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Indian IT industry attracts more women, but many exit within first 5 years in the job

In 'Women in Science and Technology', Namrata Gupta explains how women in the Indian IT industry are victims of pay gap, career stagnation & other inequalities.

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Women’s participation in IT is higher both in comparison to other sectors in the country, and in comparison to representation in the sector in other countries. The increase in numbers of women in engineering education and the mushrooming of several private engineering colleges since the 1990s catered to a growth in demand for engineers in the IT industry. IT–BPM is the largest private sector employer— delivering 3.7 million jobs; this industry is contributing about 7.9 per cent of GDP at present—compared to 1.2 per cent in 1999–2000 (IT & ITES 2005–2006, 2018).

There has been some slowdown in terms of hiring—the industry added 230,000 jobs in 2011–2012 (Gupta 2015) and 105,000 in 2017–2018 (IT & ITES 2018). However, private equity/venture capital in IT services has grown at the CAGR of 27.25 per cent in financial year 2017–2018 (IT & ITES 2018). Further, while the economy grew in terms of GDP from 6.4 per cent in 2013 to 6.9 per cent in 2017, the revenues from IT–BPO (now IT–BPM)4 industry have grown much faster at CAGR of 9.5 per cent between 2013 and 2018 according to the World Bank statistics.

Women constituted 21 per cent of the total IT workforce in 2001 (NASSCOM 2001), increasing to about 30 per cent in 2012 (NASSCOM 2013, cited in Gupta 2015); 28% according to Sudha 2012). At present, for FY 2017–2018, the IT and ITES sector employs 34 per cent women according to Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.6 This is higher than the 20.5 per cent average level of female participation in the formal economy in 2011, for which statistics are available (OGD 2012–2015) and higher than either in public or private sector separately. The women’s participation in the organized public sector is lower at 18.07 per cent than in the organized private sector at 24.3 per cent (OGD 2012–2015). Women’s participation in IT workforce is second highest among all non-agricultural sectors in the country after e-commerce (67.7%) and retail (52%; NASSCOM 2018; Raghuram et al. 2017).

Also read: Millions of women absent from India’s workforce capable of adding Rs 30 lakh crore to GDP

This participation in IT is also higher in comparison to the participation in the sector in other countries. For instance, in 2014, women held about one-fourth of all computing occupations in the USA, although they make up more than half of the US workforce (Women’s Bureau 2015). The percentage of computing occupations held by women has been declining in the USA since 1991, when it reached a high of 36 per cent (Ashcraft, McLain and Eger 2016).

The growth of women in the IT sector is aided by the fact that computers enjoy a woman-friendly image and fit into the overall gendered sociocultural context. As mentioned earlier, specialization in computers is suitable for women (Parikh and Sukhatme 2004); the jobs associated with computers are considered ‘safe’ for women (Varma 2010) and offer a career in software which commands the highest social approval (Bagchi 1999). A woman being skilled in computers is not regarded as abnormal, which is also reflected through cinema. According to Pal (2010: 7), in the South Indian films, ‘we see a burst of female software engineers on screen’ including films with a reversal of roles, with the female lead being an accomplished technologist and the male lead as professionally subservient.

The sociocultural context of the fillip in women’s participation is supported by organizational context of the IT professions. The IT sector offers white-collar jobs with comparatively high salary, easy international mobility, gender-neutral policy based on knowledge-centric skills’ possession, flexible work routine and physically less demanding work process in comfortable indoor work environment (Kumar 2001; Shanker 2008; Upadhya 2006). Some other factors that have led to this trend include transportation, parental leave, anti-harassment, health care and an emphasis on recognizing and supporting women’s needs (especially mothers; Raghuram et al. 2017). In 2012, only 22 per cent of the companies had more than 20 per cent women at senior level; by 2015, the number of such firms had increased to 33 per cent (Raghuram et al. 2017). The number of companies achieving 30 per cent at the C-Suite level has been increasing at 2 per cent a year from 2012 (NASSCOM 2018).

Around 2006, the Indian infotech industry then faced with talent shortage launched initiatives to attract more women into the workforce. IT industry, a relatively new industry (about 30 years old at present), was unencumbered by a traditional masculine culture. It has been the first to recognize the significance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) of which gender has been a major component. It is seen as business imperative, particularly since they operate in a highly competitive environment and talent acquisition and its retention is important; diversity is seen as key to innovation (Buddhapriya 2013). Wipro Technologies launched its Women of Wipro (WoW) initiative, as part of the Wipro Diversity Council, in 2008. The objectives of WoW are to reduce the attrition of women employees, facilitate increased numbers of women managers at a senior level and develop Wipro as an equal opportunity employer with world-class practices to nurture women employees. Infosys has several programmes for gender diversity. It won the first NASSCOM-India Today Award for Gender Inclusivity in 2007 and American society for training and development award in 2009 (Buddhapriya 2013). Meenu Bhambhani, head of corporate social responsibility with Mphasis, now a Hewlett-Packard unit (Duttagupta 2010), says:

The Indian IT industry is definitely ahead on the issue of respecting diversity and goes much beyond lip-service or tokenism. Diversity policies focus not only on granting certain entitlements but also on creating support systems that lead to a level-playing field.

