Happy International Women’s Day, dear readers!
I have been told that a substantial number of this newsletter’s subscribers are female, and I am sure — like me — you might be starting to get low-key annoyed with the flood of Women’s Day wishes coming your way. But, I simply couldn’t miss this chance to talk about Indian tech and Women’s Day!
In recent years, tech companies in India have become very serious about celebrating March 8. For me, this has meant dealing with annual rants from friends who work at these companies and need to vent their frustration about “why the hell are they giving us nail polishes?”
Last year, a friend of mine — who was working at one of India’s largest IT services companies at the time — told me that their HR department had asked all female employees to post photos of them “wearing something pink or purple” on the intranet. Most women, including my friend, didn’t do it because they were busy with actual work. (She and I did make time to have a good laugh about this!)
That’s mostly how International Women’s Day is celebrated at many Indian workplaces. The HR teams work overtime to source nail polishes, lipsticks, coffee mugs (that scream “you’re amazing”), chocolates, flowers — or, if you’re lucky, shopping vouchers — to make their female colleagues feel special.
It must be really easy to get expenses approved for this celebration. After all, women make up just around 36% of the total tech workforce in India. And most of these women are low- or mid-level staff because only 7% of the female tech employees hold executive positions.
I honestly wouldn’t mind free goodies, but it feels like a big trade-off for what women have to endure in these offices every day.
Last year, Rest of World published an in-depth feature about the everyday sexism that women working in India’s tech industry face. We spoke to 26 female tech employees for the story, and the things they had heard from their male colleagues over the years reflect a pervasive gender bias. Women told us they had been denied promotions because they were pregnant or because “the management thought I would get married soon and get pregnant immediately after.”
Sadly, the rise of startup culture in India hasn’t helped much when it comes to fixing this problem at legacy tech firms. Only 18% of Indian startups have at least one female co-founder. Between 2019 and 2022, just 17% of investment deals in India were made by startups with female leaders. And last year, India’s startup poster child, Flipkart, celebrated International Women’s Day by promoting a sale on … kitchen appliances.
Basically, it’s so bad it’s good!
I’m bracing myself to see what happens today. Also, I’d love to hear your stories about celebrating women, so do share.