View from India: Inclusive growth strategies, with equal opportunities for all

An announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 'Corporate India'’s efforts to nurture talent and open out vistas for everyone were among the highlights of this year’s International Women's Day (IWD).

In a surprising twist, Modi has signed off from his social media accounts. His message came clear, “Greetings on International Women’s Day! We salute the spirit and accomplishments of our Nari Shakti (women power). As I’d said a few days ago, I’m signing off. Through the day, seven women achievers will share their life journeys and perhaps interact with you through my social media accounts.”

These women shared insights on socially relevant issues such as hunger; sanitation; sustainable development for water conservation; disability and inclusion, and financial empowerment by building the capacity of women in traditional crafts and farming.

With accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, Modi ranks among the most-followed world leaders on social media. He has 53.3 million followers on Twitter, 44 million on Facebook and 35.2 million on Instagram. However, a couple of days ago, he sent out feelers.

On March 2, Modi tweeted that he planned to quit his social media platforms. On March 3, he said will give away his social media accounts to women whose life and work inspire everyone. He would give away his accounts on Sunday March 8, already earmarked as International Women's Day.

Modi said that the move would help women ignite motivation in millions. The essence was captured in this statement: "Are you a woman whose life and work can inspire the world? Do you know such inspiring women who have made a difference in their spheres of life? Share such stories using #SheInspiresUs. Select entries will get a chance to take over @narendramodi's social media accounts!".

For their part, corporate firms have strategised their initiatives to ensure that both male and female professionals have a fair share of opportunities to grow. Opening out opportunities for men and women is now being ingrained into the corporate DNA to ensure a balanced approach in operations.

“Women bring a unique energy and perspective to leadership and therefore it's imperative to focus on inclusion and balance in organisations. The playing field needs to be leveled to enable #EachForEqual,” said Shikha Pillai, head of strategy, Siemens Healthineers. “That said, it is heartening to see that there are many more opportunities for us today and women role models are spearheading change in various fields. Each woman who carves a path for other women is transforming our world for the better!”

Technology should be inclusive in nature. Inclusion doesn’t end by bringing the rural masses into the world of technology. The digital journey is not one-way traffic, whose only aim is to map the unmapped population. Yes, it’s good that technology goes beyond mainstream population, but it should also create vistas for women to enter the workforce. Diversity in the workforce is like opening a Pandora’s Box for brainstorming and generating ideas for business outcomes.

Gender diversity has always been essential for any organisation to progress. Now, the need to include women in the company’s digital journey is much more acute. That’s because organisations are undergoing a digital transformation through technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and algorithms.

It’s not enough to just equip oneself with the know-how to execute these technologies. In order to get full benefit of these technologies, technical competencies need to be backed by abstract thinking and creativity that can only happen through inclusive and collaborative work. A company’s productivity can be scaled up by breaking stereotypes. For this, team members need to be educated on gender diversity.

As Leila Pourhashemi, VP (technology business operations), Blackhawk Network, put it: “Gender equality and diversity of thoughts and experiences delivers better business outcomes. At Blackhawk Network, we strive to lead the way by mentoring women around us, encouraging them to ‘lean-in’ and sponsoring them to seek new opportunities to advance in their career.” The company delivers branded payment solutions through the prepaid products, technologies and network that connect brands and people.

Though organisations are doing their bit to extend STEM jobs for women, still their numbers are abysmally low. The most obvious aspect is that we are yet to have a large community of women in technology. Another dimension is the kind of positions they occupy and even here there’s disparity. Agreeably, the digital sphere has opened out placements for women in e-commerce, online marketing and tech-based entrepreneurship. Yet, when it comes to writing code, it usually remains a male-centric domain.

“From resisting social expectations to adopting a new culture, women today are faced with many challenges," said Bindu Surendran, senior principal (delivery management), Sabre GDC. "Great work is not enough for women, just need to focus on the work you do and believe in yourself and on the way to your success help others, investing in learning and development for yourself and for others. Be open to criticism and make the effort to get better and stronger”.

Women’s presence and contribution to technology is yet to be fully whetted. The work-life balance needs to be aligned through flexi-timings and options such as working from home. It’s a misnomer to suggest that women don’t fit into technical roles or lack the analytical approach that tech tools require. In retrospect, it goes back to the formative years in education. It’s a crucial juncture in one’s life when career decisions are taken. That’s when more girls should be encouraged in the STEM disciplines, oriented towards subjects such as calculus, physics and math. Lateral and cognitive skills can be developed by allowing girls to do internships at AI and cyber-security firms.

Girls should be given scope to grow, come up with ideas and be empowered to face challenges. An open mind without any hindrances backed by spatial skills and career orientation is the need of the hour.

Looking at STEM textbooks, the examples should include women. For instance, in our ancient religious texts, the names of Maitreyi and Gargi Vachaknavi have figured prominently. They were knowledgeable, knew the scriptures and were hailed for their intellect. Moving ahead, Dr Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi and Dr Kadambini Ganguly qualified as doctors way back in 1886. Take the case of Indian biochemist Kamala Sohonie, who worked her way to become the first Indian woman to receive a doctorate in a scientific discipline in 1939. More recent examples would be Shakuntala Devi. Popularly known as the "human computer," her mathematical calculations earned her a place in The Guinness Book of World Records.

Brillio, a company born in the era of digital times, offers tech-enabled solutions to customers required to thrive in today’s digital economy. The company has chalked out initiatives to give its young team equal opportunities to grow.

“We are constantly upskilling ourselves to align with the evolving technology and market requirements. On this International Women’s Day, I would like to say, we can see the needle moving in the right direction and workplaces becoming more inclusive," said Lakshmi H. Shastry, principal architect (technology advisory and consulting), Brillio.

"The unconscious biases have reduced. However, it is slow and steady progress. It is, therefore, imperative to persevere and never give up on personal sense of self-worth as well as professional achievements”.

An equal world is an enabled world. #IWD2020 #EachforEqual is the theme of IWD 2020. The 2020 #EachforEqual campaign, which will run all year long, provides a unified direction to guide and galvanise continuous collective action, with #EachforEqual activity reinforced and amplified all year.

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