Indian women on how to navigate the unwritten bro code and kick ass in tech

Fighting the status quo.
Fighting the status quo.
Image: EPA/Jagadeesh NV
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The lack of gender diversity in the technology industry is a global phenomenon and India is no different.

The sector employs just one female engineer for every three male ones in the country. And while things are marginally improving—women made up 34% of the Indian tech workforce in fiscal 2017, compared to 28% a year earlier—there’s a long way to go.

Quartz spoke to several female executives and entrepreneurs in the technology space about the glass ceilings in the industry, and how to shatter them. Edited excerpts:

How bad is the gender imbalance in tech really?

Anita Kishore, chief strategy officer at e-learning platform Byju’s:

I pursued mechanical engineering from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) in Mumbai in 2007. Right since then, the field has had very few women. In a class of 60, we were eight girls—as skewed as the ratio could get.

Sairee Chahal, founder and CEO of online women’s community platform SHEROES:

The tech world definitely does have an unwritten bro code. We need more female coders, entrepreneurs, product managers, leaders, and scientists. There’s a preconceived notion about women in STEM fields—that we can’t excel at tech, science, and math. I feel we need to invest more time in problem-solving at the school and college levels. The fact that so many women who score well in the IIT-JEE (entrance test for top Indian engineering colleges) don’t have the option of pursuing engineering due to lack of parental support means we have a smaller pool to choose from.

Jagrati Shringi, co-founder and chief technology officer of online jewellery store Voylla:

The tech world is changing but still remains mostly patriarchal. Many a times, people expect to meet with a “Mr Shringi” for tech-related discussion and imagine their shock and surprise when they find me instead! I ensure that I shatter all these stereotypes by always giving 200% to my work.

What is the hardest part of being a woman in tech in India? 

Shringi of Voylla:

There is still a very strong bias against women in most sectors, and IT is no different. A majority of the boardrooms today are still a boys’ club. Even though there are more women who are joining the workforce, crucial decision-making roles and hardcore tech and analytical roles are instinctively offered to men first.

Tara Kapur, executive producer of content creator Supari Studio’s YouTube channel Vitamin Stree:

Women face a lot of cross-questioning about their technical knowledge—like understanding around equipment, software, or creative inputs—far more than men. I think there is also a level of judgement in the society about women working in media because of the erratic work hours.

What is the case for including more women?

S Saichitra, chief portal and mobile officer at matchmaking website

If you look at EQ and IQ, the perfect combination can be portrayed by a woman. I personally feel women are good at managing a team, building a rapport with employees, getting them motivated to work with lots of empathy and, at the same time, showcasing leadership skills.

In our business, which is to deal with life decisions, I feel that being a woman always gives me an advantage because it’s an emotional product, not a transactional one.

How can companies help women join and stay in the workforce?

Kishore of Byju:

Companies should support women, give them the flexibility with working hours, add a creche, give longer maternity leave. In principle, companies need to arrive at an understanding that women have these responsibilities outside of work and they shouldn’t see that as a liability.

Deepa Madhavan, India-based director of enterprise data services at American payments firm Paypal:

Companies need to tailor policies to support women at the workplace. For example, PayPal runs a programme called Recharge, targeted to bring women, who have left the workforce due to personal reasons, back to work. I myself underwent the same journey when I took a break in my career to take care of my three young children and coming back to work after the break is something I am so thankful for.

How can women juggle work and familial commitments?

Neha Bagaria, founder and CEO of JobsForHer, an online platform for women returning from a career break:

Women need to cross internal barriers like time-management, guilt-management, and fear-management. We need to realise that it is possible to manage family as well as work if you prioritise your goals in both the spaces. We need to stop feeling guilty about not being at home when we’re at work and about not being at work when we’re at home.

Shringi of Voylla:

Simply by being fully present in the part I am playing at the moment. I do not believe in keeping too many balls in the air, and am a huge believer of prioritising, outsourcing what I can. I am very mindful of how I spend my time and would not waste a single minute. No TV/social media helps in effectively managing my time.

Chahal of SHEROES:

You take the support of those around you, and set expectations clearly. In my case, our house-help is absolutely amazing. She has been with us for 15 years, and has even learnt how to drive and shop independently. Additionally, I believe it’s extremely important to invest in “me-time,” your own space to unwind, and stay centred. It just helps you manage work, and life, better.

What is your message to young women trying to make it big in this sphere?

Shringi of Voylla:

I see a growing network of women who have each other’s backs. And I am also encouraged by the fact that there are more mentors for starry-eyed youngsters who want to pursue a career in technology. Gender stereotyping is slowly but surely being challenged.

Pick your battles, do not let naysayers get an iota of your attention. Perseverance is the key.  Prioritise, be passionate, and never fall into the guilt trap.

Chahal of SHEROES:

If you have a passion for technology, stick to your guns and pursue it. The world needs more women in STEM to help us become more innovative, break barriers, and solve real problems. Diversity in our STEM pools will help us get there.