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Work-Life Balance Is An Outdated Term: Pooja Goyal, Avishkaar

Companies across the world are embracing digitisation like nobody’s business. This tectonic shift has opened up a lot of job opportunities, especially technical roles. However, a lack of gender-diversity remains a huge challenge at workplaces. Though women make up half of Indian population, the representation of women in technical roles at India Inc stood at 26%, as per a Zinnov-Intel India Gender Diversity study.

Analytics India Magazine got in touch with Pooja Goyal, Co-founder & COO, Avishkaar, to understand various aspects related to gender diversity in AI, data science and analytics.

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Excerpts:

AIM:  What are the challenges faced by women when it comes to taking up next-gen tech roles?

Pooja Goyal:  Most of the women STEM graduates in India either pursue a different career or do not end up working at all, not by choice but for multiple reasons. As we go by the research, 82% of women in the Indian tech workplace feel unheard at their jobs, since technology is a male-dominated field and an inherent gender bias generally leads to lesser attention to the contributions of women at the workplace.

I have seen, despite exemplary research and performance, women in the field of STEM are known to be paid less in comparison to men, hence not progressing as much in their career. This ultimately leads to women publishing fewer research papers across the globe. Moreover, there is a severe lack of role models for girls and women, resulting in fewer young girls and women pursuing careers in STEM.

AIM:  What are the most exciting sectors and businesses for AI innovation? 

Pooja Goyal: From driverless cars to virtual doctors, artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way we live, work, travel, and do business. At Avishkaar, we are keen on equipping children at a young age and we have done an extraordinary job of arming hundreds of thousands of students in the K-12 segment with skills to be future-ready and provide exposure to next-gen technologies like robotics, IoT, AI and drones. We are enhancing their skill-sets for the future tech-led world, and even PwC estimates that AI could add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

AIM: How do you inculcate an innovator mindset in children?

Pooja Goyal: I’m convinced that if our children, especially girls have to thrive in the world of tomorrow we need to create micro-environments in schools and homes to provide them space for experiment, to take risks, to fail, to think outside the box, to break things, and to build new things. We need to ensure that our children are not mere consumers but creators of technology. In addition, it is important to equip them with the necessary tools, vocabulary and frameworks to understand technology through its application in real life and not be intimidated by it. 

AIM: What can we as a society do to create a more conducive environment for women to thrive in next-gen tech education and careers?

Pooja Goyal: We need to nurture opportunities in schools and online communities where like minded girls who love to build, tinker, create, can come together and share the joy and frustrations of working on complex projects as they use technology to solve real life problems. The other important thing to consider is gender neutrality – it’s not that every girl has to pursue STEM, but those with an interest in the field should have the opportunity to do that. It is vital to have an ecosystem with great minds, supporting teachers and family members to help young girls pursue a career in STEM. 

AIM: According to an AIM report, there are greater opportunities for women in AI and analytics now than five years ago. What are the factors that led to an increase in opportunities for women?

Pooja Goyal: AI learns gender bias from humans and the problem arises due to incomplete datasets which do not appropriately represent diversity or the unintentional coding of human biases in machine learning models. Leaders across the world are realising the pitfalls of letting this go unaddressed.  This has led to increased emphasis on gender diversity in organisations and active discussion on work life policies, maternity and paternity benefits, and training support. Additionally, the rapidly increasing pace of digital transformations are giving women in technology the opportunity to look out for further innovative opportunities. 

Despite gender gaps, there is a dire need for a skilled workforce to drive tech innovation and it is important that women rise to the occasion and invest in self-learning to be future ready.

AIM: Have you ever faced gender discrimination at workplaces? How did you deal with it?

Pooja Goyal: I won’t say that it has not been difficult for me to be the only one, or one of the few women in the room through most of my professional career. Fortunately, I have not experienced ‘in your face’ gender discrimination. It might be a function of the fact that I have been an entrepreneur most of my professional life, so I had the privilege of building companies and culture from the ground up and had a higher level of control. 

AIM: What is the current status of employability of women in tech roles in India? How do we encourage more women to enter the field?

Pooja Goyal: India now has a large influx of women taking up education and building careers in the tech sector. According to the research we conducted, we found that 60% of parents with male children would like their child to pursue subjects related to IT/ Technology, as compared to only 33% of parents with female children. This is a testimony to the underrepresentation of women in tech even now. 

Diversity and inclusion will encourage women to take up and continue. The pandemic has redefined the possibilities of remote working, increased flexibility, and the need to get perspectives that reflect a company’s customer base. All these factors have created positive momentum for women in tech and further supported them in pursuing a career in this field. 

AIM: What’s your advice for women professionals looking to start a career in data science?

Pooja Goyal: With the ever-changing dynamics, I will say, regularly upgrade your skills through online courses and certifications. There is a whole range of programs available on online platforms like Coursera, Edx or Future Learn in addition to more hands-on programs like UpGrad and Udacity to continuing education programs from colleges like the IIMs. Other than that, one should explore second career programs as a large number of companies are rolling the red carpet for women professionals looking to start their second innings. One should never shy from reaching out to friends and connections in the field and try flexi jobs/internships to ease your way back into the corporate world. 

It is vital to find women you look up to and also to come together with a group of supporting women who are looking at doing something similar. This will help build confidence and keep you motivated. 

AIM: What are the steps companies can take to increase the number of women in the technological field?

Pooja Goyal: Unfortunately, many young girls with interest in technology meet resistance from people around them. These girls need female role models, and we need to become better at spreading their stories. Because if we don’t, it can result in a continued lack of interest and a belief that you will not succeed in the tech industry as a woman. We have seen the domination of men in the industry, with mostly male leaders featured in the media. 

It is also important to use an appropriate language in job descriptions to attract more women into technology jobs. As per the research by Linkdln, women are unlikely to apply for positions unless they have all the required skills, whereas men will apply if they have 6 of 10 skills. So, recruiters need to be more transparent and open about the criteria for the job openings.

AIM: Tips to maintain the work-life balance

Pooja Goyal: I think work-life balance is an outdated term. One of the most peddled ideas has been that women cannot have it all. There are three main mantras I follow, the first one being that we should expect and let our spouse participate in the household and upbringing of children. Secondly, it is vital to prioritise. We have to pace ourselves; there are times in our life when we can push the pedal on our career and there are phases when personal commitments take priority. Thirdly, it is key to build a support network to see you through really busy times, including a nanny, a cook, relatives etc. It is important to take help from others in order to accomplish things. 

P.S: A shoutout to women in analytics & data science

Analytics India Magazine has announced the third edition of The Rising – an all-women conference scheduled to be held on May 21 & 22, 2021. 

“The Rising will see women visionaries sharing their perspectives on building a career in the data science field. The series of talks and information sessions are geared towards helping women develop leadership skills.”

For more information, click here.

More Great AIM Stories

kumar Gandharv
Kumar Gandharv, PGD in English Journalism (IIMC, Delhi), is setting out on a journey as a tech Journalist at AIM. A keen observer of National and IR-related news.

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