‘COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges more commonly faced by women employees’

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With the resurgence of the COVID-19 wave, most employees are back to working from home. Working amid the pandemic has undoubtedly been tough for employees as well as employers. However, women employees typically face more pressure in this situation since managing work and home simultaneously – from the same premises – takes a toll and adds to the latent exhaustion.

We spoke to Anjali Rao, Senior Director – HR, Intel India to understand how women employees were coping up with the situation, the effectiveness of diversity policies and the state of affairs at India Inc. She also spoke about managing engineering careers and her tips for young women engineers.

Has working amid the pandemic and juggling personal and professional responsibilities been tougher for women employees?
Anjali Rao:
The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges more commonly faced by women employees as compared to their male counterparts. Working women emerged more susceptible to bear the brunt of layoffs and a displaced work-life balance. A study by Mckinsey and Co. women’s job losses have been 1.8 times greater than men.

It, therefore, becomes imperative for employers to play a key role in bridging that gap. This includes adopting and furthering policies that enable women to build careers irrespective of the life stage they are in and the additional demands that come with marriage, childbirth and elderly care. The psychological support from one’s team, peer group, and family also cannot be discounted. It is a synergy of all these factors that will help us minimise the gap between what men and women employees go through during the same external crisis.

India Inc. has been talking about women in STEM roles for some time now. Is this still a distant goal to be achieved?

Anjali Rao: Diversity has clearly emerged as a prerequisite for innovation and the cornerstone of scientific, technological, and economic progress. A Zinnov-Intel study found that there is only 30% representation of women in corporate India. In technical roles, the number is even lower, with women making up just 26% of the workforce.
The good news is that the number of women that graduate in STEM fields each year has seen a rise. Presently, women make up about 40% of STEM graduates and we have a fairly healthy representation of women at the entry level. However, it gradually declines at the mid, senior and executive levels. Getting women back into the workforce after a career break is a way to address this ‘leaky talent pipeline’. Some steps organisations can take to enable this transition for women include:

• Flexible work arrangements to ease the transition back into the workplace

• Learning and development plan for any new skills required and to help them ramp up

• Mentorship and networking to support them on this journey

Has the Indian workplace come of age when it comes to gender and related issues?
Anjali Rao:
We have a long way to go to reach gender parity in the overall workforce, and especially in STEM fields. The business case for diversity and inclusion is well established. Diversity in the workforce helps build a more inclusive workplace that fuels innovation and growth. A study by McKinsey and Co. showed that organisations in the top quartile of diversity in executive teams were 25% more likely to financially outdo those in the bottom quartile.

Having established that diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, we must take affirmative action. We have to set measurable goals to achieve gender equity. Organisations must recognise and take steps to deal with unconscious bias across recruitment, development, and career advancement of their talent pool. This would level the playing field and ensure equitable access to opportunities for all.

What’s your advice to young women engineers keen on making a great career run.
Anjali Rao:
A great career run is made by working on aspects that go beyond the basic work-related skills. While being competent at work is imperative to career growth, it is essential to learn the life-skills that no coursebook teaches. Do not be constrained by prescribed gender roles and expectations. Be fearless and challenge these assumptions. Speak your mind, and forge ahead with a solution-oriented approach to all things that come your way. Appreciate the learning curve and do not hesitate to seek help when you need it. This will help you turn roadblocks into milestones. I would therefore tell young women to be bold and fearless.

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