Women's Equality Day: Breaking Barriers & Empowering Women In STEM Roles

Naaz Mushrif, Global Head -Talent Management & Diversity, Tata Technologies believes that the pursuit of improved diversity figures, without simultaneously cultivating an inclusive environment, is destined to face eventual failure, hence, the responsibility of fostering inclusion falls upon those who are already considered part of the mainstream, rather than on those that are marginalized


On this Women's Equality Day, India celebrates the remarkable progress made towards gender equality, while recognizing that challenges persist, especially in fields like Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Women's participation in these critical domains remains disproportionately low. To mark this day, Naaz Mushrif, Global Head -Talent Management & Diversity, Tata Technologies delves into how organisations are actively challenging gender stereotypes by addressing unconscious bias, providing targeted support and collaborating with external partners paving the way for women's representation.

How can organisations actively challenge and break down gender stereotypes associated with STEM roles to encourage more women to pursue careers in these fields?  

Gender stereotypes have a detrimental impact on the perceived potential and evaluation of women. These stereotypes ascribe traits like warmth and nurturing to women while assigning competence and assertiveness to men, particularly in STEM fields. This bias leads to women needing to demonstrate more often, their competence, than men. Overcoming these stereotypes involves objectively identifying skills needed for roles with organisations adopting structured methods with unbiased metrics for talent evaluation. Objective criteria are more likely to lead to fair hiring, benefiting women and underrepresented groups. Transparent processes and holding leaders accountable will promote unbiased decisions.

The perception that STEM is male dominated starts early in education, dissuading girls from pursuing STEM degrees. Organisations must collaborate with schools and parents to introduce girls to STEM early and counter these stereotypes. Exposure to role models and cultural beliefs shapes perceptions. To counter negative perceptions, organisations must actively showcase women leaders as role models. They must also challenge stereotypes internally by recognizing and sharing successful women's stories. For instance, at Tata Technologies, a campaign highlighted innovative contributions from women.

Blaming the scarcity of women in STEM on pipeline issues or personal choices overlooks organisational structures tailored to traditional male employees. Policies, processes and expectations are based on outdated norms. Women, especially young mothers, face challenges at work and home. Organisations must adapt by offering extended maternity leaves, flexible work arrangements and daycare facilities. Addressing these concerns helps women balance demands of multiple roles.

Educating employees about stereotypes is crucial. Unconscious biases affect decision-making. Education and awareness encourage self-scrutiny, reducing reliance on stereotypes. At Tata Technologies' through our DEI Program 'RAINBOW', we host global dialogues and awareness sessions. Goals for gender diversity and progress tracking lead to more thoughtful decision-making. Explaining decisions prompts re-evaluation and deters stereotype usage. 

Leadership decisions based on stereotypes are unacceptable. Organisations must train leaders through DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programmes. Leaders must be encouraged to mentor women who show high potential, appreciating their competence and dispelling stereotypes. This involvement will help foster genuine recognition of talent and break down biases.

How important is men sensitisation to encourage women representation and equality at workplace? What is the role of training and education in this?   

An organisation's pursuit of improved diversity figures, without simultaneously cultivating an inclusive environment, is destined to face eventual failure. It is widely recognized that the responsibility for fostering inclusion falls upon those who are already considered part of the mainstream, rather than on those that are marginalized. In this context, men play a pivotal role and bear the responsibility of creating a nurturing ecosystem that promotes diversity.

The achievement of equality and representation within the workplace hinges as much on men as much as it does on women. Men, working proactively alongside women, are essential to establish an environment that empowers women's involvement across all tiers of decision-making.

Men can actively champion women's progress by supporting their inclusion in decision-making bodies. This involves advocating for affirmative actions, nominating more women, setting concrete targets or quotas for women in leadership positions, and ensuring that women receive equitable professional growth opportunities, akin to their male counterparts. Additionally, women themselves may need to break away from reinforcing gender stereotypes and limited gender specific roles.

The roots of these stereotypes are often planted during early education, making education the key to rectification. Organisations are dedicating resources to initiatives that raise awareness and understanding. Nevertheless, these awareness efforts must be substantiated by policies and processes for lasting impact. At Tata Technologies, while we conduct awareness sessions, we are continuously striving to build and better the necessary framework to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of such endeavours.

