Gitanjali Singh is the Head of Strategy and Client Success, Visionet BFSI, a leading IT company, headquartered in New Jersey, US with offices in Bangalore, Mumbai and Coimbatore in India. She has been recognised as a 2021 Woman of Influence in the mortgage and housing industry by HousingWire, a leading US Magazine. She, along with Mr. Alok Bansal, Visionet Systems India’s MD and Global Head of BFSI Business has conceptualized a free skill development program ‘Unnati for India’ for the underserved youngsters, to generate employment for them. She is skilled in scaling businesses, managing high performance sales team, working on strategic initiatives and managing data operations.
When opportunities knock, they recognise only talent, not gender and yet corporate spaces can’t seem to shake off gendered language and conscious and unconscious biases about women. From rejections at recruitment level, to broken rungs in corporate ladders that halt the rise of women executives, glass-ceilings that won’t let them soar above prejudices, wage gaps, stalled promotions, stunted growth opportunities and unsafe work environments, patriarchy shows up in many forms.
The Women, Business and Law database by World Bank makes important points about legislations that on paper promise women an equal world but cannot give them equal access to credit or the social, professional economic privileges that men enjoy. And it is discouraging that these prejudices are carried forward from generation to generation. As a leader in the tech sector and a woman, I see some obvious and some not so obvious reasons that hold back women from exploring their full potential in society.
Educational and labour gaps
In the Global Gender Gap Index 2021 published by World Economic Forum, India was ranked 140 out of 156 countries. The disparity begins with a warped sex ratio and gender-based sex-selective practices. Then they extend to literacy gaps where one third of women are illiterate (34.2 per cent) compared to 17.6 percent of men. The report also noted a decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, from 24.8 percent to 22.3 percent during the pandemic as per the data analysed till 2021. Additionally, the share of women in professional and technical roles also decreased to 29.2 per cent. Only 14.6 percent of senior and managerial positions are held by women and there are only 8.9 percent firms with female top managers. To change this, as a leader, I work towards creating an equal playing field for both men and women and ensure that be it reskilling, upskilling, equal wages or ample opportunities to grow, women feel included and appreciated at every level in the company.
Disparate retention rates
In the report, “Inequality Kills,” published in 2021 ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, Oxfam stated that the pandemic has set gender parity back and the gender gap that would have taken 99 years to bridge now will take 135 years. This is because the pandemic caused women to collectively lose Rs 59.11 lakh crore in earnings in 2020. The report further added that there are 1.3 crore fewer women in work now than in 2019. In India, the IT and tech sector however showed an encouraging trend. The number of women employees leaving the IT sector has come down by nearly half in 2021 thanks to the Work from Home model. According to the ‘2021 Avtar & Seramount Best Companies for Women in India’ report, the attrition had declined to about 40 percent and fell by around 20 percent at the managerial and corporate executive level. This is good news because our industry cannot afford to lose skilled women at a crucial time when diversity and talent retention are so important for business. Tech companies must also make space for women who are returning to work after a long gap or need better work and life balance. Young fathers too must be supported to support their working wives because in an equal society, gendered roles should be eschewed for equal responsibility.
Unsafe and gendered work spaces
As a leader, I am all for sensitising teams to the undesirability of sexist, non-inclusive and discriminatory language at the work place. The boardroom is one place where leaders must set an example by encouraging women to participate, opine and share their perspectives without the fear that they will be spoken down to and shut down. Redressal systems that address complaints and issues women may be facing are a must along with an HR policy that gives them a safe space to share their concerns. Women leave even their dream jobs when they feel isolated, discouraged and are minimised and bullied by their seniors and leaders. It goes without saying that more women in positions of power can inspire women on the rungs below them. An initiative like ‘Unnati for India’ for instance, brings undiscovered talent from small towns to the forefront and a lot of these future tech leaders are women. When they get jobs and see women in powerful positions, they realise they too can aspire to heights that were once only designated for men.
Glaring wage gap
A recent report in The Economic Times, has stated that women senior executives (including top management) earn a lower average compensation of ₹1.91 crore compared to ₹2.24 crore paid to their male counterparts. These findings were based on the study, ‘The Glass Ceiling- Leadership Gender Balance’ which had surveyed 109 out of 200 NSE companies and sampled over 4000 senior executives. The same ET report also cited a survey by IIM Ahmedabad according to which senior women executives in India on an average earn ₹85 for every ₹100 that male senior executives earn. This discrimination can no longer be left unaddressed and equality at the workplace must begin with equal pay.
Misconceptions about the industry
The notion that STEM spaces are not meant for women is still deeply entrenched. It is widely believed that technology is not a feminine space and women cannot pioneer scalable tech enterprises. This is why so many women entrepreneurs find it tough to convince investors to back their ideas but slowly things are changing. In India alone, be it Kiran Majumdar Shaw, the chairperson of Biocon, or Debjani Ghosh, the President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM), inspiring women leaders are everywhere. The truth is that technology professions are incredibly varied, and women can choose an area that is most suited to their interest and skill sets. It’s critical that we dispel misunderstandings about technology so that more women can make an informed choice. Why is it important to bring more women into tech? Because more gender-equal companies will normalise the idea of women doing jobs that have traditionally gone to men. As chief operating officer of Meta Platforms and the founder of LeanIn.Org, Sheryl Sandberg famously said, “The word ‘female,’ when inserted in front of something, is always with a note of surprise. Female COO, female pilot, female surgeon — as if the gender implies surprise … One day there won’t be female leaders. There will just be leaders.”