India’s Semiconductor Future Offers Lucrative Careers, But Will Women Answer The Call?

India's Semiconductor Future Offers Lucrative Careers, But Will Women Answer The Call?

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw recently said about 45 executives from various semiconductor companies expressed a unanimous sentiment that India stands as the next natural frontier for semiconductor manufacturing, highlighting the country’s future potential and how big the industry could be.

However, to fully harness the potential, particularly in the chip sector, a substantial influx of tech talent and engineering prowess — with equal representation from both men and women — is imperative.

Data from the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2021-22 sheds light on the gender distribution in engineering and technology studies at the undergraduate level. Of 39.04 lakh enrolled students, just 29.1 per cent are female and 70.9 per cent are male. This stands in stark contrast to disciplines like Arts and Medical Sciences, where gender parity is more evident.

Within the broader spectrum of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), of the 98,49,488, total enrolment (at UG, PG, MPhil and PhD levels), 56,56,488 are males and 41,93,000 are females. The data showed that in engineering and technology, male enrolment is significantly higher compared to females. This poses potential challenges for achieving gender diversity in specialised sectors like semiconductors.

Delving into the intricacies of the semiconductor industry, it becomes apparent that a diverse workforce is crucial, given the multifaceted skill requirements. For example, roles such as Semiconductor Technicians, Process Engineers, and Equipment Engineers demand a blend of technical expertise and problem-solving skills.

However, the underrepresentation of women in engineering and technology studies in India could pose hurdles in achieving gender diversity within the semiconductor workforce. Globally, the semiconductor industry has been predominantly male-dominated, with women comprising only a fraction of the workforce, including in technical leadership positions.

According to the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA) and Accenture’s 2022 report, the median of women representation in the total semiconductor workforce lies in the 20-25 per cent range, with technical women representation at 10-15 per cent. Moreover, over half of the companies report less than 5 per cent representation of women in technical director roles, highlighting the gender disparity in leadership positions too.

Despite these challenges, India’s demographic dividend presents a unique opportunity for its semiconductor industry, something which countries like Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia don’t have. With a massive youth population poised to remain the youngest globally for decades to come, the country holds immense potential for scaling semiconductor manufacturing and that will require more hands on deck to fuel the growth.

Executives from the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) have affirmed that there is no bias in hiring workers. Rather the industry, which has been getting a lot of attention since the announcements of Gujarat’s Dholera, Sanand and Assam projects, is hungry to employ as many engineers as possible and it is just a matter of who is available. The industry also believes that the skilling and reskilling policies which the government has been promoting would help to fill the gaps.

However, it should be noted that the semiconductor industry and the electronics manufacturing industry are like interlocking pieces in the world of technology. It’s not just semiconductors that go into electronics. The electronics industry also provides feedback to the semiconductor industry. They identify areas where chip improvements can benefit the development of new electronic devices.

So it is important to understand what has been happening in the electronics manufacturing sector which has already crossed the $100 billion mark. As per the India Cellular & Electronics Association (ICEA), the distribution of women workers varies significantly across regions. While South India boasts an impressive ratio of 70 per cent or more, the Northern counterpart lags behind at merely 15-20 per cent, predominantly in day-shift roles.

Women workers in electronics manufacturing are assigned various roles, including operators, supervisors, and quality control positions. Their salaries are equivalent to those of their male counterparts, suggesting a level of pay parity within the industry regardless of gender.

The ICEA anticipates that India’s semiconductor plants will make concerted efforts to foster gender diversity, aiming for a minimum of 15 per cent representation of women employees within the semiconductor industry.

Although numerous companies are dedicated to hiring more women and providing training if needed for the employees, achieving gender diversity and a level playing field across industries also necessitates efforts from women. This entails actively opting for STEM education, engineering or technology degrees to increase enrolment percentages because India cannot risk missing out on leveraging its vast young population, which includes both males and females.

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