Vidhya Ramaratnam struggled every day to finish her household duties, drop her daughter at the play school and rush to board the office bus. A team leader at work, Vidhya’s was a stressful life. Coordinating with the team started becoming a nightmare for Vidhya day by day. And as things got worse, Vidhya decided to give up. The day Vidhya walked into the office with the idea of quitting to settle at home as a housewife and a sincere mother, Vidhya’s friend pulled her out of office for a break to just hear a few women talk. The a one hour lecture changed her mind.
“It was a lecture by representatives from a forum which addresses women's issues. I was completely disinterested as I had made up my mind to quit. But on hearing it I understood how I could continue to be the team leader, delegate the work among my subordinates and finally feel satisfied at work,” says Vidhya. She took a month's break to get things right at home and streamlined things at office. Now, Vidhya has won the employee of the year award in her office. She is all in praise for eWIT, a forum to address issues of women employees in the information technology and the ITeS sector. eWIT’s lecture was an eye opener for Vidhya.
“Unlike in other industries IT and ITeS is where women come in more at the entry level, immediately after they are out of the universities. They make up 21 per cent of the workforce in the IT industry and about 40 per cent in the ITeS industry. But very few get into the senior-level positions and there are almost none at the board level. We at eWIT work towards empowering women in IT,” says Namagiri Ramesh, general secretary eWIT, Chennai.
Empowering Women in IT (eWIT) is a women’s forum conceptualised by a group of women IT professionals in India. Considering the high growth of the IT industry in India, its vast global coverage and the huge employment potential that it offers, the need has been felt to create a separate platform that addresses women’s issues in the IT industry. The forum is powered by STPI (Software Technology Parks of India). All companies in the IT/ITeS space and all women associated with the IT/ITeS industry by education and/or profession in India and abroad can become members of eWIT.
eWIT, has a threefold objective—Expanding the women workforce at all management levels, enabling them to tread the career path by equipping them with necessary skills, and facilitating a better ‘work-life’ balance in IT/ITeS sector. In order to achieve the above objectives, eWIT, throughout the year conducts events and programs—this year, the focus, says Namagiri, has been primarily on the twin themes of technology and leadership and towards enabling corporate initiatives such as Return to Work and Gender Inclusivity in work place. eWIT with its large number of corporate and individual members and its partner organisations such as SPIN, CSI, Prajnya, TiE help working women.
“We are looking at how to get women a share of the career growth,” she says, adding that there was a need to retain women in the field and find better ways for them to manage their family and work. “There was a need for a forum to discuss issues relating to women and also find ways to unleash the potential of women by equipping them with skills and helping them balance their lives,” adds Namagiri, who is also a start up consultant and a classical singer.
Despite the realisation of the strategic importance of gender equality in the workplace by corporate and business leaders, women continue to be under represented in almost all levels of our organisations. The big question before us is why the percentage of women in higher ranks continue to stagnate across the industry despite continued focus? How do we create a workplace that is equally represented by both the genders and what needs to be done to help organisations from losing "valuable talent"? Are the policies to achieve gender equality solely based on certain cliched assumptions of balancing work and family? Is that why we find the 'women-centric' flexibilities and diversity policies introduced by major companies over the last decade not resulting in many takers? When it comes to leadership are women experiencing a disproportionately stressful path to leadership when compared to men? eWIT has answers for all these questions.
In fact, Namagiri says that they work among women right from their college days and help them understand why career is important and how to grow in the job over the years. “We give them the psychological boost. We try to bring the transformational mindset at the student stage itself,” she adds. eWIT apart from in Chennai, also has a chapter in Thiruvanthapuram and has plans to expand to other cities, where there is a significant women IT population.
Also, as a recent initiative, eWIT has developed an online portal sawes.org, which aims to help women entrepreneurs expand their business networks and promote market linkages across South Asia for The Asia Foundation and the South Asia Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium (SAWES).
“Attrition remains the biggest problem and most of it, we have found, are due to issues of family and maternity. We are looking into HR policies and support structures available for women at the workplace. What we found is that most of the policies, including those dealing with sexual harassment and flexible working hours are there at a very informal level. There is a need to work towards formalising them. Most offices also did not do any kind of gender sensitisation work,” she said.
How can a woman IT employee be associated with eWIT? “We have membership groups and academic groups. The employees can either become our members by virtue of being an employee of the corporate company which is our member or by registering with us.”