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Google memo shows US is a tough place for woman techies. Is India Better? We find out!

Unlike the U.S., where computer science is unfortunately labelled as a “man's” field, India sees the sector open to both men and women.

Google memo shows US is a tough place for woman techies. Is India Better? We find out!

Last week, Google was in the news for all the wrong reasons! An engineer, James Damore, sent out a 10-page anti-women rant on how the company’s diversity policies may be harming it. And boy, did he make some people very angry. Here’s what stood out  –

“Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.”

“Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs.”

This accelerated the conversation about women in STEM (science, tech, engineering, mathematics) fields. Cherry picking some scientific data to draw such a conclusion only perpetuates the very prominent stigma feminists have been fighting against for decades.

Unlike the U.S., where computer science is unfortunately labeled as a “male” field, India sees it open to both men and women.

For the year 2011, women in the U.S. made up only 18% of undergraduates in Computer Science and Engineering, while in India that number was 42%.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), an industry lobby group, says that roughly 35 % of the workforce in the Indian IT industry are women, making the sector one of the country’s largest employers of women.

“In my experience working in the US and India offices of the same software company, I saw that the gender ratio in engineering roles was a lot less skewed in India. Aside from individual contributors, there were also more female team leads and senior managers. Even the sessions at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing were a lot more technical and detailed in India than in the US. Overall, the feeling of the tech industry being a “boys club” was much more pronounced in the US than in India,” says Urvashi Goverdhan, an engineer with 4 years of work experience.

For a sector that is touted to transform India’s economic landscape, organizations cannot afford a leaky pipeline of women. I spoke to a few women in the tech industry who threw light on what their organizations do to alleviate the problem, and here’s hoping other companies benefit from such efforts!

Global tech consultancy ThoughtWorks was voted the best company for Women Technologists last year by the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), a prestigious non-profit focused on the advancement of women in computing. ABI recognized ThoughtWorks for its recruiting, retaining and advancing practices for women in technical roles.

I got in touch with Michelle from ThoughtWorks, Bangalore, who tells me about an initiative called Vapasi (returning) that helps experienced women developers on a career break, but looking to re-enter the world of programming. The boot camp is spread over four weeks and helps women technologists sharpen their programming skills through hands-on and object-oriented sessions.

The organization doesn’t stop there. Despite their concerns when Section 377 came out, the company actively began scouting for transgender employees.

In an article published by LiveMint, Nayana Udupi, a trans woman working in the marketing department at ThoughtWorks, shared that “office is the only place where she can be her true self”.

Jean Mathews, a learning consultant at IBM and mother of two toddlers, tells me about how the company helped her navigate a successful ten-year long career.

When I asked her about an action she most appreciates, Jean was quick to say ‘The Work From Home Policy’. One of the most common problems women in tech face is the proverbial glass ceiling, which helps them rise, but seldom to the top.

IBM allows its middle and higher management, around the time when women start to have families, the option to work remotely. “The company measures results, not the hours spent, or the physical space an employee was in while working on the project, “says Jean.

She also dismisses the popular misnomer of a work-life balance. What it should be called is ‘work life integration’, she says. The challenge is blending the two, and such a policy allows you to do so.

What happens when women with young children have to be physically present at work? IBM has in-house creches, as well as tie-ups with neighboring day-care centers that guarantee a secure environment for kids.

Vidushi Marda, a tech lawyer whose research focuses on ethical approaches to artificial intelligence and algorithmic accountability, talks to me about how academics and experts have started to boycott panels at various tech conferences if there are no women on it.

“Saying there aren’t any women experts in the field is just a lazy argument to make,” says Vidushi. This, she says, definitely helps increase visibility.

In addition to making work spaces more secure and inclusive, organizations are also helping women use technology better to ensure their safety. Nayantara Ranganath who works for The Internet Democracy Project (TIDP) studies the ways in which women can be safer while navigating digital spaces. Through a project called gendering surveillance, TIDP highlights circumstances on how excessive digital surveillance can be especially dangerous for women and minorities.

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With the help of a case study, the organization also found that most of the women’s safety apps that currently flood app stores undermine women’s autonomy while taking the valuable focus away from more empowering solutions.

Japleen Pasricha, founder of the award winning digital intersectional feminist platform – Feminism in India, tells me how the publication has helped conduct Wikipedia edit-a-thons for the last one year.

Not so long ago, Wikipedia disclosed a shockingly low figure – only 9% of its editors were women. The prominence of male voices led to a language and content bias on the site, which Japleen hopes to rid. Every month 20 girls are selected, taught the website’s interface, and are subsequently published on the same day. Each session has a theme, such as Indian Women in Science, and 20 articles pertaining to it go out.

I ask Japleen what the difference between gimmicky tactics and actual execution is. She says that hosting diversity events double as a marketing tool, and that is fair, but the real problem is when all the claim doesn’t amount to action. She concludes saying, “Look at your team, and see how diverse it is before conducting these events. You need to just hire more women.”

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