Women’s History Roundtable: Sarada Ramani: “Women in the IT Sector: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities”

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Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

October 13, 2012: RoundTable Seminar: Sarada Ramani

Women in the IT Sector: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities

Ms Ramani began her seminar on Women and the IT Sector with a short history of the evolution of the computer industry. She took us through Pascal’s adding machine, Babbage’s Differential Machine, IBM and Apple.

Ms Ramani pointed out a few highlights in the evolution of computers in which women played a significant role. The first woman programmer was Ada Lovelace, who was an analyst working on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in 1842. The next documented step taken by women in the world of computer programming came nearly a century later, when American women worked on ballistics calculations during World War Two. In 1943, the wives of scientists at Los Alamos computerized the Manhattan Project. In 1946, a team of women were part of the original team behind ENIAC, the first electronic general purpose computer. Later in 1949, Grace Hopper invented the root language of COBOL, which is still used in some programs. In 1962, Jean Sammet became the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery. Mary Allen Wilkes became the first person to use a personal computer in 1965. Also in 1965, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first woman to complete a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

The Indian IT industry came into existence in the 1960s, when India acquired computers from the (then) USSR. In 1968, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) came into existence. In 1975, the National Informatics Centre was established. In 1976, the Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC) was formed. In a bid to indigenize computer products, CMC acquired all the machines from IBM after IBM pulled out of India in 1978. 1986 saw the creation of the Wide Area Network. In 1991, the Ministry of Electronics was set up (currently the Ministry of Information and Communications). During the same year, STPIs (Software Technology Parks of India) was set up. STPI meant that an organization could have an office without a physical space. The first e-mail server, VSNL, was set up in 1991. The National Telecomm Policy was formulated in 1999. In 1998, the IT industry comprised 1.2% of the GDP, and 4% of exports. These figures have increased significantly over the next 15 years. In 2012, the IT industry comprised 7.5% of the GDP and 25% of exports.

Coming to the presence of women in IT today, Ms Ramani pointed out that women generally score higher on the 16 competencies exemplified in leaders. In spite of this, there is still a significant gender gap in leadership positions in the IT world. Only 4.9% of all board directors are women. Only 22.6% of people employed in IT organizations are women, and women make up 36% of the organized labour force. These figures are reflected in the IT industry as well, where there still exists a large gender gap. It should be noted that at the entry level, 72% of employees are women; but at the top of the pyramid, only 7% of top management comprises of women.

Ms Ramani then told us a little about eWIT – an organization of women in IT. It is a platform to facilitate the interchange of ideas and provide a voice for women in the IT industry. eWIT works to increase the percentage of women in the IT industry, and improve the movement of women from lower to higher levels in the organization. It is a 7 year old NGO, and was formed by women in the industry.

eWIT works in many areas, including research and consulting, networking and academic initiatives. As part of their work in research and consulting, eWIT partners with the Computer Society of India (CSI) to conduct various programs highlighting the roles of various stakeholders in the IT industry. eWIT also does research on leadership and women, and the changes which are required for women to access leadership roles. They also consult with large corporate organizations to identify best practices to understand and mitigate problems faced by women in the workplace.

Networking serves to increase the sustainability of the workforce, and understand why women tend to leave jobs. eWIT has launched the Role Model series, in which women in senior positions talk about the challenges that they face and how they move forward. eWIT also holds panel discussions about various topics related to women and the workplace.

eWIT also runs 2 programs a year in colleges to impart entrepreneurship and employability skills to college students.

Ms Ramani concluded the discussion with a list of Best Practices which should be implemented in all organizations in order to encourage an increased percentage of women in the workforce.

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