Women's Equality Day: Workplace Inclusion Demands Collective Focus

Why are women at such a disadvantage? The answer to this question is rooted in challenges like societal biases, stereotypes and unequal access to educational and professional opportunities.

Gitanjali Singh
Aug 26, 2023 10:19 IST
Gender Gap In Financial Literacy

File Image

“I am a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me,” These stirring lines from a poem by the renowned American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, remind all women to stand in their power and celebrate themselves. But having self-love and confidence isn't enough for women to reach social and economic equity as discrimination, inequality and societal stereotypes greet them at every turn including in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) domains. 

On Women's Equality Day, I can't stress more over the importance of achieving gender equity in the workplace with the help of skill development and a collective focus on inclusion. Breaking down gender barriers not only in the tech sector but across industries requires all stakeholders to participate, not just women. 

Lack Of Female Representation In The Workforce 

There remains a distinct lack of female representation in the STEM workforce, as highlighted in the 2023 Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. The report reveals that despite women comprising almost half, that is 49.3 per cent of non-STEM employment, their presence in the global STEM workforce stands at just 29.2 per cent. Women account for 29.4 per cent of entry-level roles in STEM careers, but this representation diminishes to 17.8 per cent for leadership roles and 12.4 per cent for C-suite positions.


If you consider a rapidly burgeoning technological sector like Artificial Intelligence (AI), here too global data demonstrates that the progression of female representation has been slow. In July this year, news reports cited the latest report by the McKinsey Global Institute to warn that more women than men may lose their jobs by the end of the decade because of the rise of AI and automation.

Why are women at such a disadvantage? The answer to this question is rooted in challenges like societal biases, stereotypes and unequal access to educational and professional opportunities. This year in March however, UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector launched the ‘Women 4 Ethical AI Platform’ initiative with the intention of facilitating an ethical approach to AI via a gender lens, dedicating funds to gender-related schemes, ensuring that digital policies are gender equal, AI systems are not biased, and gender stereotyping is eradicated.  

Why is such an initiative important? Because, as a report by UN Women points out, increased female workforce participation in any field is critical to fostering economic diversification, income equality, and positive development outcomes. Women's economic empowerment also entails their equal participation in markets, control over resources, access to decent work and skill development, and the agency to make decisions about their lives.   


How Can Skill Development Help Close The Gap

Skill development has many dimensions to it. These include cognitive skills to understand complex ideas, socio-emotional skills to navigate interpersonal and social situations effectively, technical skills and digital skills to access, create and manage information safely and appropriately. Overall, the development of these skill sets is vital to transitioning from being an employee to becoming an employer.

According to a study by McKinsey, skill enhancement, a robust support system, and a fair structural framework that offers equal promotion opportunities are three vital factors essential for advancing women's careers in the IT sector. As indicated by the study, companies should take a forward-thinking approach to broaden formal skills development beyond technical training. This can involve dedicated sessions on career prioritisation and programs that link women with mentors who are in senior positions. Moreover, placing them in prominent projects that align with their strengths can facilitate on-the-job skill growth.


However, one of the major obstacles that hinder women's professional trajectory is childcare as traditional societal norms expect women to sacrifice their careers for motherhood. Measures such as arranging daycare facilities for children and offering hybrid work options can make women employees feel valued. I cannot also overemphasise the importance of creating a safe, gender-sensitive work culture for women. A recent global report published by Deloitte states that women still confront non-inclusive behaviours at workplaces, yet sadly, many choose not to report these occurrences to their employers. 

However, this year has seen a change, with 44 per cent of women reporting micro-aggressions to their employers—a noteworthy increase from the 23 per cent who did so in 2022. In terms of harassment, 59 per cent of women reported it to their employers in 2023, compared to 66 per cent in 2022.

It is clear that gender equality in the tech sector is a complex issue and cannot be achieved without specially designed policies to address the specific challenges women face. Companies must make provisions also for post-placement support and create essential workplace support systems for them. 


As Joanne Lipman, the author of the No.1 bestseller 'That's What She Said' wrote, "It doesn't matter how much companies talk about equality and inclusiveness. What matters are the incentives it creates for employees? Those incentives speak louder than any speeches by the CEO, or bias training workshops, or posters on a wall.”

Authored by Gitanjali Singh, Global Head of Strategy & New Business Growth, Visionet BPS.

Suggested reading: How Skilling Programs Can Fill Rural Unemployment Gap

#Women’s Equality Day #gender equality #Workplace Gender Inclusion #women in STEM