How can organisations proactively identify and groom women in technical roles to take on leadership positions?  

Organisations can enhance their support for the progression of women in technical roles by encouraging them to cultivate a diverse skill set while also offering structured guidance for their professional growth.

However, these endeavours must be undertaken on two pivotal fronts. First, they must ignite and fuel ambition and determination among women who may have, at some point, settled into comfort zones despite their potential. Second, they must establish a developmental framework that women can leverage to foster their advancement.

Enterprises are taking a proactive stance in identifying high-potential candidates and giving them opportunities to transition into leadership roles. At Tata Technologies, women are identified for such growth opportunities through the LeaderBridge WINGS program. This initiative empowers them to challenge self-imposed limitations, discover their distinctive leadership identity, and give them access to internal leaders who mentor them. Consequently, by prioritizing a diverse array of female talent in succession planning, leaders can foster a leadership pipeline that mirrors the organisation’s dedication to gender parity. This catalyses substantial transformation and engenders a more inclusive work environment.

Moreover, leaders establish quantifiable diversity and inclusion objectives for their hierarchies. This strategy fosters accountability in achieving diversity targets and facilitates regular monitoring of progress.

What steps are taken to eliminate gender-based barriers such as unconscious bias, microaggressions, and lack of representation in decision-making processes?

To dismantle the existing barriers within an organisation, a structured approach is needed to identify and address biases. These biases can be unearthed through the analysis of data patterns, revealing gender disparities that serve as potential intervention points. An effective method of uncovering unconscious gender bias in the workplace is by collecting data on individuals' experiences. Sometimes, job descriptions subtly reinforce gender stereotypes. For instance, if leadership roles are portrayed using language traditionally associated with masculinity, unconscious bias can favour male applicants. This bias may unconsciously hinder women's chances. Profile masking, ensuring gender neutral Job Descriptions, are some of the measures being adopted.

To mitigate the impact of unconscious bias on judgments, training can be provided to those responsible for performance evaluations. Implementing procedures that enhance assessment accuracy, such as independent evaluations by multiple assessors before collaboration can help counter bias. Promoting awareness and discouraging preferred treatment in the workplace, especially by managers and leadership, can contribute to eradicating gender bias.

Leaders in the workplace have a crucial role in addressing microaggressions. They bear the responsibility of establishing and upholding policies that foster inclusivity and respect. Creating a culture that values diversity, educates employees about microaggressions, and encourages open conversations is essential. By taking proactive steps to address microaggressions, workplace leaders can cultivate an environment where every employee can excel and make meaningful contributions. Establishing communication channels for employees to voice their concerns, sharing their encounters with microaggressions, and offering feedback, is crucial. Listening attentively to their viewpoints and taking appropriate measures to address their issues is vital. At Tata Technologies, we extensively utilize our "Chief Listening Officer" and AI-powered chatbot to engage with individuals at various stages of their career journey, gathering insights about their experiences to proactively take appropriate corrective actions.

How can organisations collaborate with external partners, industry groups, or networks to advance the cause of women's representation?  

Increasingly, organisations are investing in the training of women in STEM fields to equip them for immediate employment. They are extending networking opportunities and establishing programmes for professional development for women. In their pursuit of achieving diversity and inclusive representation in decision-making processes, organisations must lend support to initiatives led by women. They must also contribute to training efforts aimed at advancing the roles of women. 

Many organisations lend their backing to local and regional women activists, as well as women's rights groups, to advocate for essential policy reforms. They must further endorse grassroots movements and community-driven organisations spearheaded by women.

Tata Technologies, for instance, takes an active role in enhancing the skills of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds through the EvE (Employment via Education) programme. This initiative focuses on swiftly improving their employability through extensive skill development programmes.

Moreover, Tata Technologies has established partnerships with several academic institutions to encourage more students, particularly women, to consider pursuing engineering as a viable career path. Collaborations with Diversity Partners like HerKey and Hirist.Com enable Tata Technologies to engage with talent pools across varying experience levels, specifically within STEM fields.

As part of their campus recruitment strategies, Tata Technologies prioritizes visiting engineering institutions in remote regions of India, aiming to identify and recruit talented women engineering graduates.


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