The Indian workforce is undergoing a paradigm shift with women entering the centre stage in many professions. Embracing gender diversity no longer remains as a feminist notion, but is an essential itinerary for corporates as it helps drive efficiencies and effectiveness within teams, functions, and organisations.
Consider these statistics: -
-The number of women engineering graduates in the US has increased by 54% between 2011 and 2016.
-Only 13% of engineers and 26% of computer scientists in the US are women.
-Only 30% of women who are engineering graduates in the US are still holding a job after 20 years!
-Only 10% of professional engineers in the UK are women, the lowest in Europe.
-Latvia, Cyprus, and Bulgaria have about 30% of women in the engineering workforce, and Sweden and Italy stand at 26% and 20% respectively.
In India, engineering is a long-cherished career aspiration for both sexes, where we have more women engineers. At 32%, the country has a much higher percentage of women engineering graduates. And yet, statistics indicate that almost 45% of women move out of core engineering roles after eight years and take up soft skill positions. While a post mortem is likely to open a Pandora's Box, the way forward is more important. How can things change and what role can enterprises have in this transformation?
A drastic change
Firstly, the nature of engineering jobs has undergone a drastic change after the advent of software and electronics engineering. Traditionally, engineering jobs were associated mostly with civil and shop floor jobs. Hence, fewer women opted for the other engineering disciplines, or if even they studied those disciplines, they did not pursue jobs in such disciplines for long.
With computers and laptops becoming the tools of the trade, particularly in the services industries, engineering was rendered a soft sector, and this created room for women to be a part of the workforce in this sector. A typical technology company now has a mechanical digital combination of technology and engineering deliveries. The services industries - like IT and IT-enabled Engineering services, have become even more conducive for working women engineers.
QuEST Global, for instance, went about on this route steadily since the software component of the work performed has increased over the years, and more so after the recent acquisitions of software brands that have made the company largely digital focused. Today, the proportion of women in technology jobs is much higher, especially in the digital opportunities sector - closer to 40% of the total workforce. Moreover, women are usually well qualified for digital-focused jobs, and this drives the entire diversity approach in a very positive way.
Flexi-timings and geographical flexibility
Another big change over the last few years is the offer of flexi-timings or geographical flexibility by companies going digital. Moving with the spouse no longer implies the end of the career for qualified women. It could just mean a mild adjustment in team reporting, and possibly, the ability to work from practically anywhere in the world. In fact, today, we are witness to a reversal, when women are required to relocate due to job requirements, and it is the husbands who are availing flexibility from their companies. Flexi-timings or specific work-from-home options that most technology companies now offer ensures the balance between taking care of family and a demanding job. With physical presence no longer necessary at work at all times, new or expectant mothers can also continue to work, leaving aside worries about having to choose between motherhood and career.
“The male leadership must be sensitised and made aware of what needs to be done to support longer-term careers for deserving and aspiring women engineers.”
While the regulations and laws always offer ample maternity leave, some companies offer additional time off from work (with no pay but certain job retention), to help new mothers cope with the demands of a new baby. They need not feel insecure about their jobs at this crucial juncture, and companies do flex the policies so that deserving women team members get this support.
But this comes with a catch. With the long absence from office, it may later become difficult to catch up with the fast-changing work-contexts and technology. Companies need to be sensitive to this aspect and ensure that this absence is not used as an excuse to label the person as less competent. Brush-up programmes, training, and extra certifications for a returning employee could help fight this bias.
One big step in enabling women engineers who are aspiring to build long term careers is to get the support from internal or external mentors who can counsel and advise women on what to do - and how - to better manage their career and life. It could be successful women in the industry or the same organisation, or they could also be experienced and empathetic men.
The need for understanding
At the end of the day, in any company, a large percentage of leadership is men. And it is required that they understand such issues. The male leadership must be sensitised and made aware of what needs to be done to support longer-term careers for deserving and aspiring women engineers. This is happening in the industry, and most companies are now open to such policies and initiatives where men are active participants in discussions and forums for women enablement.
It is an established fact that companies with higher percentages of women in leadership positions show better business performance and business results like revenue, profitability, and market share. In fact, in the digital world, the future of leadership is steadily tilting towards the softer aspects of leadership - like empathy and caring for teams and people. Performance is about numbers, but leadership is more about empathy, caring for people and nurturing them, and EQ. These are the traits of leadership that come naturally to women. So, in the world of the future, women will have a much higher opportunity for leadership.
“Performance is about numbers, but leadership is more about empathy, caring for people and nurturing them, and EQ. These are the traits of leadership that come naturally to women.”
But we have to continue to resolve the ground challenges - dealing with the social demands of family, spouse, and motherhood.
A few situational insights, relevant to the socio-cultural aspect of women in the workforce, are also noteworthy. In India, while the percentage of girls taking admission in engineering courses is rising, the employability figures are not keeping up. The leak is a very unique Indian phenomenon - girls are acquiring engineering degrees for better marriage prospects. This is happening in the middle-class strata which still values marriage over career for a girl child, an aspect that needs to change. In fact, according to an article in the Economist, if the educated Indian women could contribute to the economy, "the world's biggest democracy would be 27% richer." Unfortunately, social systems and even politically motivated patriarchies do not create the right environment for the growth of women in engineering careers, or for that matter, any career at all.
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