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Dr. Ritu Anand
17 April 2018

Women like YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki are rarities in Silicon Valley.

As well as being one of the most powerful people in tech, she has also increased the proportion of female employees at the video streaming company from 24% to 30%.

Despite the workforce still being more than two thirds male, YouTube stands out as a beacon of female empowerment in a US tech sector overwhelmingly dominated by men.

But elsewhere, women make up a far more significant proportion of the tech workforce and are helping to shape our digital world today and tomorrow. 

In China, 55% of internet start-ups are founded by women. Alibaba executive chair Lucy Peng and Jean Liu, president of taxi and lift-sharing app Didi Chuxing are among the world’s top 10 most powerful women in tech.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Clearly, women are making a significant impact in the tech sector. Yet, this is not a new phenomenon. Today’s female leaders are simply following in the grand tradition of women who have shaped our digital world.

Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the first computer programmer, thanks to her work on the ‘Analytical Engine’ – a mechanical precursor to modern computers. 

During World War Two women on both sides of the Atlantic worked on the earliest versions of modern electronic computers, creating the first software programmes and and the beginnings of programming language.

Computer scientist Annie Easley was one of the first African Americans to work for NASA, developing and implementing code used to research energy-conversion systems, most famously for the Centaur upper-stage rocket. Her code was also used to analyse alternative power technology, helping to lead to the development of the battery technology used in early hybrid vehicles.

And Cambridge University computing professor Karen Spärck Jones developed the concept of inverse document frequency, a form of natural language processing that is used in almost every search engine today.

Companies are rapidly recognizing that stereotyping has held them back. Women bring a high degree of emotional intelligence – otherwise known as ‘EQ’ – to the table, which is a critical driver of innovation. 

Tech helps break down barriers

Despite the inspiration provided by individual stories of success, globally, women are under-represented across all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions.

Low levels of participation are the result of a variety of barriers, including gender discrimination, taking time off work for childcare, a lack of opportunity for promotion, and often stereotypes around role definitions.

The good news is that technology itself is providing the tools to break down these barriers. 

Programs such as the Million Women Mentors campaign are influencing the career paths of women globally. MWM, which has so far encouraged more than two million people to become mentors, is committed to increasing the interest and confidence of women in STEM programs and careers.

Companies are rapidly recognizing that stereotyping has held them back. Women bring a high degree of emotional intelligence – otherwise known as ‘EQ’ – to the table, which is a critical driver of innovation.

Business leaders are now turning to tech to overcome recruitment and retention hurdles. Mobile and cloud computing are making it possible to provide flexible and remote working options. Companies are also beginning to use artificial intelligence in the early stages of recruitment to eliminate a range of biases, including those based on gender. For the enterprises that are committed to finding them, the solutions outnumber the challenges.

Empowered future 

The tech sector is proving an enabler for greater equality, with research indicating better pay parity and more opportunities among tech employees than other sectors.

In Saudi Arabia, a country whose ruler King Salman is gradually changing laws towards greater equality for women, the tech sector is helping women embrace a more progressive future.

In Riyadh, more than 900 women now work at the all-female business center set up by Tata Consultancy Services, Saudi Aramco and GE. This center, which provides finance and accounting, enterprise data management, analytics and IT services, taps into a vast pool of female graduate talent in Saudi Arabia. Until now these female graduates have largely been restricted to roles where the working environment is segregated by gender, and such roles have generally only been available in the education and healthcare sectors.

Technology is reshaping their future. These women now have access to an international workplace, the option to work with global teams, and the opportunity to realize their full potential as they broaden their horizons. 

Technology has the power to fine tune the balance between tradition and change in a way that will empower millions of women around the world. There is inspiration all around us – from the women who have laid the foundation of a digital future, to those who are cementing it, one brick at a time. And, for those who choose to embrace it, the opportunities are limitless.

About the author(s)
Dr. Ritu Anand

Dr. Anand is a Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Tata Consultancy Services and is a member of the Group Diversity Council and the HR Steering Committee at the Tata Group. With her deep experience, Ritu lends her expertise to talent management and leadership development, and is recognized for workforce policy and planning. She is most passionate about people and what drives them, and is committed to identifying, mentoring and supporting women leaders, both in TCS and outside.

Her various advisory roles include: Member of Worldwide ERC Global Advisory Council and Advisory Board member of the National HRD Network in Mumbai. She is the Governing Board Member of WILL (Forum for Women in Leadership), that aims at bringing together the collective aspirations, talents, and mentoring of women across corporate India. She is on the Board of Directors at two Tata Group companies and has a doctorate in Psychology.