The theme of today's International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is the pandemic, and the critical role that women researchers have played in the fight against Covid-19.
Just imagine how exciting it would be to be on the research team that discovers a new vaccine – or even a cure – for Covid 19. You can see why working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is more important today than ever.
Technology is more relatable today than ever before; it is about making our lives better. Yet, only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice. Globally, women are outnumbered by more than four to one in the technology workforce. But why?
So, I asked Padma Reddy, COO Global Research and Development, and Head of Software AG India, what inspired her to get into technology - and what she thinks can be done to inspire more girls and women to do the same.
Q. When you were a child, did you think you would have a career in technology?
Absolutely. I was always interested in science and math; I had an aptitude for these subjects and enjoyed solving math problems. My father is an engineer, and my brother was studying engineering when I was in high school; I think that influenced me to study engineering/computer science.
Q. Were there other young women in STEM courses when you went to university?
I studied Computer Science both for my undergraduate and Masters’ degrees at Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, India and then at Texas A&M University in the United States. When I went to the Technology & Science university in 1981 only 4% of the students were girls. Fortunately, in India, I have seen a positive trend in terms of women studying STEM subjects. As many as in (STEM) disciplines are women now. However, unfortunately this trend does not carry over to employment, with women constituting less than 30% of the STEM workforce.
Q. What was your first job in tech?
As part of my undergraduate program we had to do a couple of internships, and then I started working in technology soon after my graduation.
Q. Why is it so difficult to lure women into STEM education and careers?
I believe there remain biases and gender stereotypes that deter them from science-related fields. My advice to women and girls, is don’t let gender stereotypes kill your confidence. You can do as well as boys - or better - in these subjects. Believe in yourself, and you can be extremely successful in science and technology.
Q. What are some other ways to attract women and advance them in STEM careers?
We need mentoring at different stages; some of this goes beyond STEM. We need to start mentoring young girls to believe in themselves and show to them that women can be extremely successful in STEM by building their self-confidence and exposing them to strong female role models.
Once women enter the workforce, they need to be mentored to help them overcome self-limiting beliefs that hinder success. We also need to look at societal values and issues and help them navigate through those issues.
I also really believe we need to mentor men and the rest of the family to be supportive of the women pursuing careers. When women start a family, often they need mentoring and support to help them balance the needs of the baby/family and work.
And finally, mentoring/coaching to help more women get into leadership roles.
Q. What are we doing at Software AG to help advance women in technology careers?
At Software AG we are committed to women’s empowerment. Over the years we have been able to move the needle on women’s representation in our workplace, which has helped in increased creativity and innovation though diverse perspectives. In the last two years we have increased the percentage of women hired and our hope is to reach 50/50 in the years to come.
We have many more initiatives - from women’s networking and focused hiring from campus, to leadership development programs. One of the ones I am most proud of is our SoftwareAGain internship program in India, which offers a pathway to re-enter the workplace and rebuild their confidence after leaving to take care of children or elderly relatives.
The goal of SoftwareAGain is to empower women; we train all the women we take as interns and we hire many of them ourselves, based on our open positions. But we are also happy to support them in getting jobs outside Software AG if we don’t have enough openings. It is heartening to see that most of them are now gainfully employed!
Today, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we honor women’s significant achievements in science and place a much-needed focus on girls entering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers.