26 Mar 2019 20:27 IST

Right training will be game-changer for women engineers

Through corrective policies organisations must make a conscious shift to eradicate gender biases

Women are increasingly stepping up to carve out their path in the field of engineering at various levels, which has largely been a male-dominated profession. India, alone, has over 1.5 million engineers graduating every year.

Imagine having just completed your course with all the knowledge you think you needed to acquire, getting a good job and then being denied the opportunity to apply any of this knowledge at your workplace. This happens a lot, because of biases in organisational culture, of which gender bias against women is the most prominent. There is, however, no major gap in the professional qualifications between male and female engineers, but the latter are affected by the differential treatment in organisations.

Women are as employable as men, according to a national employability study. However, it’s not just the work environment, but access to practical engineering education that proves a major hurdle for women in terms of skill development, learning and growth in an organisation.


Bridging the gender gap

Growth of women in an organisation is affected, early on, when there are biases, and it becomes harder to close the gap in gender ratios. This is the reality in many engineering organisations today, where women are not able to contribute to the best of their potential. A 2018 McKinsey study revealed that, for every 100 men who are promoted to a manager level position, only 79 women are promoted; resulting in 62 per cent of men holding managerial positions, compared with 38 per cent of women. Consequently, there is a significantly lower number of women who can be promoted internally, and the number of female external hires with the necessary experience is also much lower.

The opportunity to take decisions and get involved at a deeper level is absolutely necessary for engineering professionals to grow. However, when courses don’t include such modules, it becomes difficult to enter the professional world equipped without the requisite decision-making capabilities.

According to a recent study, more women than men state that the lack of confidence is one of the primary reasons for their not being able to land a job in emerging tech. Of these, over 60 per cent of women found they did not have enough hands-on experience in the field, particularly in coding. Students with little knowledge of practical, industry-specific coding, for instance, struggle when dropped into real-world situations. The same applies when one is aiming to get a job in the field — you will be expected to code in new languages and different ways from what you may be used to.

Lack of practical skills

The absence of specific hands-on work, right from the academic level, and through other upskilling methods is what largely leads to women being less confident in their abilities. The fact that only 28 per cent of women stated ‘low knowledge’ as a hindrance, against 41 per cent of men in the survey highlights this further.

Another revelation from the same study is that women are as passionate as men about coding, but give comparatively less importance to salary (6 per cent versus 11 per cent, respectively). This indicates the existing, almost universal, disparity in terms of salary between the genders. However, it also highlights women’s passion for emerging tech, which needs to be fuelled by the right facilities and immersive, simulative experiences.

Enabling environment

One of the appropriate approaches for this situation is the ‘Maker Approach’, where people learn everything on their own. This helps them learn industry-specific skills and keep up with today’s demands. They are given specific problem statements based on industry requirements, which need to be solved in a time-bound manner, mimicking a real-life situation.

Such an approach will help shape the right talent and erase difficulties in ambiguous situations, especially in the initial phases of job hunting. Additionally, organisations need to make a conscious shift to eradicate gender biases by implementing corrective core policies and practices in the workplace. This will reduce the gender gap and strengthen the all-round talent levels in the company.

(The writer is Co-Founder at BridgeLabz, an incubator focused on solving the tech employability challenge.)