As new batches flock the corridors of the IITs across the country, we see a phenomenal increase in the number of women candidates. Has India managed to address the gender bias in technology and break out of the reverse trend, while the rest of the world is left struggling?

Comments from the faculty members at one of the IITs tell us a different story. According to them, it’s the Indian mindset to invest heavily on the education of the boy child. “In 2016, of more than 10,500 seats at all IITs, only 830 were filled by women, despite 2,200 qualifying.”

An internal study conducted by IIT Delhi says that women fare better given an equal opportunity within the campus. Considering that they do not get a level playing field when it comes to investments made by parents, they have consistently outperformed men by about 1 grade point on average, despite lower ranks in JEE (advanced), in the last decade.

Early this year, the Joint Admission Board of the IITs has decided to admit more women from the 2018 academic session and has earmarked a 14 per cent quota. IITs have registered a better representation of women this year up from eight in 2016 to 9.3 per cent in 2017. While the world is embracing technology at an unprecedented speed, women are shying away from it. Globally there is an exodus of women from technology.

Why are women stuck in this “loop” when they are the ones who invented the ‘loop’? Augusta Ada Lovelace, the countess of Lovelace, was born in 1815. She was a child of a broken house and was separated from her father when she was only fiveweeks-old. She inherited the poetic sensibilities from her father and was trained in mathematics and science.

The ability to apply imagination to science and mathematics is what led to the onset of the industrial revolution. It was an era of unprecedented breakthroughs in technology. We all know about Charles Babbage, the man who invented the first computing machine but how many of us know that Augusta Ada Lovelace wrote the first code in computing?

Lovelace met Charles when she was 17- years-old – and was later mentored by him. In 1843, she translated the notes on the analytical engine written in French essentially a mechanical computer but took liberties to add her own thoughts and ideas about the future capability of machine. Her notes which were three times longer than the original piece, described, step-by step, how the machine could compute complex mathematical processes she wrote the first few lines of code the very first algorithm — the first “loop”.

She also theoretically explained how the same logic can be extended to perform operations on musical notations. The seeds of the information revolution were sown by her. Today computers can process any form of data, text, images, audio, video, etc.

Lovelace wasn’t just “the world’s first code”, but also the first to propose that computers could think. The US department of defense named the computing language ADA after her. A hundred years (1943) later, Grace (Brewster) Murray Hopper gave this world the first complier – compilers are indispensable to programmers today.

The United States Navy Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was one of the first programmers in the history of computers and was highly influential on the development of one of the first programming languages, called COBOL. Grace also gave the word “bug” to the coders when she found a live moth stuck in one of the electrical switches controlling a computer circuit. Every year women in technology from all over the world meet at the Grace Hopper’s conference to celebrate. It is the world’s largest gathering of women in computing.

From the industrial revolution to the digital revolution, women have struggled to find their place. While women sowed the seeds for information technology, they have low participation in the IT sectors today.

As per the Deloitte report on gender imbalance at workplace, there seems to be an exodus— the percentage of women in technology has fallen in the last two decades. Reason for this trend go beyond pay and promotions culture at workplace that keeps them away from pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in the educational pipeline, which further translates into increasing IT job parity.

Can the digital revolution do what the industrial revolution failed to achieve? One of the most dramatic and unexpected outcomes of the industrial revolution was the rising status of women by the end of the 19th century.

One of the disturbing findings of the World Economic Forum report is that women will take at least another 170 years to achieve gender parity. In the past 10 years we have managed to close the gender gap by a mere three per cent.

There are two paradigm shifts that can help us bridge the gap much sooner. Information empowerment is paving the way for economic empowerment of women, even in the rural sector. Various initiatives like the Amakomaya Project (Nepal), Samasource (Global), Hamara Internet (Pakistan), W2E2-Women for Empowerment and Entrepreneurship, and the Internet Saathi (India) have provided digital tools and training to the rural women to have access to knowledge in their native language, get connected and set up micro-enterprises.

Many of these women are now using the Internet for their own projects in fields like sustainable agriculture and rural health. The “Stand up India” scheme, launched last year, supports women entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses.

In the 19th century, the Industrial revolution made women leave home for work. Influx of consumer products led to the emergence of consumer driven society and advertising industries-focus shifted to women. Their rising status in the society also opened new opportunities and avenues for women in education and other walks of life.

Today, the onset of the 4th industrial revolution is anticipated to be disruptive and change the dynamics of the workforce between men and women. In the coming years, automation will release women from all the household work and allow them to put their skill sets to better use. Women’s rising participation in the workforce and economic power as a consumer will be the key drivers of change across all industries.

Women are presented with a rare opportunity to address this skill gap in the workplace and empower themselves. They need not wait for 170 years.

By their very nature, the current expected drivers of change have the potential to narrow the industry’s gender gaps. What they need to know is “where are jobs in future”.

They need to know what the future job profiles are. As per the report from the World Economic Forum on “The Future of Jobs” (2016), job families expecting the highest employment growth are architecture, engineering, computation and mathematics. Sadly, in India we have the lowest female participation in these industries.

While the earmarking 14 per cent quota by IITs is a step in the right direction, women need to be more proactive in pursuing STEM related careers. Parents need to alter their mindset and encourage their girl child to pursue education in science, engineering, and mathematics.

If they fail to do so, then the burden of expected job losses due to the digital transformation and automation shall fall on women, which will translate into ever increasing gender parity in the workforce.

If current gender gap ratios persist till 2020, the burden of expected job loss ratio for men and women is 1:20. They shall continue to remain stuck in the “loop”.

(The writer is director, programmes, ciso cybersecurity)