MAKERS India’s ‘State of Women in Tech Entrepreneurship’ report released in November last year revealed that women-owned and co-founded tech start-ups are at a measly 285 in number in India. Findings also show that the exit percentage for start-ups led by at least one woman founder is 3.5 percent which is slightly higher than those led by only male founders (2.01 percent) in tech.
But the number of women in tech has improved significantly in the last two decades, believes Niramai founder Geetha Manjunath, while she speaks at a panel discussion on ‘Women in Tech’ at the first-ever India edition of MAKERS Conference held on Friday. She recalls, “During my master’s program, we were the only two women in the entire class. In those days, there would be only one or two women in a class of 100+ male students if they chose to pursue science. So essentially, we have come a long way from there at least in engineering and other fields related to science. The acceptance for women to study further has increased.”
Time to close the gender gap
Sharing insights on the key challenges of having a greater representation of women in tech leadership roles, Manjunath says that companies need to look deeper to fill these seats. “Until companies have strict policies to make their leadership diverse and inclusive instead of opting for the easy route to complete their recruitment process, it will be difficult for women to be in tech leadership,” she adds, saying that women have more self-doubt while applying for key leadership positions than men.
Adding to the conversation, Sonia Parandekar, head of engineering for commerce at Atlassian says that early on in her career, she faced the challenges of missing out on exploring opportunities, not having enough confidence to speak up especially while being surrounded in teams predominantly male, among others. But as she grew more accomplished in her work, being the only woman in a team of 30 members working with a company in Seattle, she mustered the courage to question why her team was not gender-diverse and inclusive.
It was only when she was given the autonomy to lead a team that she learned various aspects of leadership like decision-making, trusting her own judgments, etc, and these have stayed with her throughout her professional journey in overcoming challenges.
Parandekar lists three rules women expect before accepting any opportunity in leadership. She explains, “First is purpose – what is the vision of a company and how much it resonates with them. Second is people – it is extremely crucial to connect with their work-family as it contributes to their success and happiness at work. Finally, it is the impact – what are the outcomes they will get to drive and what they will be able to create.”
Women in India Inc boardrooms
While today women contribute 34 percent of the IT workforce, tech entrepreneurship still lacks diversity. Several reports have underlined various ways in which company performance and growth increases with higher participation from women in boardrooms and yet, that progress seems slow-paced. An Institutional Investor Advisory Services (IiAS) 2020 report reveals the overall representation of women in company boards stands at 17 percent up from 6 percent in 2014 among the Nifty 500 companies.
Panellist Sharmin Ali, founder and CEO at Instoried, shed light on how women in boardrooms aid in the growth of companies. “Women bring in a lot of empathy towards employees and customers alike. They also weigh in on the pros and cons of the product a company builds to ensure that the technology it creates has a longer impact on the lives of people,” she believes, adding that women are also far more creative in areas of marketing and identifying needs of customers.
She also elucidates on how discussions in boardrooms are mostly on growth, but women tend to focus on the cost of that growth a company wants to achieve, as a result of which they are also risk-averse.
Having more women founders has a ripple effect into having more women in leadership roles and a higher representation of women in the workforce, according to Mabel Chacko, founder and COO at Open Financial Technology.
As India has a higher percentage of women leaders in the banking sector, Chacko found it easier to delve in the fintech space in the country. “Since invariably, we have to talk to banks if we have found a business in the fintech sector. It is only because there are so many women in leadership serving in banks that they show a lot of respect to other women entrepreneurs in this space,” she shares.
While the number of women working in the tech sector or owning a business in the tech space is increasing, many prejudices and mindset biases still persist which make it doubly hard for women to excel to join the leadership space. However, the onus of overcoming these gender-based challenges also lies on women to back themselves more and change the number game. Additionally, companies also need to work harder to make their workforce more diverse and inclusive. Just hiring women in the workforce isn’t enough; making the workplace accessible, safe and growth-oriented will incur better results in the long run.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)