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Can digital technology really level the gender gap in India?
While technology has helped level the field in many areas, and helped women gain greater flexibility by working remotely or from home, its applications seem to have mixed results in the fight for gender parity.
India along with the rest of the world migrated to an all-out digital space propelled by what seems to be the most brutal global pandemic. There is, of course, no denying that tech has served to save lives and businesses during the coronavirus. But as the world slowly gets used to the new normal and digital technology continues to boom through entrepreneurial intervention and innovation, countries and people around the world have been inspired to become more conscious and help build the post pandemic world into a better one. In many ways, technology is helping with this endeavour whether it is providing healthcare for all to making/developing more sustainable ways to conduct business to financial inclusion.
So, it stands to reason that when it comes to addressing the gender gap, the question should be posed – can technology be the catalyst in evening the odds between the genders or will it create a greater divide?
According to a recent report by Kaspersky, titled “Women in Tech report, Where are we now?” nearly 76 per cent Indian women working in technology believe that Covid-19 and its effects have delayed their career progression while 54 per cent Indian women are of the opinion that gender equality is “more likely to be achieved through remote working structures.
The report which focused on understanding the evolution of women in technology also throws some other interesting insights. The lockdown was predicted to bring about a positive industry shift in the fight for gender parity by overcoming traditional stereotypes around availability and longevity when it comes to women’s careers would be removed. The impact of COVID meant that companies were accelerated or even forced into this new norm overnight, and to an extent, this prediction has yielded positive steps forward in terms of the overall industry mindset.
The report found that almost a third of women working in the tech industry globally prefer working at home to working in the office. A similar number reported they work most efficiently when working from home, and as many as 33 per cent revealed they have more autonomy when not working in an office.
Given that countries follow a 9-5 working pattern which is not compatible with the multiple roles women juggle in their everyday life, these results should not be surprising.
Most women juggle a variety of roles and functions whether it is their families or societies. In most cultures, even today, women are viewed and function as primary caregivers in the family. A fact that was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WFH- a mixed blessing?
The report highlights just how the potential of remote working for women in tech isn’t quite being matched by social progression in this ‘working from home’ dynamic. Almost half of women working in technology have struggled to juggle work and family life since March 2020 – a figure that is at its most prominent in North America but is a consistent worldwide trend.
When female respondents were asked about the day-to-day functions that are detracting from productivity or work progression, 60 per cent said they had done the majority of cleaning in the home compared to 47 per cent of men, figure which rises to 78 per cent and 64 per cent respectively in the United States. Meanwhile, 63 per cent of women had been in charge of home schooling compared to 52 per cent of men, and 54 per cent of women have had to adapt their working hours more than their male partner in order to look after the family. In the US, even though women account for about half of all American employees, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics found that more than four times as many women as men left their jobs last September. And while numerous contributing factors are behind the 865,000 to 216,000 gender differentials that month, experts say the pandemic’s impact on childcare services, and women’s ongoing role as the predominant primary caregivers, even in two-parent households, is helping drive the unemployment disparity. In India the situation is quite similar.
It is little surprise then that 50 per cent of women surveyed believe that the effects of COVID-19 have actually delayed, rather than enhanced their career progression. “The effect of the pandemic broadly differed for women. Some appreciated the greater flexibility and lack of commute from working at home, whilst others shared that they were on the verge of burnout. It’s paramount that companies ensure their managers are aligned with their strategy to support employees with caregiving responsibilities.
While these examples of social disparity aren’t tech specific, they do point towards a barrier that is preventing women from capitalising on the past year’s shift to remote working. As many as 41 per cent of women in tech (compared to 34 per cent of men) believe an equal working environment would be best for career progression, and 46 per cent think that remote working is an optimum way to achieve that equality. The tech sector must now maintain its own encouraging momentum in the hope that social stereotypes enable this chain of events in the months and years to come.