Increasing Gender Diversity in Nepal’s Tech Sector
Historically, women’s participation in the tech sector has been remarkably low due to the patriarchal classification of jobs. As a consequence, it led societies to believe that men automatically belong to the fields such as IT while leaving a very narrow space for women. This has caused only a few women to study and subsequently enter the tech sector.
Nevertheless, this is changing, as it rightly should. According to Deloitte Global, the tech industry is making steady progress in shrinking its gender gap. In 2019, overall female representation in large global technology firms was 30.8 percent. Deloitte estimated that women’s share in the overall global tech workforce increased by 6.9 percent from 2019 to 2022. Public commitments by large tech companies to improve gender diversity also aided this increase. Intel, for example, aims to double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles by 2030. Similarly, HP pledged to reach 50 percent gender equality in roles at the director level and above by 2030.
In Nepal, we see a similar upsurge. According to Nepal’s 2011 census, only 1,117 females studied computing while the number increased to 11,078 in 2021. This shows a monumental increase of about 892 percent in female students in the tech sector during the ten-year period. It also beats the overall increase in students studying computing which amounts to more than 668 percent which is significant by itself as well.
Conversations with women professionals working in Nepal’s tech sector show that one major reason for this uptick is that IT has set itself as an industry better suited for women workers. However, our societal structure has for long had restrictions for women to work (especially after marriage), restricts economic freedom, deems late office working hours as unsafe, treats periods as taboo, considers men as primary breadwinners, and puts less value on women workers. The IT sector provides a workaround for many of these societal issues. Asmita Bajracharya, Product Manager at Innovate Tech says that work in the IT sector can usually be done from home and has flexible work timings, project-based pay, space for freelance work, and a relatively higher pay scale compared to other industries. All these, therefore, she believes make the sector one of the best for working women in Nepal.
However, the IT sector is also rife with issues depending on which company you analyse or whom you talk to. IT startups are particularly problematic while established companies usually have stringent policies in place. However, we see such discrimination usually persist in smaller and newer companies even within the IT sector. Additionally, smaller companies generally have issues such as longer working hours, and no set leave policies. Nepal’s Labour Act 2017, Chapter 7 Section 33, also requires arrangements for transportation to and from the workplace in employing a female where the working hours begin after sunset or before sunrise. Advocate Sadikshya Maharjan says that this particular section, while well-intentioned, can also cause smaller companies to discriminate in hiring women as they are not able to provide these services.
Another area of the Labor Act, Chapter 2 Section 7, prohibits discrimination in remuneration for equal work. However, unequal pay issues continue to persist in the sector. IT companies are usually structured around payment through projects. Therefore, discrimination while assigning job responsibilities leads to a vicious cycle where companies assign lesser-paying projects to women, leading to lower performances in performance reviews. This subsequently leads to less pay and lower chances of promotion resulting in more incidences of discrimination. Ojaswi Poudel, currently a Software Engineer at Cotiviti, says that she faced such blatant discrimination in one of her previous workplaces. However, she believes having women in senior positions in the company can help break this cycle. She also sees the need for senior women mentors so that younger women have someone to look up to and gain more confidence in this field. She says she does not face such issues in her current company which is more structured, has proper mentorship, and has clear payment policies.
Sadhana Gurung shares similar advantages in her company. Gurung who works at Leapfrog Technology currently as a Software Engineer, QA has proper mentorship models, flexible timings, as well as opportunities for growth in her company. This might also be one of the reasons why it is easier to get more motivation from peers and have women-friendly policies at the office. She also notes how despite fewer women currently working in IT, even clients and senior management are happy to see women workers, are welcoming, and provide proper career guidance.
While it would be a generalisation to say that there is very less discrimination based on only three experiences, trends do point towards more inclusion and provisions of a more equitable working environment for women in tech. With more women choosing the tech sector for their studies and work, and established companies having non-discriminatory policies, the tech sector in Nepal seems to be slightly ahead of the curb than other workplaces in Nepal. A study by McKinsey research showed that the most diverse companies are 48 percent more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies. It is then to the benefit of everyone to create a more gender-diverse workplace. There is more to still do to achieve gender parity but the tech sector in Nepal definitely seems to be heading in the right direction.
This blog is a part of NIPoRe’s blog series on Women’s History Month 2023.