Can Re-Skilling In Technology Re-Start Women Engineers’ Careers?

The Indian workforce faces a growing gender gap. Recent studies show that only 23.3 percent of women were part of the workforce in 2017-18. This is significantly lower than the 31.2 percent recorded in 2011-12. Even India’s booming IT sector is not free of this widening gender imbalance. Research indicates that approximately 45 percent of women engineers drop out of the workforce after five to eight years, never to return. No matter which way one looks at these stats, the prognosis is alarming. Indian women are either keeping away from the workforce or dropping out at the peak of their careers and staying out.

Why Women Take Career Breaks

Highly educated and experienced Indian women are dropping out of the workforce just when they reach the mid-management level. This is a trend that we are all too familiar and know that we can’t afford. It is an accepted fact today that diversity and inclusivity are closely linked with innovation and an organization’s growth. Under such conditions, the loss of talented, motivated women from our teams is regrettable. Fortunately, organizations are investing time and effort in establishing inclusive practices and supportive policies to help retain women. Even then, urban working women are often faced with impossible choices at times and have no option but to take a break from their jobs. Most often, upward progression in their careers goes hand in hand with major personal milestones – marriage, childbirth and caring for elderly parents and more. The challenge is compounded by some very Indian social prejudices that prevent them from putting their young children into daycare or outsourcing the care of their parents to professionals. Under such circumstances, quitting jobs seems like the only viable option.

What Stops Them From Rejoining

But children don’t stay small forever, lives in new cities soon settle down and parents’ health issues become manageable after a while. At which point most women techies want to return to work and regain the financial independence, satisfaction and sense of empowerment their work gave them. Unfortunately, in the technology sector, a gap of even a couple of years can mean the death of a career simply because the skillsets of the individual are outdated. Modern technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace, and even those of us actively working in the field need to stay on our toes and constantly learn and upskill ourselves to retain our competitive edge. Women who dropped out of the field often find their skills outdated and are at a loss when they try to rejoin the workforce. And as a result, they either manage to re-enter the workforce at a disadvantage and find themselves lagging behind their male contemporaries or are lost to the sector forever.

How Reskilling Can Help

Here is where retraining and upskilling programs specifically designed for women on career breaks can be of significant help. A recent survey indicates that 34 percent of women looking to restart their careers consider reskilling and training to be an essential factor for not just rejoining the workforce but also for subsequent career progression and job role changes. 26 percent felt that reskilling would give them the confidence to attend interviews, 22 percent felt it would compensate their break and 16 percent felt it would increase their market value. From the industry’s point of view, investing in reskilling programs specifically for women on a career break is a winning proposition as it helps build a robust pipeline of talented motivated and skilled women raring to give their best at work. This is a talent pool that no organization can afford to miss out on.

There is no doubt that bringing more women into the workforce would help the Indian economy. According to the World Bank, India could boost its growth by 1.5 percentage points to 9 percent per year if around 50 percent of women could join the work force. The Indian IT sector is a major contributor to the country’s GDP and as such must focus on ensuring the most robust and diverse talent pool possible. Reskilling and upskilling programs for women who want to rejoin the workforce are a critical imperative for this sector.