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May 21, 2024
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‘Be The Changemakers’: For India to Shine, Says Isha Ambani, More Girls Must Enter STEM, Opt for Tech Careers


For India to shine, more and more girls must enter the realm of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) and opt for technology as a career, said Isha Ambani, director, Reliance Industries Limited, on Wednesday.

In her virtual address for Girls in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Day India 2024, she said that the world is changing and innovating, and if we are to survive in this fast-changing world, we too must innovate.

“So, for everyone present here today: Be ready to embrace the change. Be prepared to take up Science & Technology as career options because Science & Technology hold the key to the future,” she said. “The majority of future jobs are going to be in those realms. So, break the shackles to tradition… challenge yourself… and be the changemakers.”

The Department of Telecom, Government of India, the International Telecommunications Union (South Asia), the Innovation Centre, Delhi, and other agencies of the United Nations were hosting the Girls in ICT Day, 2024.

“The rapid advancement of technology has triggered a Digital Revolution that permeates every facet of our society. From Communications, Education and Healthcare to Business and Finance, the transformative power of technology is evident,” said Isha Ambani. “STEM in general, and ICT in particular, are the drivers of this phenomenal progress in technology. As we move deeper into the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the role of ICT becomes increasingly pivotal, underpinning innovations in every sector and ensuring that our journey towards digital and technological advancements continues unabated and propel our nation forward.”

Sadly though, she said, even today, there is a gender divide in India’s tech workforce.

“According to NASSCOM, only 36% of India’s tech workforce are women – blame it on age-old dogmas and societal stereotypes such as women are best suited as teachers and jobs involving soft skills. A similar disturbing aspect is the drop in the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-focused roles,” said Isha Ambani. “Data from World Bank shows that women make up 43 per cent of the total STEM graduates in India, but account for only 14 per cent of all scientists, engineers, and technologists. India has favourable demographics to make tremendous progress in this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Era, and emerge as a world leader. If we are to drive home the advantage of our demographics, both men and women should attain their fullest potential.”

A male-dominated STEM/ICT landscape, where women are under-represented, will rob India of its opportunity to rule the roost, she said.

“So, for India to shine, more and more girls – the women of tomorrow – must enter the realm of STEM and opt for technology as career. Because if we are to build the India of our dream, technology will be our driving force, and both men and women in Science & Technology must fire on all cylinders,” she added.

In the ever-evolving landscape of the tech industry, the under-representation of women in the workforce is a debilitating reality, said Isha Ambani.

“The gender gap does not only signify gender bias, but it is also a hurdle in the path of innovation. Closing this divide is a strategic imperative, necessary for the industry’s, as well as the society’s, holistic growth. While women make up 36% of India’s tech workforce, their presence drops drastically as one starts looking up the corporate hierarchy,” she said.

Only 7% women held executive-level positions, just 13% were working in director-level roles, and a mere 17% held mid-managerial positions, she pointed out.

Limited access to funding and resources for female-led start-ups and businesses continues to contribute to the under-representation of women in leadership roles, said Isha Ambani.

“I have heard my mother, Mrs Nita Ambani, a champion of women empowerment, say, time and again: ‘Empower a man and he will feed a family. Empower a woman and she will feed an entire village.’ I believe that what my mother says is true. Women are born leaders. Their innate selflessness makes them better leaders,” she said. “So, by denying leadership roles to women, we are denying ourselves the chance to realise our full potential.”

A token representation just to show diversity and inclusivity on paper will not make any difference, said the RIL director.

“To encourage increasing participation of women in STEM and ICT, and to bridge the gender divide in our tech workforce across the hierarchy, we need to design and execute a comprehensive strategy: For example, strengthening our STEM curricula to promote equal participation is crucial. We must consult gender equality experts to ensure our learning materials are free of biases and resonate with both genders,” she said. “The government, under the stewardship of our visionary Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, is making alterations and necessary course corrections, and the results are already showing. In the last decade, there has been a 6% increase in women’s representation in the tech workforce. However, we still have a long way to go to make it a 50-50 man-woman ratio in every sphere of technology and across hierarchies.”

With the government doing its part, the industry too must chip in to catalyse the transformation, she said.

“By empowering women through STEM and ICT, we can unlock untapped potential and inspire a new generation of women to lead in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Let this conference mark the beginning of renewed efforts to ensure that every young woman has the opportunity to pursue her dreams in STEM and ICT,” she added. “Equal contribution from our female population is essential to sustain our growth and compete on a global scale. By empowering women to participate fully in these critical fields, we are not only bridging the gender divide but also enhancing the creative and innovative capacities that fuel development.”

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