“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence,” said Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook. While most people agree that this is what leadership means, and it has nothing to do with gender, we are yet to see more women in roles that command authority. Although unlike the distant past, wherein women were hardly ever entrusted with figurehead roles, things have been changed by women entrepreneurs and leaders who have been vocal on the need for gender diversity, especially in leadership. That said, a lot more needs to be changed. This International Women in Engineering Day, Dataquest spoke to notable women in leadership roles who say that this change needs to be initiated through a lot more women being encouraged to take up STEM education.
What has changed for women in the field of technology
Ankita Sinha, software engineer, Intuit Futures team, Intuit India says that during her father’s time, the field of technology was largely considered to be a man’s career path and not many women were seen pursuing engineering courses. However, this diversity gap has drastically reduced with more women taking on computer science and other tech careers.
“What is different now is that there is a level of awareness and understanding about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the importance of accurately representing the diversity of our customers that we’re solving for. Women are changing the narrative across every industry and leading from the forefront with their dynamic and disruptive outlook and practices. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as we embark on the journey towards realizing a future where women thrive in equity,” she says.
Sinha opines that there are a number of programs and initiatives that are being undertaken in the industry to address the myriad of challenges that still exist. Beginning with something fundamental – how girls are taught science and how we can enable them to develop a love for STEM. “When it comes to women in leadership positions, I feel now more than ever, there is a demand for women to lead and mentor, as the need for more empathetic decision making sees a rise. The pandemic has forced us to move to a fully digital world or towards a more hybrid work from home or office setup. This has made the work environment flexible, opening up the opportunity to work remotely. In times like these, women who are in leadership positions can be inspiring role models and torchbearers, inspiring the younger generation to DREAM BIG and Work HARD,” she adds.
What organisations can do to reduce the gap and encourage women techies in leadership roles
When it comes to women in leadership roles, the onus also lies on organisations to reduce the gap and encourage women techies in leadership roles. While it is true that a woman has added responsibilities, it can be overcome if a little flexibility is offered by organisation. The ongoing pandemic has provided an opportunity to women to prove that says Sashikala Viswanathan, director – corporate quality, CSS Corp. “The pandemic has changed our overall approach towards work and life at large. Women professionals are managing their work remotely and at the same time attending to their personal life needs. Sometimes it can be exhausting and affect their wellness. But if we look at the positive side, this has opened many opportunities for women to work from home, grow, and build careers. Organisations offering a range of flexible arrangements to help women achieve work/life balance, providing innovative communication and collaboration tools to help increase productivity, efficiency, and flexibility – adds to the company’s overall success,” she says.
Viswanathan further comments that we need diversity in our working culture. “Most technology companies that integrate workplace diversity at the core of their organisational value bring positive change. Conscious effort and commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace culture results in better business outcomes as organisations get different perspectives bringing innovation and creativity to the forefront,” she adds.
She further goes on to says that the technology industry is evolving rapidly and is one of the spaces where a woman can explore many opportunities to expand their horizons and succeed in their careers. “The initiatives and support offered by technology companies through mentorship programs, peer training, reskilling, and upskilling courses/sessions provide women in tech a platform to hone and nurture their abilities further and develop/grow within their roles. Today, women professionals are transforming the tech field with their innovative practices and disruptive thinking. Attracting and developing more women in leadership roles requires company-wide change, driven from the top. Organisations need to invest in equipping women with the skill sets and knowledge to take charge of their careers,” comments Viswanathan
Biggest challenges in the role of women leaders
As mentioned before, there are several challenges that women leaders do face due to added responsibilities. Nonetheless, Prashanti Bodugum, vice president, Enterprise Business Services and Chennai Center Head, Walmart Global Tech India, feels that these are challenges that can be overcome. “In today’s dynamic corporate environment, closing the gender gap is an essential factor for competitiveness and growth of any organisation. However, there are some challenges to holistic assimilation of women leaders in many industries. The first aspect is doing an assessment of priorities and an acceptance of a lifestyle change before we accept a leadership position. The second lies in forming an informal network, which requires making choices that will help advance our career for instance choosing between attending a networking event or going back home to family. This is particularly challenging at mid-management levels when one is being pulled in all directions – on one hand managing a team at office and on the other, managing children as they are growing up. Thirdly, the institutional barrier that can still at times be extremely limiting which says that there are certain roles fit for men and certain roles fit for women.”
“That said, there are ways in which these barriers can be overcome. Organisations need to accept that women leaders face these challenges and are constantly forced to make choices between their work and their family. In addition to this, strong mentorships, support for education and most importantly women leaders themselves accepting that they are role models for thousands of women looking up to them are paving stones towards gender parity,” she says.
How organisations are promoting women in STEM
Organisations, of late, have been realising the importance of being gender diverse. Therefore, various measures are being undertaken to encourage participation from women. Balvinder Khurana – technology principal andglobal data community lead, ThoughtWorks India, said: “Organisations have to promote budding talent with consistent support from leadership, the creation of unbiased, open and safe teams. The organization should ensure an inclusive environment and support their employees with proactive conversations about growth and opportunities. Employees should be encouraged to explore new roles and challenge themselves. They should have access to training programs – internally and externally developed skill building resources, meaningful role models and networking opportunities.”
“I would love to see more women come out of their shell and have more confidence in themselves. One study says that women only ask for a promotion if they believe they are already performing at 100% of the next role, while men are comfortable seeking a promotion when they are performing at 60% of the next role’s requirements. More women should recognize that rather than focusing on a failure, they should have the capability to learn from mistakes and proactively ask for more opportunities to do interesting work. I also highly value the role of a mentor or coach in a woman’s career journey. These folks can be effective sounding boards and help women cultivate the mindset and confidence required when making transitions in their career. Finally, I would also recommend that young women technologists start succession-planning, even before they move to leadership roles as it helps alleviate the cyclical issue of women leaving the workforce and younger women not seeing themselves being represented in organizations.”
Flexibility is Key
In conclusion, Jaxa Gohil – senior director, HR and Communications, Falabella, India, says that flexible hours with the aid of technology can help women progress despite all the hurdles they face in life. “Working from home has become so normal now! It has its pros and cons, but technology has evolved the way we think. Can we do different hours? Shorter hours? Shorter weeks? 26 years ago, when my nephew was born, my sister started doing a 4-day week in the UK, working from home for 3 days and 1 day in the office. How do we make this kind of flexibility happen and not be frowned upon?” she asks.
Gohil goes on to comment that women have a lot to offer to organisations, and adds “Be a woman! We bring so much to the table. We are different, stay different! I love that I am emotional and actually I tell people. I have cried in front of each of my managers once, some handle well and some don’t! As leaders we all need to be equipped to handle all kinds of emotions.”