Women in the IT sector find it difficult to join back after a gap. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
When Bhavini Gadhiwala, an NIT Surat graduate, returned to the Information Technology (IT) industry after 15 years, the 43-year-old, found herself at a disadvantage — she was not abreast with the latest technologies. "I always felt the need to get out of my home and look for part-time work. Time just flew with marriage and raising children. When the elder one was in college, I didn't want to waste any more time and began looking out for work. I soon realised that things can become favourable if only I had improved skill sets," the mother of two told indianexpress.com.
When Gadhiwala was looking out for courses that could help her upgrade her skillsets, she learnt about VM Inclusion Taara --an up-skilling programme that helps women engineers restart their careers after a break.
Bhavini Gadhiwala took a certified online course to upgrade her skillsets.
From there, Gadhiwala completed a three-level certification course on virtualisation and cloud management online in three months, and right after, she landed a job in a multinational company.
"Some women never come back to work. But when some do decide to return, they realise that the technology landscape has considerably changed while they were away. They now require something to upgrade their skills but face paucity of time and resources. And even if they manage to join back their original employer or join a new organisation altogether, they are expected to deliver from Day 1. That leads to a technical know-how gap," said the VMInclusion Taara graduate from the first batch.
"Employment with older skillsets is always a problem since technology is continuously moving ahead. That is no different for women but more likely to happen with women owing to the societal set-up. While some companies are providing regular training and exposure to improve skillsets, those who take such courses are expected to remain or return in the same organisation," said an independent robotics process automation expert who didn't wish to be named.
Despite advances in gender rights, women are often the ones to give up their work owing to familial and other obligations. Unequal pay, inflexible policies, lack of support in the workplace, gender bias, lack of growth opportunities, or even, in some cases, security issues may play a role in deterring women from continuing their career. More often, women are more likely to be the primary caregivers of their families, so despite supportive policies at work, it can be difficult to maintain a work-life balance.
Agrees Svati Maheshwari, an IT professional. who re-joined work after the birth of her son in 2017, saying though she returned to her old organisation, she found it hard to cope up there. "There was this time when despite knowing the basics well, I couldn't understand machine learning much. So, I made it a point to learn from a few mentors, seek online material and study by burning the midnight oil," said the 35-year-old.
The idea to bring women in India with a gap of six months and above in their IT careers back into the workforce, without the compulsion of only having to join back their previous employers, led to the birth of VMInclusion Taara — a joint initiative of cloud management company VMware and international non-profit organisation Women Who Code.
"Gender inequality and inadequate representation is a systemic problem in the global technology sector. Without a supportive and reassuring back-to-work scheme, it can be too daunting to step back into the workforce after a break," said Duncan Hewett, senior vice-president and general manager, Asia Pacific and Japan, VMware.
In fact, India has a unique challenge — while it has perhaps the highest percentage of female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates — there are more women dropping out of the workforce than most other countries. Census 2011 data shows that only 25 per cent of India’s labour force is female and the contribution of women to India’s GDP is just 18 per cent, one of the lowest in the world, noted 2018-McKinsey Global Institute's report. Fifty per cent Indian women quit their jobs after five to eight years, compared to 17 per cent men, as per a working paper by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
"It’s disheartening to see that even though India has a huge talent pool, out of the 2.8 lakh engineers in India, only 14 per cent of them are women. Women who are keen to rejoin the workforce are unable to do because of the fast-evolving technology industry where their skills become outdated very quickly," said Hewett.
Formally announced in December 2018, VMinclusion Taara was kickstarted in January 2019. Since its inception, more than 4,000 women have registered for the program. As part of the program, women are equipped with professional training and certified courses which are self-paced, and on an average, it takes two to three months to finish the course. From datacenter virtualisation, cloud management and automation to networking and security, and digital workspace technologies, the technology programs imparted by the initiative is "certified and holds immense value in the industry".
"We recognise that gender inequality and inadequate representation is a systemic problem in the global technology sector. We also understand that a career break is sometimes unavoidable and a matter of choice for people. was born of our firm conviction that it is crucial to empower Indian women with the skills and confidence they need to begin the second chapter of their careers," said Hewett, adding that the initiative is looking to scale the program in 2020 and reach "closer to our goal of 15,000 women returning to work".
Agreeing how such an opening and a platform has helped her to continue her passion, Gadhiwala summed it up, "This is of vital importance because I believe the upskilling has allowed me to rejoin the industry on an equal footing. That is something that didn't seem much possible until a while back."