“Are women wired differently to not understand maths and sciences?” asked the moderator.
“Definitely not.” “No,” answered the panellists seated on stage.
So began the Geek Girls: Women in Core Tech session with celebrated industry leaders who have been monumental in not just the growth of their companies but also in dismantling the notion that tech is not for women.
Geetha Manjunath, Founder and CEO of Niramai Health Analytix; Pallavi Shrivastava, Co-founder, Progcap; and Goda Ramkumar, AVP – Data Science, Swiggy were speaking at a panel discussion in the first edition of the No Ceiling Summit in Bengaluru.
Hundreds of women leaders participated in meaningful discussions and workshops, networked to share their journeys, and envisioned a future with more women at the top at the summit that was hosted by Kalaari Capital’s CXXO, in association with YourStory.
Abysmal participation of women in tech
Acknowledging that there is a stark difference in the participation of women and men in STEM, Gazal Kalra, Founder and CEO, Stealth Startup and Co-founder, Rivigo; and the moderator of the discussion, quoted anecdotes from a report on STEM in India and stated that “girls are often made to believe that they are not smart enough for maths” and that “we have been discouraged since early times”.
Geetha of Niramai Health Analytix, believes that this bias begins at home. “Parents play a huge role in creating the bias or making you not feel the bias if at all it is there,” she said, advising one to forget the role of gender and do what they love, as the rest will fall in place.
While girls are performing better in schools and more of them are joining engineering today, Pallavi noted that the number dwindles as we move further in our careers. “I don’t know what is the real reason behind it; I think a lot of it is in our head….,” she said. She believes that women start choosing different fields and are maybe influenced by narratives around them.
Progcap, Pallavi said, has a huge focus on gender diversity. However, their tech team was all men till the past year. Despite referral bonuses, the company found it difficult to find women in tech. “Women in tech is becoming a challenge as a talent-to-hire, maybe [because] they take up other jobs which are not tech-oriented,” she observed.
How to solve the leaky funnel issue?
“Even though India has about 40 percent women graduating as engineers, only 10 percent show up in jobs and less than 14 percent show up as researchers,” said Gazal. She asked the panel: where are women disappearing after graduating? What can companies do to change this?
Geetha believes that, while the situation has improved recently, women need to inculcate confidence, interest and passion for science to take it up post-graduation. Recalling her personal experience, she insisted that women shouldn’t assume their managers’ expectations, and instead be explicit in their wants. Even as managers, she said, it is important to assess who has contributed more and who can take up more responsibility, regardless of gender.
Geetha acknowledged that many women have family constraints and thus believes that having one-on-one conversations with them to accommodate small changes is important to ensure they continue performing in some capacity.
Goda agreed with the policy of affording a partial salary for 50 percent of work while women juggle pregnancy and motherhood, among other things. She noted that while that policy did not exist in her company when she needed it, it was introduced once she brought it up with the head of management. “If you are through that phase and you come out of it successfully, that actually leads to a longer career because that is the major point where the drop-off happens,” she said.
Not looking at gender as central to the individual and identifying ways to make the environment equal for everyone is important even from the hiring perspective, noted Pallavi, adding that having facilities for women, from the beginning, requires conscious efforts.
She recalled an instance where the company had to figure out how to accommodate their VP during her pregnancy, which enabled them to build facilities that allow employees to bring their children to work and continue working. She asked, “As leaders, employers or managers, I think the question is, are we really willing to go all the way to make sure we create a space such that we are okay with short-term inefficiency, if required, to create long-term value?”
Where do we go from here?
Considering how less than 1 percent of the founders and CEOs of tech companies across the globe are women, Gazal asked, what could be done to prevent women from quitting or settling in their careers.
Goda advised that the first step is wanting [to accomplish]. She believes that women try to stick to the notion that is created in society, whereas the better thing would be to admit what one is and isn’t good at and to go forward from there. “It’s okay to say no when you can’t make it to a meeting. But it’s also important to add value in that meeting that it gets rescheduled because of you,” she added.