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Dear Women Techies, Don’t Apologise For Your Career Choices Or Gender!

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ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

We recently saw surreal images of a woman parliamentarian breastfeeding her baby while answering a question in the Icelandic parliament. “I could choose to yank her off and leave her crying with another representative, or I could bring her with me, and I thought that would be less disruptive,” she shared candidly when to her surprise, the video went viral.

It’s hard to imagine such a scenario in India, without some sort of riot breaking out. Yet, the perks of taking your baby to work, can’t be taken lightly in this day and age, especially when we try to understand why women drop out of the workforce.

Jaya Singla is a Senior Quality Analyst with ThoughtWorks in Gurgaon
Jaya Singla has always been fascinated by technology 

Jaya Singla, a Senior Quality Analyst with ThoughtWorks India, will testify to this reality. Hers was the first “Thought Child” at the tech company’s Gurgaon office.

“When the office was being set up, suggestions were taken and mine was to have a baby room as I was not at all keen on leaving my son in a daycare,” recalls Jaya who happens to be the first employee at ThoughtWorks India’s Gurgaon office. After the birth of her son, Jaya took five months off and when she returned to work, she took him along with her, every single day for the next two years.

She recalls, “Sometimes I would feel stressed if he cried during a meeting. But my colleagues were supportive and would help out a lot. In fact, his first steps happened in the office, and it was captured on camera by a colleague who later sent the video to me.”

According to Jaya, it is this culture of supportiveness and collaborativeness, that enabled her to stick around at her job.

When it comes to women’s participation, ThoughtWorks, in general, has a stellar record:

  • The company’s Chief Technical Officer Dr Rebecca Parsons is a woman.
  • ThoughtWorks’ largest office in India, in Bangalore, is headed by a woman.
  • One of every ThoughtWorks India office’s Technology Principal is a woman, and two of the five Office Principals is a woman.
  • 34% of ThoughtWorks India’s employees are women and of the techies, 33% are women.
  • 28% of 2016’s lateral hires and 43% of graduate hires in 2016, were women.

Phew! In the tech world, this is an impressive record, one that has been cultivated through a combination of tangible factors such as maternity leave, flexible hours, work-from-home and intangible ones such as a “culture of trust”, equal opportunities and nurturing through mentorships. Yet, the niche group of senior (with 6+ years of tech experience) women is relatively low, despite their success in attracting good talent.

Top Stereotypes About Women In Tech

When the company spoke to several senior women technologists (outside ThoughtWorks India’s network) about how they perceived working in the tech world, the responses were telling. “Their observations indicated that consciously or unconsciously, there exists a subtle sexism at the workplace,” shares Divya Saravanakumar who heads Employer Branding. The exercise simply confirmed stereotypes floating around. Here are some gems…

  • If a woman gets something wrong while building a solution (example, if a build breaks), it invites statements to the effect of, “Well, why am I not surprised? Women and Technology have nothing in common.” This is not so, when a man is at fault.
  • During meetings, a relevant point or suggestion made by a woman does not get the kind of acceptance as when a man suggests the very same idea.
  • It is still believed that women cannot or will not be as devoted to a job or career as a man will. This becomes a reason for passing women up when promotion cycles come around or giving men plum projects over women.
  • A pregnant woman is not expected to get a great rating during appraisals, irrespective of how hardworking she may have been. What’s in view is that she is going to be out of the picture in the foreseeable future.
  • Congratulatory emails sent post the successful rollout of projects, tend to list men in the team before going on to list women team members, irrespective of their contribution to the project.

According to ThoughtWorks India, it is simply wrong to assume that a woman cannot achieve as much as a man, or more, given opportunities and a lack of bias. “Amazing code is gender agnostic – which means the industry is right now, losing out on diverse talent and could be producing way better software than it is now!” says Sudhir Tiwari, Managing Director of ThoughtWorks India, on the impact of great women tech professionals leaving the workforce merely due to lack of gender-inclusive policies. The loss of good resources is ultimately a loss for innovation and its impact on the world we live in.

Attracting More Senior Women In Tech

To help attract senior women technologists, specifically developers and quality analysts with over six years of experience, TW India launched #TalkTechToHer a vibrant social media recruitment campaign, in the last quarter of 2016. While hiring women was a key intention of the campaign, ThoughtWorks India stresses that #TalkTechToHer was also an attempt to ‘elevate’ the conversation around women in tech. “We want to have a dialogue about what it really takes for an organisation to be great for technologists, irrespective of gender,” shares Tiwari.

ThoughtWork India’s #TalkTechToHer campaign

Within three weeks of the campaign going live, over 750 women got in touch. Through comments posted on social media, a common narrative emerges, of women whose career paths have been disrupted when they have had no choice but to quit their job, for reasons ranging from starting a family to caring full time for a family member. Here’s one such comment: “I had a career break for a personal reason. I was always keen into database technologies. Now, I want to learn and work the latest data analysis technologies. Is there any help here?” The campaign even received inquiries from senior women looking to get back into non-technical roles like advertising and sales.

The reality is that as more women drop out of the workforce, the gender gap only widens in terms of salaries and representation across the industry. So, what is the recipe for bridging the gap? A lot, it turns out.

What Needs To Change

According to the company, everything needs to change – from mindsets to practices. “Policies need to exist within a sensitised environment where a woman’s colleagues and the leadership support her choices. Throughout her journey with the company, she is to be seen in her entirety – as a person and as an employee,” articulates Tina Vinod, Diversity & Inclusion Lead.

Vanya Seth is an Office Tech Principal With ThoughtWorks in Hyderabad
Technology “invigorates” Vanya Seth.

There’s also a need to have more women in leadership roles. In this department, Vanya Seth, an Office Tech Principal based in Hyderabad, experienced some culture shocks in the real world. “I was once a junior developer in a company with two women and 60 men! That was the typical gender ratio even at meetings and conferences,” shares Vanya, who is the tech lead on a humanitarian (aid organisation) project that provides medical care to the “remotest of places where even the governments can’t reach”.

“Here, there are no pre-conceived notions about women in technology and that’s something I felt right from my interview. Having more women in higher places also makes all the difference,” says Vanya who also shared another crucial piece of information. “Here, they trust a junior developer as much as someone senior. That’s the value proposition of working here.”

Her statement clearly indicates that for an organisation to be truly inclusive, it has to rise beyond the idea of gender-inclusiveness, in a traditional sense. In an earlier article, 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”.

Perhaps this is also because ThoughtWorks views itself as more of a community where individuals come together to solve real-world problems. Aspects such as the equity of employees on the basis of ideas and not just experience as well as the attitude towards hiring people with disabilities and transgender candidates, all contribute to a culture of inclusivism.

As for women in technology, Vanya observes that parents, companies, and society, in general, need to acknowledge that choosing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) careers is not a matter of gender but talent and interest. “This is the kind of attitude that will help women thrive,” she says. Both Vanya and Jaya have been fascinated by technology from the get-go, and just like them, there are many women looking for opportunities to get their tech chops on.

For them, Vinod offers some stellar advice, “Challenge stereotypes. Don’t apologise for your gender or your choices. And for young women technologists in the country, stay technical!”

If you’re a woman pursuing a STEM career, or studying for one, we’d love to hear about your experiences – the good and bad, as well as how you think we can break stereotypes. Start writing here!


Image source: Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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