A recent article in the Deccan Herald features a discussion by senior women in Bangalore on the state of women in technology in India. Despite the numbers of women in tech, often quoted as high as 30% in industry in many verticals, only 7-8% of women are in executive leadership roles (or less). Cisco Director of Software Development Pallavi Arora is quoted saying it is "partly due to an “aspirational deficit” among women, unlike men."
REALLY??? I nearly choked on my chai reading this.
I have worked with Pallavi in the past and this sounds like these words are taken out of context (if said at all) so I believe this journalist may have misquoted her, but here it is, in print. Do you agree? Do Indian women in tech lack the ambition to land an office in the executive suite?
Based on my years of working with women in tech in India I think this notion is ridiculous. Technical women in India are more ambitious and driven than anywhere else I have travelled in the world and I have blogged about this more than once. Many of my meetings with Indian women in tech occurred late into the night (i.e. 10:30 pm I get calls) as they were leaving the office! I regularly observed women leaving their offices at 10-11pm every night! So where is the disconnect here?
I have seen this argument before:
Yes, these are real quotes, said to me, from real HR people responsible for diversity, an executive of a multi-national, and the head of an Indian association who actively works in the women in tech space! So as you can see, this quote in the Deccan is in line with what I have been told privately. So, let's blame the women. This is an easy way to shift the blame, to remove the discussion of real problems women in tech in India face which are much more complex to solve. What are these problems? My thoughts based on my experience on the ground:
Let's start with the statistic that industry loses 50% of their technical women in india every 5 years. Not quoted in the Deccan and an important statistic. Why? Because the challenges for women in tech change over time:
1. Lack of role models. Most women in tech today have a mother who did not work outside the home. Their mother in-law (if they are married) also didn't work outside the home. Their husband has never experienced living with a working woman (for the most part) and the matriarchs have an expectation that all the things they did should apply to the younger working woman. Fresh meals, child rearing, running the household are the cultural imperative for many. The pressure to perform at home is larger than many of us outside of India can imagine.
2. Lack of reliable child care. There is little formal or licensed childcare available to working families. Many couples move to the cities for their work and cut their community ties where childcare from family members would be available. Childcare is a HUGE problem in many places in India. Children are often left with uneducated and untrained household help. Rumors of incidents with household help mistreating children (and even having them begging in the streets during the day for example) has led to a level of anxiety of working mother finds difficult, if not impossible to overcome.
3. Sexist male managers. The stories I could talk about here would make your hair curl. The level of discrimination by mid-level male managers is shocking. These men have no idea how to work with women in the office and they see them as fair game. Sexual harassment, discrimination and not following company policies on paid-leave and flexible hours is rampant.
4. Company productivity is still measured by the amount of time your butt is in the seat. Many companies in India measure productivity by the amount of time you are in the office. Many still measure the access card scans of when you arrive and leave the office. This is a huge disadvantage for women. The most productive workers are penalized for this measurement - and many of them are women. Flexibility is still often perceived as a way for women to take advantage. Now is the time to rethink how an organization measures success.
5. Infrastructure problems. Electricity, bandwidth, traffic and lack of conveniences. Everything is a battle. Regular reliable access to the Internet and the unbelievable time spent on commuting work hand in hand. Government needs to take an active role in improving infrastructure in India's cities. Try driving in Bangalore, Hyderabad or Delhi at 8am on a Tuesday. You will see what I mean. (I know - I am dreaming on this one).
Those are my top 5. The pressure to walk away from tech revolve around these and many other challenges we could talk about here. This pressure erodes the ambition of many women who can't see the way out. Family and societal pressures drown ambition. If women don't "marry well" they are in an environment that does not support them. Let's not blame them as having an "aspiration deficit".
I wish the article in the Deccan would have talked about these things. But these things are hard. I look forward to having a real conversation about how we can get more women in executive positions in tech. It has happened in banking, finance and other industries so we know it is possible but let's be real. The culture of technology is sexist in India and it must be addressed.