Women now comprise 25%of the 2 lakh strong employee strength of Indian IT majors like TCS, Wipro, Infosys and Satyam, reports HT. Further Nasscom estimates this ratio will change to 65: 35 by 2007.
That's great, but here's the catch. IT has seen a sudden boom in the last 3 years. Let me take the example of just one company, Infosys.
Infosys employed 10,378 people in 2001-2. This number jumped to 15356 in 2002-3. By 2005 Infosys had 46,196 employees and is looking to hire 25,000 people in the current year.
So we're seeing a massive number of fresh engineering graduates joining IT. Over the last decade the number of girls opting for engineering has risen substantially so no one should be surprised to see them populating IT companies.
That's explains how, within a single year, the % of women in Infosys has risen from 22% to 28%. Similarly, women comprise 24% of the workforce in Wipro and TCS. That's up 55% and 58% respectively from 2004!
So are IT and women really made for each other? Well, it's a virtuous cycle operating. Girls generally prefer Computers/ Electronics as they aim for 'white collar' IT jobs. The existence of these IT jobs may have induced them into the engineering field in the first place.
I mean no longer do you hear parents saying engineering mein ladki kya karegi...
What happens next
So here's the deal: The % of female recruits would be far far higher than 25% at entry level and right upto 5-7 years of experience. It's what happens after that which is the real headache for companies in all industries.
Companies lose women when they:
a) marry and often relocate (read: follow their husbands). That's changing to an extent.
b) have kids and take a break. For many this becomes permanent, even though it was not intended to be so.
Yes, some IT companies have day care centres on campus (or tie ups off campus) but it's not just about the logistics. Given work pressures, even these arrangements are often not enough. What happens when you're working late or have to travel all of a sudden?
And of course, many women choose to opt out because they don't want to 'miss out' on bringing up their children.
I'm sure the industry already faces these issues but will need to really address them head on in the years to come. Narayana Murty himself acknowledged this fact recently.
"IT companies lose too many women from the middle management level to the opt-out revolution, due to family pressures. This is a phenomenon that we need to fight. It has resulted in significant loss to companies," Murthy told a gathering of more than 100 women IT professionals from various companies in Bangalore.
He added that Infosys, through its Infosys Women’s Inclusivity Network, is piloting a telecommuting project for women employees. "People can do part of their work from home using broadband connections. This, however, does not work across levels. Managers need to come to office to attend meetings".
A large number of female employees who joined in the last 3-5 years will soon enter the time-to-have-a-baby stage. It will be interesting to then compare whether IT is able to retain substantially more women than other industries.
Of course, companies will continue to take in lots of women at entry level and hence the overall % of women in the company will be maintained or even go up. But will we ever see a figure like "25%" or even 20% women at middle management level?
As for top management, there are some success stories - Meena Ganesh, CEO, Tesco, Neelam Dhawan, Managing Director, Microsoft India, Asha Goyal, VP, Quality, IBM to name a few.
The question is, will these numbers swell significantly 15 years from now? Are today's female recruits more ambitious and go-getting? And will companies enable them to succeed by chalking out new kinds of career paths??
Hard to say but... I think a real paradigm shift will take more than one generation! Yet, the young woman of today who wishes to make it big in her career has far more opportunities and less obstacles than those who were born a couple of decades before.
It's all about personal choice - and statistics never ever tell that story!