Technology companies go to school for diversity

Namrata Singh | TNN | Dec 8, 2015, 02.17 AM IST

 MUMBAI: Catching them young, a strategy adopted by companies operating in the IT and tech space to improve upon their gender diversity, appears to be appears to be gaining momentum. It's a well-known fact that not many women opt for careers in the science, technology, engineering and math or STEM fields. As a result, gender ratios are highly skewed towards male employees. Several companies are running programmes targeting girls-only schools with an objective to build a future bench strength which is more diverse in nature.

 Concerned about the lower number of women who opt for a career in technology, MasterCard Worldwide's global chief HR officer Ron Garrow told TOI in an exclusive interaction that the firm is tapping into girls-only schools to get them interested in the field. "Our gender balance at MasterCard as a whole is 60% men and 40% women. It's not the same in other regions and it's very much a focus. In this space, 75% of the buying choices are made by women. So we definitely have work to do," said Garrow, who believes people working for an organization should be the ones who best represent the consumer behaviour.

 In India, MasterCard has established a tech hub and is looking at locally sourcing talent from colleges, universities and other companies in the tech space. India is the first country in Asia-Pacific where MasterCard has launched the Girls4Tech programme to drive interest and encourage STEM careers for middle school girls. The programme showcases the connection between payments technologies and STEM principles. Having made a beginning in Gurgaon, plans are afoot to hold Girls4Tech workshops in Mumbai, Pune and other cities next year.

"Over the past two years, we have been trying to change our recruiting strategy and we have even been going to all-female schools to hire engineers. Under Girls4Tech, we actually go to the middle schools and we teach a programme to start building awareness on science and maths. That's a long term play for our company. MasterCard knows if you got to get women interested in technology, we got to get them in the school system and help build that capability and an interest in young girls in that age," said Garrow.

 Dell India, on the other hand, has a programme called "IT is not just for geeks", specifically targeted at school girls, in an attempt to excite them about careers in this space. Sudha K V, executive director, Dell Product Group, said: "Here we talk to them about the career options in the IT industry as well as our own career journeys. We talk to students what they want to pursue, and when we get the usual responses like teaching or writing, we tell them how they can join a tech company and join learning and organizational development or tech writing, which correlates with their aspirations. We have also covered rural schools as part of this programme and have found that girl students are interested in knowing more about taking up a career in IT. The positive thing is that students are well aware of the likes of Bill Gates. Post sessions, we found through qualitative research based on feedback that students who were earlier never thinking of joining this field are now more keen on doing so. Next year, we would be visiting more girl schools to take the programme forward."

 HCL Technologies, too, is associated with an after-school coaching programme to help girl students on STEM. The focus is to enable 50,000 girl students by 2020. Rituparna Chakraborty, senior VP-staffing, TeamLease Services, said while some companies are working towards bringing women on STEM, and the change is visible, albeit slow, the reason why women don't opt for a career in these fields has a lot to do with societal influences and parental pressures on careers their daughters should pursue.

 On an average, gender diversity in software & IT at entry level, according to a TeamLease report, is at just about 15%.

 Sunil Goel, MD, GlobalHunt, said though it will not be fair to doubt the intelligence level of any gender based on complexity of the subject, initiatives taken by new-age businesses are a good step towards uplifting the female technical education in India.

 Many women have broken the mould to reach the top. While sharing a personal experience at a recent meet, Chanda Kochhar, MD & CEO, ICICI Bank, said maths was her favourite subject and that she had always excelled in it. Kochhar had also pointed out that girls and boys perform equally well in board examinations in Class X and XII, where girls even outshine boys in science subjects.