Sumathi Bhaskaran, Senior Director – Software Engineering, Lowe’s India spoke to Dataquest on International Women’s Day 2022. She says that the technology industry is acknowledging the issue of the industry being predominated by male employees and is now trying to make changes. Read the full interview here:
DQ: How has the perception towards women in technology changed over the years?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: While the tech industry in India has some key women, who have shaped its very essence, only a few women are a part of the tech industry today. Currently, what the industry needs is talent, skills, and attitude. The need for talent has really levelled the playing field making the technology industry more open to women, enabling them to pursue their aspirations in this space. Today, the industry is taking significant steps to ensure more women are being recognized and appreciated for their work; also, many men have come forward as allies, supporting women in the workplace, which is a welcome change.
DQ: What are your thoughts on diversity in the technology industry?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: Though many women enter the technology workforce today, the number tapers across years due to many reasons, including family and maternity. While the tech industry has seen pioneers such as Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton, the space is still predominantly male. The industry has acknowledged this and is trying to bring about changes through more gender-inclusive policies and by addressing retention. Organizations have introduced and encouraged platforms such as Business Resource Groups for women to network and support each other’s career growth, and we see an increase in male allys in such BRGs. At Lowe’s, we also have Do-It-Herself, our return-to-work program, which focuses on bringing women back to the workforce after a career break. Policies and programs such as these are necessary to ensure more women are present at all levels to bring in fresh perspectives and thinking, which will eventually aid the company’s growth.
DQ: The pandemic has thrown up several challenges for women. How have you dealt with it, and helped your team deal with it?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: The pandemic has shown that we all need to focus on our health, family, and community in general. I have managed the long stints of work from home with regular walks with my buddies, playing with my pet, and spending time with my family. I focus on a few core things I enjoy doing most and seek help for the rest. Flexibility is key, as we all have a lot to deal with during these uncertain times. While we do not have a clear demarcation of work and home time these days, we have seamlessly allowed ourselves to say that we might step off for an hour from work to do chores and log in a little late to wind up a meeting if needed. There is more empathy and compassion for each other, which has been the need of the hour, irrespective of gender.
DQ: What are some of the measures that need to be introduced to help women employees sail through the pandemic?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: One key measure companies must look at implementing is flexible work modules. This measure can be leveraged to ensure the retention of women at all levels. This would be an essential ask moving forward as more and more companies are now offering flexible and remote working options.
DQ: What are the steps that are needed to be taken to ensure more participation from women?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: Today organizations have several initiatives such as return to work, leadership, and mentorship programs for women to encourage them to join or re-join the workforce. Women have to be constantly encouraged to believe that they can have long-term careers in technology. While it is great that companies are taking more measures, it is essential to re-assimilate and reassure women that they can change and update themselves to continue being a part of the tech industry through continuous upskilling as the industry will keep evolving. They need to support women who want to take on more challenges to reach leadership levels.
DQ: As a woman working in the tech field, do you have any role models that you look up to?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: I have many role models that I have looked up to in my life, not restricted to one man or woman. I have always looked up to the endurance of my mother, a homemaker who managed several things at home; also, my friends, a strong bunch of women, for their resilience against all odds. Likewise, I admire the grit of many women leaders in the tech industry who have managed to carve a career without losing their authenticity despite many changes and challenges. They have all taught me many important lessons that help me pursue my career with utmost passion and drive.
DQ: Why in your opinion must companies entrust women with leadership roles?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: More women in the leadership team will help bring fresher and different perspectives. This would only help a company in the long run as they will also help the company become more diverse over time and help make decisions that bring about more equality and build an inclusive culture. More women leaders will also encourage young women to be more ambitious and give them added impetus to embark on a long career in the tech industry.
DQ: How has your journey been in your organization?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: My journey at Lowe’s India has been enriching and full of learnings. I have a supportive team, leadership, and peer group that motivates me to give my best each day. Moreover, Lowe’s has many policies and programs to support women in growing their careers. I, personally, am part of multiple women-in-tech initiatives. We also have mentorship and sponsorship programs that enable women in our organization in their tech careers.
DQ: What are some of the gender-inclusive policies in your company?
Sumathi Bhaskaran: At Lowe’s, holistic wellness of our associates is a priority. We have women circles and women empowered Business Resource Group, supporting women associates in developing and growing their careers. We have our MOM & Miracle Program, a 12-month ante-natal and post-partum on-call program, which helps the women associates into the journey of parenthood. We launched a Learning & Diversity initiative—DEW (Developing Engineering Women’s careers)—to provide a full nine months upskill program for women Sr. Software Engineers to be future-ready for next-level roles. Likewise, we also introduced a program called Bring-Her-Back, which elevates the experiences of returning mothers in our company. We tap into a pool of talented women tech professionals who took a career break for personal reasons and are looking to return to tech careers through our Do-It-Herself program. We ran the first cohort as a pilot with a 100 percent success rate. More than 250 candidates applied for our second cohort, which ran in February 2022, and we shortlisted 80+ who have received an interview opportunity with Lowe’s India.