Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President & CEO, AnitaB.org, a global non-profit social enterprise, is committed to increasing the representation of women technologists in global workforce. On a visit to India, she spoke about why women are critical in building technology and how to increase diversity in tech. Edited excerpts:
How does India fare as far as women in technology go?
According to a study we have done, in India 34% women are employed in technology which is a great number in comparison to Europe (18%) and the US (24-25%). However, the goal is to get this number globally to 50 -51% because 51% of the population is female. And so we'll be excited to see when we reach 50%. The other number that I would share is that of those 34%, women are not evenly distributed across the level. For instance, a number of studies show that 51% of women are at entry level. Some companies do a great job of bringing women in at the entry level. But by the time they get to the mid level, those numbers declined to maybe 25%, and by the time they get to senior level, it's 1%. So we're seeing a great brain drain over time. When these women are getting more experienced, they should be more valuable to their organizations but we find that they're leaving, or they are not being retained.
How can companies increase diversity in tech roles?
One great way is the culture of organization becoming more conducive to retaining and promoting women. We know companies, historically, were created in cultures that were conducive for the success of men. And so being able to create those processes or have learnings around the attitudes for inclusion, have mentors available to make sure that what is needed to be successful that information is shared, that there are sponsors who will actually make sure that women are getting included on those great projects or included in some of the new development.
But culture is difficult to drive and differs from organization to organization?
It is difficult, but it's not impossible, right. And we've seen examples of companies doing amazing things that are causing women to not only stay but also to come back. For example, Intuit has a great programme called ‘Returnship’. And we know of other companies such as Dell and Cisco, which have the same sort of programmes that are created to encourage women to come back after having long periods of absence from work. So companies have to be willing to invest in those types of programmes and give women the opportunity to get that training, to get that networking and internal activities to get back into your position. That's going to show those women that the company is serious have investing in them, both for training, and also for the longevity of their careers.
How does AnitaB.org help to enhance diversity in tech?
We like to facilitate. First and foremost, for the women, we are that resource that helps women understand what their opportunities are. Giving them access is very, very important. Many times people don't even understand what it is that they can contribute to an organization. There are new opportunities all the time. And so being able to have women come together and either scale up in areas that they know that they're interested in, or find out about new areas that they didn't even know about.
I was a technical woman, back in the day, and most of the time, I was the only one. And I didn't have an organization such as AnitaB that connected me with other women that would have encouraged me to stay. So what we want to be able to do is provide opportunities, both in person and virtually so that women have access to the each other and they know that they can find encouragement, they can find training, they can find access to opportunities that allow them to stay, and also to branch out and do new things. So that's one important thing that we do.
Then we partner with companies and the service that we offer them is to take a look at their culture, their operations, their standard operating procedures, and make recommendations to them. And then watch the progress and help them measure. You know, this is a partnership, we partner with the women, we partner with the companies, we partner with the university to help women understand their opportunities.