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Infosys Is Taking on the Biggest Problem in Tech: Getting Women to the Top

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By Saptarishi Dutta Quartz March 10, 2015

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Vishal Sikka wants to transform Infosys.

Ever since he took over as the CEO in June 2014, Sikka has brought new clients on board, revived investor confidence, stemmed the high attrition rate, and improved the operating margins—the ratio of operating income to revenues—of the technology giant.

And now, the former SAP executive wants more women to occupy high-ranking positions at Infosys. His aim is to have 25% women in senior leadership roles by 2020.

“Every time I am at Mysore, I am reminded of the fact that more than half our trainees are women. Then, I look at our executive teams and realise almost none of them made their way up there,” he wrote in an email on March 8, International Women’s Day. “Something happened during the journey from Mysore to management—and we lost our leverage over half of humanity.”

In all, 35% of Infosys’ employees working in different parts of the world are women, and the company has three female and seven male board members.

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), an industry lobby group, estimates that women participation in the Indian IT and BPM workforce is between 35 and 38%. That makes India’s IT and BPM sector the country’s largest private employer of women.

But rarely do women make it all the way to the top.

About 50% women working in India don’t go beyond junior and mid-level roles, compared to the Asia average of 29%, according to Catalyst, a non-profit that works towards inclusive businesses.

The trend is pretty much the same in India’s IT sector. Men and women start out as equals in terms of pay and responsibility but women eventually fall out of the race.

To make sure women can get to the top at Infosys, Sikka has set up a gender diversity council that would identify potential women leaders. The 47-year-old chief executive had previously said that he would like the company’s next human resource head to be a woman.

“It is hard to deny that there is a leaky pipeline of women leaders in India’s IT sector,” Shachi Irde, executive director of Catalyst India told Quartz in an email.

“Women earn less, receive fewer developmental opportunities that lead to advancement, and bear more responsibility at home compared to men,” a 2014 Catalyst report (pdf) explained. “All these factors coalesce to contribute to a lack of female talent in critical senior level positions in India’s technology sector.”

(Image via Sergey Nivens/ Shutterstock.com)

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