Isha Ambani calls out gender divide in tech workforce, seeks more female STEM graduates

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New Delhi, May 15 (PTI) Isha Ambani, director on board of Reliance Industries Ltd and only daughter of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, on Wednesday called out the gender divide in India's tech workforce, saying age-old dogmas and societal stereotypes like women being best-suited as teachers and jobs involving soft skills are to be blamed for the low percentage of female in the tech workforce.


While only 36 per cent of India's tech workforce are women, females make up just 43 per cent of the total science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates and account for only 14 per cent of all scientists, engineers and technologists.

"The gender gap does not only signify gender bias, but it is also a hurdle in the path of innovation," she said, speaking at the Girls in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Day event here.

While women make up 36 per cent of India's tech workforce, their presence drops drastically in the corporate hierarchy, with only 7 per cent of women holding executive-level positions, just 13 per cent working in director-level roles and a mere 17 per cent holding mid-managerial positions, she lamented.


"If we are to drive home the advantage of our demographics, both men and women should attain their fullest potential," she said. "A male-dominated STEM / ICT landscape, where women are under-represented, will rob India of its opportunity to rule the roost." Stating that the role of ICT is becoming increasingly pivotal, Ambani said India has favourable demographics to make tremendous progress in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Era, and emerge as a world leader.

"Sadly though, even today, there is a gender divide in India's tech workforce. According to Nasscom, only 36 per cent of India's tech workforce are women - blame it on age-old dogmas and societal stereotypes such as women are best suited as teachers and jobs involving soft skills," she said.

"A similar disturbing aspect is the drop in the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-focused roles. Data from the World Bank shows that women make up 43 per cent of the total STEM graduates in India but account for only 14 per cent of all scientists, engineers, and technologists." She said that in the ever-evolving landscape of the tech industry, the under-representation of women in the workforce is a debilitating reality. Closing this divide is a strategic imperative, necessary for the industry's, as well as the society's, holistic growth.


While India missed the first two industrial revolutions and merely played catch-up during the third, the fourth industrial revolution presents an opportunity to make amends.

"We must rise to the occasion, we must exert ourselves, and we must excel. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant," she said, adding that for India to shine, more and more girls - the women of tomorrow - must enter the realm of STEM and opt for technology as a career.

Ambani noted that even the new-age start-up ecosystem is grappling with the problem of the dismal participation of women.


"Limited access to funding and resources for female-led start-ups and businesses continues to contribute to the under-representation of women in leadership roles," she said.

"It is indeed an unfortunate scenario because women are no less suited to be leaders and change-makers than men. And yet a woman's climb to the top is invariably a lot more difficult than a man's rise." Ambani said she personally believes that as leaders, women have an edge over men. "Women have empathy and that automatically makes them better leaders." A woman leader, as she climbs up the ladder, will inevitably carry the team with her.

"Women are born leaders. Their innate selflessness makes them better leaders. So, by denying leadership roles to women, we are denying ourselves the chance to realise our full potential," she said, adding that a token representation just to show diversity and inclusivity on paper will not make any difference.


Women employees must be nurtured from early on in their careers, and they need to be shown how their growth can play out in a company, she added.

"To encourage increasing participation of women in STEM and ICT and to bridge the gender divide in our tech workforce across the hierarchy, we need to design and execute a comprehensive strategy. For example, strengthening our STEM curricula to promote equal participation is crucial. We must consult gender equality experts to ensure our learning materials are free of biases and resonate with both genders," she said.

In the last decade, there has been a 6 per cent increase in women's representation in the tech workforce. However, there is still a long way to go to make it a 50-50 man-woman ratio in every sphere of technology and across hierarchies, Ambani added.


"With the government doing its part, the industry too must chip in to catalyse the transformation. Tech firms too must play their part, devising ways and means to ensure that the career of no woman engineer get stagnated. Every woman gets the chance, like their male counterparts, to bloom to their fullest," she said.

Ambani said by empowering women through STEM and ICT, untapped potential can be unlocked and a new generation of women inspired to lead in the era of the fourth industrial revolution.

"Equal contribution from our female population is essential to sustain our growth and compete on a global scale," she said. "By empowering women to participate fully in these critical fields, we are not only bridging the gender divide but also enhancing the creative and innovative capacities that fuel development." PTI ANZ BAL BAL