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How to elevate women in tech

Malini Moorthy, senior vice president of HR at Hexaware, discusses the importance of developing female talent at all levels and paving the way for more women to enter senior leadership. 

By Hexaware

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the progress made towards gender parity. But it also highlights areas where urgent change is required.

In recent years, the tech industry has come under fire for its lack of gender diversity. According to a UK survey by PwC, just 23% of people working in STEM roles are female, while only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. In a damning indictment of the sector’s absence of female role models, 78% of students surveyed were unable to name a famous woman working in tech.

With business leaders anticipating a growing tech skills shortage, now is the time for the sector to tap into the underutilised female talent pool and start levelling the playing field. For Hexaware, a company looking to onboard 6,000 new tech recruits this year alone, the business case is also undeniable.

“As an industry, there’s a lot of effort required to bridge the gender gap,” says Hexaware’s senior vice president for HR, Malini Moorthy. “What we’re trying to do is take the lead with the types of initiatives and programmes that are going to drive real change.”

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Tackling the tech gender gap

For women considering a career in tech, long-standing perceptions of the industry can be off-putting. As part of its 2019 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum found that a majority of women still regarded technology as a male industry.

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In order to change these attitudes and encourage more women to enter the sector, intervention is required from an early stage. By the time women reach university, PwC’s report shows that only 3% of female students say a career in tech is their first choice.

Growing up in India in the 80s, Moorthy experienced first-hand an environment where “premium education was reserved for boys”. Accordingly, she highlights the importance of tackling the gender gap at the education level itself. “I remember, when I was studying, out of our batch of 520 people, there were only around 50 women – that’s the kind of ratio we were dealing with,” she recalls.

Moorthy has watched the tech sector evolve in recent years, but she concedes there is still a lot of work to be done. “When I entered the industry, the gender split was even more skewed,” she says. “There are far more opportunities and options compared to the time  when I started my career in the early 90s, but women are still underrepresented.”

The pandemic is threatening to exacerbate existing gender inequalities and reverse progress. A report by McKinsey reveals that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s, with women making up 39% of the global workforce but accounting for 54% of overall job losses.

Furthermore, various studies have found that the shift to remote working has resulted in a two to threefold increase in the workload of women employees. “Invariably, being at home creates a feeling that you are available to fulfil both home and work roles 24/7,” notes Moorthy, “and that puts a lot of pressure on women who are traditionally expected to juggle both”.

A diverse culture

In this context, it is more important than ever for tech companies to increase their efforts to address the existing gender imbalance. Hexaware is eager to lead the conversation.

For Moorthy, the company’s commitment to fostering a diverse, inclusive culture was a major factor in her decision to join the organisation. It was also one of the reasons why she chose to re-join Hexaware for a second stint. Currently, around 30% of Hexaware’s workforce are women – a figure that is steadily growing.

“When it comes to hiring tech talent, we visit various engineering colleges, nationwide,” she explains. “We don’t discriminate with where people come from or what language they speak because of our commitment to build a diverse cross-cultural team.”

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At the start of this campus hiring process, Moorthy adds, as high as 50% of those onboarded are women. But as time goes by, this figure decreases as women take time off for family responsibilities, and the number of women in senior-level roles remains small. As a result,

Hexaware is currently focusing on policies that help women who have taken a break rejoin the workforce and eventually reach higher-level positions.

By tapping into the female talent pool in this way, Moorthy believes Hexaware stands to gain a competitive advantage in the tech industry. Given that 83% of millennials that took part in the PwC survey said they actively seek out employers with a strong record of equal opportunity and diversity, it is an area well worth investing in.

Policy into practice

When asked about the initiatives already in place to entice prospective female candidates, Moorthy points to Hexaware’s sabbatical policy and “Mother’s Shift, a programme that allows for great flexibility in terms of working scheduling, as well as the crèche at the organisation’s offices in Chennai.

The company’s dedicated Women@Hexaware body represents the voices of female employees. Together with HR, the group is currently preparing to launch the Rising Women at Hexaware initiative to mentor and support women that have the potential and desire to become business leaders. The idea sprang from one of the company’s ‘Koffee with Keech’ sessions in which CEO R Srikrishna (AKA ‘Keech’) regularly meets with employees to better understand their needs.

For the selected cohort of high-potential women that take part, the initiative includes an education programme from a premier Business School complete with learning projects and assessments, an assigned mentor to help bridge any skill gaps and the opportunity to take on a live project of strategic importance.

“We believe this programme is a very important step in encouraging female talent to be part of our growth story,” says Moorthy. “It’s not about chasing a number target – it’s about creating an environment of equal opportunity.”

Hexaware’s commitment to gender diversity transcends the company’s internal boundaries. As part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives, Hexaware has supported many programmes that focus on the development of women and vulnerable children. Its Katalyst programme is helping 41 underprivileged young women to pursue professional degrees by providing them with financial assistance and internship opportunities at the organisation’s offices.

“As well as offering internships, we’re equipping them with the social and managerial skills to succeed in the corporate environment,” explains Moorthy.

By addressing the gender diversity imbalance head-on, businesses stand to reap the rewards. After all, there is growing evidence that organisations with a diverse workforce achieve greater levels of innovation and even profitability. At a time when concerns about skills shortages are at an all-time high, ambitious tech companies should be treating every day like World Women’s Day.

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