Last year, 12 female undergraduate students across two institutes in Bengaluru were nominated to be part of a pilot project at Dell. These young women - from the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering and RV College of Engineering - weren't necessarily class toppers, but students their institutes thought could benefit from the practical knowledge and training, something that Dell was ready to provide.
Employees at Dell worked with these students on the 'Girl Student Outreach Programme' over a course of 25 weeks, educating them on the skills required to work in the IT industry, encouraging them to work on networking skills and inculcating confidence in them. The participants were taken through basic programming languages and worked on a project on computing, networking and storage.
Dell is just one of the companies seeking to correct a problem that's becoming more prevalent - that of dwindling numbers of women in the technology field. With not enough women opting for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and many women employees dropping out of the workforce mid-career to focus on family-related commitments, technology companies in India are facing a severe crunch of female talent.
However, companies such as Accenture, VMware, Intel, Intuit and Pitney Bowes are among those battling this trend, not only by hiring more female talent, but also by introducing unique initiatives in this area.
In October last year, Pitney Bowes introduced 'PB Code Inspire', a three-month hackathon specifically conducted for women from colleges across India.
"Over 2,000 students participated in the coding challenge, and we selected the top five winners, who were given job offers. Female talent in technology needs to be identified and encouraged right at the college level," said Manish Choudhary, managing director, India and SVP, innovation, Pitney Bowes.
The hackathon will now be an ongoing annual initiative, and this year will reach double the number of colleges and participants compared to last year, he said.
While Dell and Pitney Bowes are focusing on developing female talent in technology at an early level, Accenture, Intel and VMware are providing employee guidance and backing to further their careers.
Last year, Accenture's Delivery Centers for Technology in India rolled out the 'High-Tech Women' programme, which aims to see more women make the journey as technical architects and take part in leadership roles. Women in Accenture's Delivery Centers for Technology are now getting organisational commitment, investment and backing to advance their careers.
Under the mentoring programme, each of Accenture's technology leaders spends 18 months serving as a mentor to two women who are at mid-career levels. Currently, the company has about 1,100 women enrolled in the programme.
Bhaskar Ghosh, group chief executive of Accenture Technology Services, says the organisation has also pledged to grow the percentage of new women hires to at least 40% worldwide by 2017. Currently, women account for 33% of the workforce. Intel India, too, facilitates the professional growth of existing talent.
It runs the 'Protege Sponsorship Initiative', which aims to create development opportunities for select senior technical women employees by mapping each of them to a senior leader as sponsors.
"These sponsors act as their advocates and undertake targeted interventions that include influencing their job scope, creating networking opportunities and ongoing coaching. Around 15 senior technical women employees have already been part of this initiative," said Nivruti Rai, general manager, Intel India.
Recently, VMware partnered with global non-profit Women Who Code (WWCode) to empower women to succeed in technology. The WWCode Bangalore chapter has held hack nights, educational seminars, study groups and presentations.
"There are currently 823 women that are connected through the network, all working to support one another in their professional endeavours. By partnering with WWCode, VMware hopes to promote innovation that is driven by diversity and ensure that women are empowered to grow in their careers," said Shwetha Lakshman Rao, MTS-3 at VMware and city director-Women Who Code Bangalore.
At product and software firm Intuit, the Intuit Women's Network (IWN) delivers programmes that offer development opportunities for members to build strong leadership capabilities.
"IWN also enables women to submit research papers, and participation of women leaders as speakers in the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in India (GHCI) - the country's largest gathering of women technologists," said Somnath Baishya, director and head-HR, Intuit India.
And then, of course, there's the issue of women dropping out of the workforce to focus on major life events such a motherhood. Taking cognisance of the talent that drops out, companies are rolling out programmes for mothers looking to return to work.
In 2015, Intuit rolled out 'Intuit Again' -- a programme aimed at providing an opportunity for women technologists who have taken a break in their careers to come back to work. The six-month training programme helps train and sharpen participants' professional skills. Out of 11 women interns last year, five were recruited and placed in software engineering, business development and system engineering roles. This year, the firm is recruiting 10 interns from the programme.
At Accenture, the Women's Alumni Network - launched on International Women's Day last year - is available for those who have been on a career break for two to three years. The company has revamped its re-hiring process, making the process simpler for women alumni.
Similarly, Intel runs the 'Home to Office' programme, started two years back, to enable women professionals to resume their career after a break necessitated by life events such as motherhood, family relocation, etc.