‘First acknowledge pay gap, then devise long-term strategy to fix it’: JU’S co-founder Divya Gokulnath

JU’S is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in India’s growing education-technology sector. The company was co-founded husband-wife duo ju Raveendran and Divya Gokulnath. Gokulnath remains the founder, board member and one of the star teachers on JU’s platform. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, spoke with Gokulnath about the challenges that women face in the world of technology and the policy changes needed to ensure diversity and representation.

On diversity in JUS and policies to encourage more women across positions
Divya Gokulnath: “We have always been cognizant of the importance of diversity since inception. When we started, we had a healthy representation of women. That has helped us set the ball of diversity rolling throughout the organisation. One example is that of the last six senior vice presidents that we have hired, four are women.

“We have always stood the belief that change begins from the top. If you have a diverse team of founders a diverse team of leaders in the core team, then it trickles down to the rest of the organisation. Policy-wise we have a lot of gender-neutral policies from period leaves to extended maternity breaks.

“I speak of maternity leave the most because that’s a very key point in a woman’s career. This is the time when it’s most difficult for women. I know how taxing it can be and how important it is to have a flexible workplace. So many women who have come back from maternity leave are stronger, better leaders.
“A lot of people don’t realise when you come back as a mother, we actually value time so much. Prioritisation is everything both personally and professionally. It is a skill set that you acquire after becoming a parent.”

On challenges that women face in the corporate world, especially in leadership positions
“Everybody around me, all the women, including my mother, has been working. My mother worked in Doordarshan as a programme executive, I have an aunt who’s a biotechnolog, one who is a banker. As I grew up, I knew I will be able to take care and take charge. This is the same thing that we are seeding into all the leaders in the company.
“It’s not that I’m painting a rosy picture here. We have had women who have to give up on their careers and I’ve seen that happen within my team. I call them small losses. Small losses in the sense that there are women whom I have personally tried to hold on to, but they had to give up on the job for various reasons. But I also have big wins where women have come back. Mentorship is the key. If you ask me, that is something which has been lacking.

“The number of businesswomen leaders I could look up to growing up, I could count them off one hand. Not that I ever knew that I would be a businesswoman right. Today, I also consider myself more of a teacher than a businesswoman. I think there was a dearth of role models and that’s something that today we can solve because there are so many women out there. It’s a different situation compared to years back.”
Teaching is often seen as ideal for women. But what are the challenges for women in the ed-tech sector?
“The pandemic, even though it was very unfortunate, has put ed-tech in the spotlight. We were fortunate to be in a segment of positive relevance. Of course, teaching is not easy. I think it took a pandemic for even families, parents to realise this because teachers have literally entered all our homes. Now, we know what happens in school, we know how difficult it is to help a child learn. It’s a big responsibility.
“I also feel it’s an opportunity because we are able to appreciate this job much more. It was far too underpaid and underappreciated for long. And ed-tech exs because of the contribution of teachers. I am a teacher, and we have 12,000 women teachers teaching from India.
“And many of these jobs were just created in the last 15 months during the pandemic.

“In ed-tech specifically, the participation of women is better compared to the other industries. There’s a study that says that 30 per cent of education startups have at least one woman on their founding team. This is twice the percentage of ventures started women across other tech sectors.
“Coming to ed-tech, while technology can make content engaging and effective, at the core is education. I think it’s something where women can grow, learn. So if there is any sector where we can have more inclusive inclusivity and diversity, it’s in ed-tech.”
How can we encourage more women in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics)?
“If you look at the full funnel, half of our graduates are women, but only 23 per cent are in the workforce. The dropout is so high, India contributes 31 per cent of the total STEM graduates in the world actually. It’s got actually one of the world’s largest STEM job markets. But why women are lagging behind is clear.

“I think the right access to education is the most important thing. Early intervention actually ensures girls are allowed, they are enabled to pursue the subjects that they love. Enough studies show boys and girls in younger grades are performing equally in math and science.
“Gender differences begin to appear as they start growing older. In India only 14 per cent of our scients, engineers, technologs are women. But 80 per cent of the jobs created in the next decade will need some sort of math and science. So if we want to have inclusivity and diversity in the workforce, it’s important we include men and women both and give them exposure to these subjects early on.
“I also think encouraging girl students to participate in competitions and tech arenas, which are typically male-dominated such as robotics, coding, chess can help in nurturing their skills and talents in science and math.”
On challenges for women working in the technology sector, including a gender-based pay gap
“Women’s representation can never be an afterthought. This is something that has to be considered since the initial days… so that it sets the ball rolling throughout the organisation.
“I think the scenario has been changing and improving. There is a meaningful shift in organisations’ attention to inclusivity and equity. Hopefully, we start looking at it as the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.

“As far as the gender-based wage gap goes, it does ex in tech. This is something that cannot be eradicated overnight. Maybe the first step is to acknowledge that there is a pay gap. Companies need to devise and implement a long term strategy, have targets, frameworks and figure out what is going to work.
“But the future of work has also changed. If we are able to sustain this dual working from home and working from the office, a lot of women can be encouraged to come back, even those who unfortunately had to quit during the pandemic.
“The best way to avoid this pay gap is you have a role and the role gets a pay range and that’s how it is for us. This way you ensure that there is no disparity and you have a healthy representation throughout and parity in the role.
“There is a serious perception issue as well. There is a perception among companies that they will quit after maternity leave. So there is also a general stereotype of women not performing well in leadership positions maybe because of the commitments to the family, household. So that leads to a fall in the number of women who get the opportunity to undertake such roles.”
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