people to take care of or women who have relocated because of family.
However, Jaya Vaidhyanathan, CEO, BCT Digital, cautions that despite opening up a new window of opportunities, WFH brings with it both blessings and challenges. She believes, it requires more planning, dedicated (even if small) workspace, and managing other responsibilities. The industry should quickly find ways to utilize this opportunity and build functional models to draw the balance between availability of technical skills and their utilization.
Making Diversity a long term option
While the lockdown and the ensuring WFH policy is changing the way employers are hiring resources, experts believe that diversity is a deep rooted problem that needs a long term strategy to reduce tech’s gender gap. For example, Vaidhyanathan believes, “it all needs to start at the top with more board roles being open for women.”
Agrees Natarajan who emphasized that a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment will go a long way in creating more opportunities for women and fostering sponsorships to not only retain but also advance women to pursue their career goals.
As Supria Dhanda, VP and Country Manager, Western Digital India, believes, “To make diversity in technology work for the long term, the entire stream of talent needs to be reviewed and rightly invested, right from encouraging girl students to take up engineering disciplines to organizations investing in hiring, developing, mentoring, and promoting women in technology and business and focus on how they stay with the organizations for the long term.”
While organization’s flexible work policy is the key, Gangadharan suggests women techies to have an open mind, participate in opportunities that come their way, and ensure that learning never stops in order to thrive in a post-COVID world.
“A shift of mindset is required where the organization and family play a crucial role in encouraging women in technology to pursue their passion,” says Subramanian, who believes it’s imperative for organizations to support these ambitious techies with the right policies, culture and flexibility that will cultivate more women leaders.