Here’s some good news for female technologists: organisations are pulling out all the stops to attract, engage with and retain women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers.

According to data from 451 Research, a technology industry research firm, women now make up 34% of the IT workforce in India and the country is now almost at 50:50 gender parity rate in STEM graduates.

However, the challenge is in retaining this diversity through middle management and leadership roles – a problem that companies like Accenture, AMD, Walmart Global Tech India and Icertis are taking head on through mentorship, upskilling and networking initiatives.

At Accenture, women represent more than 40% of the workforce in India and the company is making strides towards its global goal of achieving a gender-balanced workforce by 2025, said Mahesh Zurale, senior managing director, lead – Advanced Technology Centers in India at Accenture.

“We launched a programme called ‘Quantum Impact’ in December last year to equip our women colleagues at early career stages with mentorship on emerging technologies, delivery excellence and leadership skills to grow into technology leadership roles,” Zurale said.

At semiconductor company AMD, the India leadership team is sponsoring a curated group mentoring programme to enable 50 women engineers to be successful in their careers. “The programme aims to help these employees become better leaders as they rise through the career ladder – to be heard in difficult conversations, to be assertive, and to be resilient in the face of uncertainties,” said Fathima Farouk, HR head, AMD India.

Others like Walmart Global Tech India are concentrating on engaging with emerging women leaders. The company recently partnered with Nasscom to develop a six-month guided journey for high-potential women associates, and 31 female technologists got together to learn through a combination of learning labs, group coaching, mentor connects, tech upskilling with industry experts, and workshops, said Sudeep Ralhan, vice-president of people, Walmart Global Tech India.

Software company Icertis is reaching out to women outside the organisation in a bid to encourage more women to pick STEM subjects. “Late last year we concluded our first all-women ‘Geek Goddess Hackathon’ in association with TechGig, and the problem statement saw female technologists apply data science techniques to identify company filings which could provide gender diversity-related information,” said Pranali Save, chief HR officer.

Companies like Intuit, Genpact, ThoughtWorks, Sapient India and VMware have rolled out returnship programmes for women to return to the workforce after a career break.

Organisations need to step up to help female technologists invest in their own skills, with a particular focus on artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cybersecurity, said Ralhan.

However, all these efforts will only go so far without the active participation of male allies, said Anuranjita Kumar, chairperson of the Women in Technology (WiT) forum, which works to increase the number of women in STEM careers by offering them the right training, skills, and education.

“Men certainly need to be included in such initiatives and programmes to address gaps, created by lack of aspiration, absence of diverse mindsets, unconscious biases or prejudices, that hinder leadership growth and career opportunities,” said Kumar.

Times are changing, says AMD’s Farouk. “When we had an executive leadership visit to our India site from headquarters, the women engineers built a whole network of robots and programmed them to dance to music. It’s a great example of how women in STEM are demonstrating their innovative thinking and navigating their careers into new technology domains.”

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