Return-To-Work Policies Threaten Stability for Women in Tech Industry
In a move that has caused ripples within the tech industry, mandatory return-to-work policies are causing unease among many employees, particularly women. In May, Susheela Pavate, a 41-year-old tech professional, resigned from her high-paying job due to disagreements over the necessity to report to the office four days a week. “The transition was challenging after three years of working from home, not to mention the long commute,” says Pavate, a mother of two. She believes she is more efficient when working from home and sees the hybrid work policies as an inflexible approach by companies.
Another software professional, Janavi (name changed for privacy), 32, is also facing a similar predicament. Her employer, a multinational tech firm based in Bengaluru, has ended its fully remote work policy. Janavi, who moved to her hometown in Udipi district in Coastal Karnataka during the pandemic, now has to report to the office twice a week. The shift back to the city is proving difficult since her child is already enrolled in a local school and she lacks social support in the city.
Janavi has requested her manager to allow her to work eight consecutive days in the office, but she is still awaiting a response. If her request is denied, she may have no choice but to resign. Although she could potentially find employment at a company that allows remote work, the job search process is not easy. “I don’t want to quit without having another job offer. The companies I’ve been inquiring with have hybrid systems with mandated office days, and I’m not sure if they will accommodate my needs,” says Janavi.
These mandatory return-to-work policies are causing concern for many working women who fear they may have to quit or change jobs, leading to instability in their professional, economic, and family lives. It is estimated that around 1.8 million people are employed in IT and ITEs in Bengaluru, with women making up about 35% of this workforce.
The attrition rate among women in the tech industry is alarmingly high at 30% to 40%, compared to the industry average of 12% to 15%, according to Karnataka Information Technology Minister Priyank Kharge. He has called this trend “worrisome” and has appealed to the National Association of Software and Service Companies for a solution.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) also reported higher attrition rates among women in its workforce of 600,000 employees. Chief Human Resources Officer Milind Lakkad found this trend “unusual” as the attrition rate among women at TCS has typically been similar or lower than men’s. He speculates that the shift to working from home during the pandemic may have altered domestic arrangements for some women, making it difficult for them to return to the office.
Many tech professionals who have resigned in recent months did so in search of more flexibility, better work-life balance, improved working conditions, higher compensation, and growth opportunities. Some even quit their jobs to start their own businesses. One such example is Shefali Hiremath who left her tech job with a multinational company to start a catering venture with her family members. She argues that productivity and data security are not valid reasons for forcing employees back into the office.
HR managers and staffing firms acknowledge that while rising attrition is not unique to the IT industry, it is significantly higher than other sectors. Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing company, attributes this to the large number of white-collar workers and women in the tech industry.
Despite these challenges, there are some positive developments. The top five Indian IT services companies have seen a 44% growth in their female workforce since the start of the pandemic. These companies (TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, and TechMahindra) have collectively added 165,000 women professionals to the tech sector since 2020.
However, as companies continue to implement mandatory return-to-work policies, it remains crucial for employers to consider the needs and concerns of their employees. For many professionals juggling work and personal life, a fully remote job or flexible work arrangements may be the best solution. As more people buy standing desks in Australia or invest in an electric height adjustable standing desk for their home office setup, it’s clear that the demand for flexible work environments is not going away anytime soon.