Arpita Srivastava, a UX researcher employed at a Bengaluru-based health startup, was gearing up to leave for work at 8 am on 5 January, when she received 'the call' from the HR.
"I felt like my stomach dropped onto the floor. I had a one-on-one review with my manager just two months ago, and I received a glowing feedback. I knew the industry is going through a phase, but I did not expect to be laid off," Arpita told The Quint.
There's no two ways to say this. When layoffs occur in tech companies, women are disproportionately impacted – they occupy more entry-level jobs and roles that are at higher risk of being impacted during tougher times, say experts.
"There is not only discrimination at hiring for tech. There is also discrimination during firing," said Ritushree Panigrahi, founder, DE&I Practice Lead, The Outcast Collective.
Arpita, who graduated from Manipal Institute of Technology in 2019, has four years of experience – but she has already been impacted by two rounds of layoffs.
"I lost my job in April 2020 – as part of organisational restructuring due to the pandemic. I took a couple of months to find my previous job. But I have lost all my confidence once again – and I cannot stop questioning: why me? It is not about my performance; then why me?"
Pregnant Woman, First Grad Learner – How Women Are Impacted
In a viral post on LinkedIn, US-based Katherine Wong, who worked as a program manager, wrote on 22 January about how she was one among the 12,000 people who were laid off by Google – only she was let go while she was eight months pregnant, and just a week before her maternity leave began.
"My first instinct was to make a plan, but clearly this is one of the most difficult projects I have ever handled as the timing is really bad. It is almost impossible for me to look for a job as a 34-week pregnant woman who is about to go on maternity leave for months," she wrote.
Closer home, software engineer and first generation graduate Vani returned to work at a leading e-commerce company, after her maternity break in July 2022. In January, she was abruptly logged off all emails without any intimation – and is currently exploring legal options over her severance.
"I am a first-generation graduate from Jabalpur. In my family, women working is unheard of – let alone mothers working with a newborn. I led a rebellion to go back to work after my maternity leave. But now the joke is on me – as my firing has proved everyone else right. I was so proud of myself but I don't know what is next for me."Vani to The Quint
An engineer with over seven years of experience, Vani has worked across companies like Meesho and Flipkart – but her job search over the last one month has been anything but fruitful.
"Everyone writes encouraging words on LinkedIn. But today, if you are a woman in tech, good luck finding a job that respects you."
Clear Picture: Numbers Behind Stories
In the last one month alone, more than 58,000 workers employed in US-based tech conglomerates, including Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, were let go in mass job cuts. In India, over 21,532 employees have been laid off by 67 startups across India.
How many of them are women?
Layoffs.FYI, a portal that keeps track of job cuts in the tech industry, estimated that 45 percent of those who lost their jobs in the recent wave of layoffs were women. Quoting data analysed by Revelio Labs, a company that analyses trends in the labour market, The Washington Post reported that women represented 46 percent of layoffs.
So, if data shows the firing is almost equal, how are women disproportionately affected?
Women account for less than a third of tech industry workers and occupy less than a quarter of technical and leadership roles, according to a 2022 study by Deloitte.
So, when the workforce is not 50-50, the proportion of women affected by it is a lot more.
"To begin with, women occupy just 20 percent of workforce in tech companies in India – and most of them are in non-engineering job profiles. So, when you say equal number of men and women have lost jobs, more women tend to be more impacted. But in India, there is no transparency of what is happening, how these mass firings are impacting women. So, the lack of numbers actually make it worse," explains Dr Ishani Roy, founder & CEO of Serein, a Bengaluru-based consulting firm that is using a data-driven approach to promote diversity and inclusion.
Why Are Women More Vulnerable?
Lesser women in decision-making roles in tech is a key aspect that make women more vulnerable.
"The current layoffs are crucial, because one, the firings are happening on a mass scale. Whenever such a situation arises, the most vulnerable are the least represented. It is easier to make a scapegoat. It becomes less about their performance, and more about favouritism – and with that, the dominant group gets the upper hand," Ritushree explained to The Quint.
An extensive study conducted by AnitaB.org – a nonprofit that seeks to advance the participation of women in technology – indicates that as you climb the organisational ladder, the representation of women in tech industry falls sharply. The study showed 38.5 percent of interns were women and 33.8 percent of entry-level workers identify as female – as compared to just 28 percent of mid-career and even lesser 23.1 percent of senior and executive staff.
"I barely have four years of experience, but most of my college friends are either getting married or studying now – and as for women in my former organisation, it they are mostly in non-tech roles like communication and HR," narrated Arpita, adding that it is almost a rarity to see "women engineers with over 15-20 years experience."
Tech Layoffs Affecting Recent Grads
There is another intertwined reason. Since most number of women who are employed in tech are in entry-level jobs or are new graduates, their roles are also most vulnerable during a restructuring. Like that of NIT Patna graduate Garima Singh, who was laid off by Amazon on 11 January.
She worked as a part of Last Mile Organization in Amazon from July 2022 to January 2023 as a full-time software development engineer, after graduating in 2022. From January to June 2022, Singh interned with the same team.
"I received my first-ever secret santa gift from Amazon on 11 January. Unfortunately, I am also impacted by the mass layoffs happening at Amazon currently for no fault of mine," she said.
For Monambigha M who was hired by Google just 10 months ago as a technical program manager, news of her layoff also comes with stress over the H1B visa expiry.
"This news was gut-wrenching, and I didn't really have a chance to say goodbye to any of my colleagues. Most of my Friday was spent searching for their LinkedIn profiles and reaching out to ask if they are okay," she wrote on LinkedIn.
Women in Non-Tech Roles More Expendable
"Sales, HR, Marketing, DE&I are all the wings of tech companies that employ more women. But when we talk about tech layoffs, we often tend to ignore women in non-engineering roles – they, in fact, play a more crucial role in improving diversity," said Dr Ishani.
Rupin, a marketing professional, who was laid off from an edtech company towards the end of 2022, is still fighting for her complete severance.
"I have not told my parents because they will ask me to come back home to Lucknow. I feel like I have let them down. I really want to be independent, I thought this was a secure job. I am now trying for established companies, but I don't think there is guarantee anymore," she told The Quint.
Is There Any Way To Fix It?
Ignoring the disproportionality in firing will send tech companies back to the early 2000s when there were hardly women in tech.
"The moment you are laying off people, adhere to the ratio, when it comes to having racial minority, women, or members of the queer community. This is so you can maintain some sort of equity and diversity," Ritushree told The Quint.
But Dr Ishani explained that organisations should focus on diversity when the re-hiring process happens.
"A lot of companies do not replace apples with apples. For example, Twitter fired the entire DE&I team and has kept only two people. How will they meet the requirements of the organisation? When re-hiring happens, the organisation should make a concrete effort to replace specific people. It is not like hiring is going to completely stop."
"The mass hiring and layoff is a cycle – but if no attention is paid to it, it will take a long time to reach where we were," she added.
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