Renuka has a decade of experience in the software industry, having worked in cross-functional roles across several countries. She is driven by building products that positively influence people’s lives. She strives to give back to the product community through speaking engagements and mentorship programs. She now heads the buyer and storefront product development team at Lummo in Bangalore, India. At Lummo, she builds software solutions for entrepreneurs and brands in SEA to build their strong brand through D2C channels, accelerate their growth, and serve their customers.
Building tech products, like building any consumer product requires a deep understanding of consumer needs. Most tech companies build products that any gender can use. Any company that is building a gender-neutral tech product should empathize with the needs of both genders. A company with a skewed gender ratio would most likely not address the needs of its consumer base effectively. Therefore, it follows that having a balanced representation of genders at all levels of an organization is vital to its success.
Apart from connecting with end consumers, we also need to look at what each gender brings to the team environment. Just to take one example of how we can strengthen teams, let’s look at working styles. Women tend to be more flexible and are good at multitasking. Men tend to be more focused on completing tasks one at a time. Having a good mix of flexibility and focus would add value to any organization.
In my career, there have been many occasions where I was the only woman in a team or the only woman on an entire office floor. In more recent times though, I can see changes. There are more women in tech as a whole and in leadership roles. At Lummo (my current company), we have taken multiple measures to reduce the gender gap and have successfully hired women on all levels.
The changes in gender representation that I have seen in the workplace are part of society’s broader improvements. However, there is a huge scope of improvement in terms of equality of access to education at all levels, access to jobs, and equal salaries for women performing at the same level as men. At the root of all these issues lies the issue of gender roles and rewards, as defined by society. As long as we strictly demarcate roles for a particular gender, inequality will persist.
Coming back to the gender gap in technology, what are the core problems that need to be addressed, and what steps do we need to take to solve them?
- Work-life balance for working mothers – The Covid pandemic has been a challenging time for all workers, but it has been particularly hard on working mothers. With most organizations going remote, working mothers now have to juggle office, caring for the kids, and performing household chores. There are multiple issues here. The first issue is about how society prescribes certain tasks for just women, exempting men. The second issue is around organizations providing support for working mothers. The first issue requires a shift in thinking in society as a whole. The second issue can be addressed by having organizations provide benefits for working mothers and fathers. For example, a certain number of childcare leaves as part of the holiday package can help parents share responsibility, instead of the burden falling entirely on mothers.
- Gaps in the leadership roles – A McKinsey study titled “Women in the Workplace 2019,” noted that women account for 48% of entry-level hires but only 38% of first-level managers, which reduces further at the senior management levels. I have been lucky to have had 3 women managers, including my current one at Lummo. From my own experience, I can vouch that having women in leadership positions helps because it broadens the perspective of the organization and brings in complementary strengths It also sets a great example for young women that leadership roles are not restricted to any particular gender.
- Using an inclusive language at work – Language plays an important role in how we think and function. By always referring to the third person as “he/him”, or using words like man-hours during work estimation, we are subtly excluding women and creating a perception that they are not as important. Although mostly unintentional, this can be psychologically damaging to women. Of the three issues we’ve discussed, this one is relatively easier to address because it requires just a small change in behaviour. However, it can have a large positive impact.
In order to address the gender gap in tech, we need changes at multiple levels – changes in society as a whole, changes within tech organizations, and changes in individuals. Only a concerted action at all these levels will unleash the full potential of women, bring a huge positive impact to organizations and make society happier and more productive.