A casual stroll through any of the IT campuses in Bangalore reveals that the technology sector indeed employs women in substantial numbers. Industry reports have pegged these numbers at around 30 to 38 per cent of the total IT, IT-enabled services (ITES) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workforce, with the numbers significantly higher in the BPOs.

But do these numbers translate into a conducive work environment for women. Have they really succeeded in breaking the proverbial glass ceiling?

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, when most IT workers were enjoying their precious weekend, a small group of women — and a few men — met to participate in a workshop organised to shed some light on these very pertinent questions. A panel discussion, including working women, rights activists and a psychiatrist, helped facilitate a discussion on ‘women and the IT sector', where employees working in small and big companies in Bangalore sat together, and perhaps for the first time, participated in a stormy discussion on their rights, the issues they face and the challenges in juggling work and personal lives.

The event was organised by Ithi, a forum and support group for women in the IT and ITES industry. Over an hour and a half, several women spoke about their experiences. While a lot of what was said was not specific to the IT sector, women expressed their discontentment over the fact that the much-touted about ‘inclusivity' was often too superficial.

Indeed, like in many other industries, in the IT sector too the ‘leaky pipeline' is ubiquitous. “We have seen that after a certain age women simply drop out of the race. A simplistic way of looking at it would be to attribute this to childbirth and raising a family, but the fact is that companies are not doing enough,” says Pushpa Achanta, a software engineer.

Suresh Kodoor, Chief Executive Officer of Trazile Technologies, said while a lot of this has to do with the paternalistic attitude among men, despite education and exposure, it is also true that beyond a point women are not being considered for the top or high-skilled jobs. “What we need is a change in mindset.”

In fact, statistics collated in a global report, titled ‘Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2011', puts a number to this ‘dropout rate'. The survey reveals that corporate India not only has the lowest percentage of female employees (compared to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore), but more worryingly, has the highest dropout rate between junior and mid-level positions (pegged at 48 per cent). Between middle- and senior-level positions too, this is at 37 per cent.

Many women here spoke about managing time being the biggest challenge. With pressures at home and office in equal measure, they often find feeling inadequate on both counts. “We internalise the theory that the primary responsibility of running a house is on us, and therein lies the problem,” one employee, who works with an ITES company said.

Shobitha Santhakumari, counsellor at National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, said though women in IT too were less forthcoming in seeking counselling, a substantial number of couples that came to her were from this sector.

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