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Hi-Tech Women

When Indian women are determined to make a mark, there’s no stopping them. They have their eyes firmly posted on the goal ahead and are sweating it out using every ounce of their mental stamina to boldly go where few women have ventured before. In a bid to get closer to the glass ceiling (before they devise a plot to shatter it), they are gradually fighting their way to the upper echelons of power in the hitherto male-dominated IT industry. Currently the numbers at the top are a miniscule minority. Yet they reek of ambition, reflecting the dreams of their several counterparts who plan to get there someday soon.

So while it would be too premature to celebrate yet, a NASSCOM Survey points out that women comprise 25 percent of the 2 lakh strong employee strength of Indian IT majors such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro and Satyam. NASSCOM pits the current male versus female ratio at 76:24 and predicts that it will change to 65:33 by next year.

“I definitely see the numbers growing substantially,” says Dr Renu Khanna, AVP, Business Consulting Education, Satyam Learning Centre. Satyam boasts of an 80:20 male versus female ratio. Adds Renu, “Currently while there are plenty of women at the mid-management level, I see the numbers depleting at the senior level. But this holds true for the entire industry.” The reasons for this slow progress are manifold. Experts highlight the role of the supply pool of knowledge workers that decided the man-woman ratio in the industry. “Previously few women opted for technical education, so men entered the IT industry in large numbers and the numerical supremacy continues although this is all set to change soon,” says Madhumita Mohapatra, Full Life Cycle Leader, Process Management Business, Satyam.

Perhaps the lack of initiative and awareness of career opportunities in the technical sphere is another reason. Says Dr Sharmila Mande, Head, Life Sciences R&D Division, TCS, “The biggest challenge for most women in this field is to strike a balance between home and career. It is also imperative for women to have a good personal support system to be able to rise to the top levels.” At TCS, the female versus male ratio is 25:75. But the female top brass in the company is optimistic about future growth. Says Indubala Ashok, Global Head, Foreign Language Initiatives, “The numbers are increasing even in the technical side. While women may have a natural predisposition towards areas like HR or are more visible in support functions, the fact remains that the work is just as challenging.” However, given the fact that the IT industry in India is relatively nascent, having only evolved in the late 80s, the statistics are considerably encouraging. “At Wipro Technologies, while the female versus male ratio is 25:75, approximately 10 percent of the female employees hold prominent designations. “If you look at the senior level, women have attained these posts much faster than their male peers. This has largely to do with the fact that women work twice as hard as their male counterparts to be taken seriously,” says Mythili Ramesh, VP, Customer Acquisition and Transactions, Wipro Technologies.

What has also not been highlighted is the personal sacrifices that many of these executives have had to make to achieve their goals. “I remember the time when I had just delivered my second son. My husband was away on a long out of town business trip. My eldest son was only two years old. I had difficulty finding a reliable maid and had to cope with two young children and manage my career since there were no crèches during that time,” recounts Mythili. Often these women travel frequently and have to deal with the challenges of balancing career with motherhood. “The pressure of rearing a small child, especially when one travels for long durations can be tough in the absence of a support system,” says Madhumita.

What is of crucial significance is the fact that those women who aspire to play a bigger role in technology need to maintain a consistently high learning curve if they want to become players of significance. “There is constant innovation happening in this arena. Therefore it is not enough to be a good worker in the IT industry. If you want to make it to the big league, you must keep updating your technological skills because no other industry sees such significant changes from time to time. Only those women who are truly dynamic and willing to go that extra mile will move up in the organisation,” says Mythili.

Now the question to ponder over is how can the numbers be improved. The response is instantaneous. “By introducing flexible working hours and providing quality crèches for women with small children will make the difference,” says Sharmila. Concurs Mythili, “The higher women climb the IT ladder, the more they are expected to travel and often they are away on long breaks. Perhaps when they return from such business trips, they should be given a few days off to sort out family matters. The Le Concierge Service that most companies offer should start playing a more broad-based role. They could probably help out in paying bills and even organising dinner for women to carry home at the end of a long working day.”