Diversity has been recognized as a good business proposition as well. NASSCOM points out that corporations with at least 10 per cent women on company boards have 2.5–5 per cent higher returns on equity, firms where women are at least 30 per cent of C-Suite have 15 per cent higher profitability than others (Raghuram et al. 2017).

However, the IT sector exhibits a mixed picture in terms of a gendered environment. The gender diversity initiatives of the firms helped to enhance the representation of women in the workforce. By 2011, HCL, Wipro and Infosys had about one-fourth to one-third women workforce, but few in leadership positions. At Infosys, for instance, only 4.8 per cent were at senior management level (Buddhapriya 2013).

At present, although representation of women in the IT workforce is roughly commensurate with percentage representation enrolled in bachelors in engineering (about 28%), it is less than those enrolled in bachelors in computer-related branches (COE, IT, ECE, computer applications) where women’s representation is about 40 per cent (as in Chapter 2). This suggests attrition and/or change of sector of employment. As per one source, percentage of women engineers unemployed is as high as 40 per cent. Although there is unemployment among men engineers also, experts believe that more women than men engineers are unemployed (Parikh and Sukhatme 2004).

Also read: In IAS training academy, women civil servants are seen by male colleagues as husband-hunters

Further, there is gender pay gap at all levels, lowest for 3–5 years’ experience level and highest for 6–10 years of experience, as reported by Monster Salary Index (Monster India 2016: 17–26). Also, there is vertical and horizontal segregation. An analysis indicates that over 51 per cent of entry-level recruits are women; over 25 per cent of women are in managerial positions but <1 per cent are in the top level/C-Suite (Raghuram et al. 2017). Thus, there is stagnation at entry and middle-career levels and the gender gap widens over the years significantly. Among the companies surveyed, 88.5 per cent reported that less than 10 per cent of their C-Suite is female and 80 per cent companies had less than 20 per cent at the senior management levels (NASSCOM 2018). As per the same source, more than 50 per cent companies have stagnated at the same level of women in senior management (4%) in 2017 as in 2012.

In 2006, women constituted 26 per cent of the professionals in the technical segments of the IT industry, which employ a large number of engineers. However, the ratio of males to females is reversed (i.e., 31: 69) in the BPO sector (Gupta 2015), which is mainly a non-technical segment of the IT industry. This is affirmed by a recent survey which found 26 per cent women in engineering roles; that 45 per cent women move out of core engineering jobs after 8 years of experience to marketing, product management or consulting; that more women are in software testing jobs (34:66 as men–women ratio) which are less sought after than hard-core programming roles (men–women ratio at 75:25). This indicates that a growth in numbers of technically trained women does not imply a consecutive decline in gender segregation in the labour market.

There are further evidences of gender inequalities in the profession. A survey found that the years of work experience are almost exactly the same for male and female employees at the different career levels (Raghuram et al. 2017). However, while men and women start their careers in IT companies in India at similar ages, men at senior positions are often younger than women at a similar level. This indicates that women with career breaks or part-time work take longer to move up. Majority of women working in the industry are aged 30 years or below and are usually single (Raghuram et al. 2017). A large proportion of women tend to exit from the industry after the first five years of employment.

This excerpt from Women in Science and Technology: Confronting Inequalities by Namrata Gupta has been published with permission from Sage Publications. 

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  1. The two comments from two males, no doubt, are very uninformed. This situation exists veyy much jn India but is not the case in Nordic countries or even a country like Singapore. Women are ready to take responsibility but it is equally important to remember that the ones who are not able to is because of the men and families who fail to be allies in their family life. Men do not sacrifice family lives at the expense of success but women are in a situation where both do not become possible

    • @Ipshita Chakraborty, why should men be allies? Women themselves choose men who earn twice or thrice than them in arranged marriage and I have seen this during my arranged marriage.

      My wife was an BPO professional earning between 1-2 lakhs pa but she wanted a groom who earns more than 6 lakhs. It’s not only her, many of her friends and relatives were like that. They wanted to work for a couple of years till they get pregnant and then become full time housewives which I have no problem with as she contributes by being a housewife than working at a BPO.

      If you’re going to work for 8 hours and earn 3x less than your husband then ofcourse you’ll have to contribute more to the household and childcare because the standard of living is being provided because of the husband.

  2. IT Sector is in full form to exploite labours. IT sector works on policy to keep the cost very low to attract more clients and to increase their client base to maximize profit.

    Ratio of females to males participation has increased due to choice of IT firm itself. It’s not women’s choice alone.
    These firms taking advantage of our Indian/Bhartiya cultural values where responsibility of running house is mainly on male member of family. Male member is bread winner of family. Whereas in Indian culture parents/husband’s don’t ask money from their daughter/wife to run house. There will be few families where where bread winner are female members. Male demands higher salary than females to support their families. Where as females don’t demand for heigher salary or are ready to work at lower salary.
    IT firms are taking full advantage of this fact. They know females will be ready to work at lower salaries. Appointment of more females will constitute low cost to organisation and maximum profit to firm owner.

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