They Have IT In Them

In the New Age scenario with the Third Wave
surging, and technological advances like Net-surfing proving to be an equalizing force,
the distinctions based on culture, creed, or sex are fast disappearing. An example of an
equalized texture of how corporates these days work is the constant refrain in their job
advertisements: ”An equal opportunity employer”. Equal opportunity for men as well as
women. But the realization of the opportunities by the latter is still more of a distant
dream. One hindering fact is that in all societies, in varying degrees though, men have
had lead over women in entering a profession-and IT industry is no exception. But the
industry itself is exceptional, given that while still young, it grows exponentially-and
welcomes people to fuel that growth irrespective of what sex they belong to. Innovation,
belief, and persistence are the key words that spell success. Indian IT, according to NCST
Director Dr Ramani, employs 19 percent women as against the national average of 12. By the
year 2000, this is further expected to grow 30 percent.

Testifying this changing trend is Lynette
Saldanha, President, Datacraft RPG, a leading WAN integrator in the country. Says she,
“Earlier, people used to raise eyebrows if women were working; now they raise
eyebrows if they ain”t.” Similar sentiments are expressed by Aptech VP and CIO Renu
Khurana: “The opportunities are phenomenal, especially with the concept of home
office fast catching up.” Not only have a number of women chosen IT as their career,
they have also made a success out of it and have seen tremendous growth.

Pace And Challenges
What draws women to the IT industry and, more important, what keeps them hooked onto their
jobs is the fast pace and challenges. “I have always wanted to push my life to the
edge,” says Rohini Midha, who started the Indian operations of datawarehousing and
datamining major SAS Institute Inc. as Country Manager about a year ago. A young achiever
with the courage of conviction, Midha was previously in Australia where she served in
various capacities. In a short span of hardly a decade, she has climbed up the corporate
ladder with a pace as vibrant as that of the industry she works in. And it was the same
factor-pace-that made Saldanha switch her first job in the field of development economics.
“The pace was too slow,” she recalls of her brief stint with the UN. So when the
International Computers Ltd (ICL, later ICIM and now Fujitsu ICIM) offer came her way in
1969, she grabbed it with excited anticipation. In her subsequent 16 years with the
company she handled diverse job roles: Systems Support Executive, Project Manager,
Regional Systems Manager, Software Export Manager, and Regional Manager (West).

Khurana, too, calls her experience with
Aptech-barely two years-as a “rollercoaster ride.” Her responsibilities have
been multifarious and challenging: setting up Astrocity (the edutainment web site),
launching a multimodal program of learning under Aptech Online (which combines the use of
video, Internet, groupware, personal contact sessions, and courseware), evaluating and
researching new technologies and instructional design methods, and formulating and
implementing the Internet/intranet strategy for the organization. Shashi Sahney, who is
Chief Manager of Systems Management Services at Escorts Ltd (where she has been for over
25 years), says of her continued motivation to be in IT, “This field gives you an
opportunity to learn and grow-you have to keep track of the technology and adapt yourself
accordingly, else you would be outdated and your career growth would stop.”

Which is true generally for any career-but
holds particularly significant for IT. One has to take on incessant challenges that come
one”s way rather too frequently. But to make it to the higher echelons of decision-making
and managing coterie, the challenges have to be met head-on. What”s more, going beyond the
stereotype work of carrying on with something already existing, new projects have to be
taken and uncharted waters tested. That”s exactly what the successful women in the IT
industry have been doing. And how. When Uma Ganesh, CEO of Zee Education, started out with
an elementary computer course ”A to Z” on Zee TV way back in January 1995, there was no
precedent of combining the reach of TV with the ease of use of books for teaching
computers. Numerous computer training institutes of all pursuits and persuasions had
started mushrooming-but TV education was confined to the UGC programs of yore and the
like. Today, Ganesh has turned this medium of entertainment into one of the most powerful
vehicles of delivering various computer education to a large and diverse audience-from
schoolkids to fashion designers and housewives to scooter mechanics (Zee Education has
designed a learning package for scooter mechanics in association with Bajaj Auto).
Besides, she has to her credit setting up of probably the only studio in the country
capable of producing and making animation films-Zed Studio & Institute of Creative
Arts (ZICA) at Hyderabad.

Similarly, when Midha began putting
together a sales team of five people as a separate entity of SAS Institute”s Australian
subsidiary, it was a major reorganizational act for the company whose sales operation had
thus far been platform-driven. Sales, she recounts, was not a “good word” for
many years. However, she continued to lead the efforts of inculcating a new philosophy in
the employees-that of thinking like a sales organization. The monthly sales award and
several other incentives that were introduced soon turned the initial resistance into
healthy rivalry, with the results that sales of the company soared to new highs in a
relatively short span of about four years. Aruna Jayanti, Sr VP, Hexaware Infosystems, a
part of Aptech Group, recalls a rather off-beat multimedia project that she handled for
Aptech involving three countries-India, the UK, and South Africa. The company provided
consultancy for the project which was commissioned by the British Government. It was to
develop simulators for power plant operations at some site in South Africa. This was to
help people working at the plant to “see what goes on inside the complex, huge
equipment.” Says she, “The challenge of multimedia is to make things from dry to
interesting.”

Another challenging role is remembered by
Khurana. That was prior to joining Aptech. As a Lead Analyst at Airline Financial Support
Services, a subsidiary of Swissair, she was heading the EDP department. “Everything
was moved to India,” she says, referring to the revenue accounting function of
Swissair and allied airlines which was entirely handled from the country. She played a key
role in setting up the hardware and software teams, evaluating and designing the
implementation strategy, and developing the systems. It was a mission-critical job and
everything was done from scratch. And it was all achieved with absolute reliability.

Attitudinal Shift
"IT industry, for one, does not differentiate between men and women," says
Jayanti. "The industry respects people”s ability to develop and deliver
projects." Fortunately, in a society still dominated and defined by males, that is
the viewpoint which prevails among most women in the IT industry. Commenting on acceptance
as a female boss or colleague, Padma Chandrasekaran, VP (Internet and Services), Satyam
Infoway Pvt. Ltd, says, "People will respect you and take you at face value for your
domain knowledge, irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman. By and large that is
the case." Yet, the `Indian male ego” or male ego in its pristine form, if you
please!-does come in the way sometimes. "The first two years were difficult,"
says Saldanha, recalling her job as a sales head. "Initially, my boss was of the
thinking that a woman shouldn”t do the [sales] job." There were also some attitudinal
hiccups from some male colleagues. But, thankfully, these problems died away as she proved
her worth. Midha, however, too admits that even though her own experience as a working
woman was without any problem, it could be "more of an exception rather than the
norm." The good news is that as more and more women make it to the top brass there
will be an attitudinal shift which will iron out the wrinkles of gender bias exists.

Homing In On Career
A persistent, and somewhat nagging issue with any working woman is that of performing the
twin duties of a demanding career and an equally demanding family life. Many a woman has
had to sacrifice her career while it was on the success trail; and a great many didn”t
embark on one so they could be housewives. On the other hand, there are some few who
prefer to stay single in order to pursue their careers without any strings attached. But
the issue of family support is for real.

"The stress is not so much in the job
as it is involved for a woman in balancing between home and work," says
Chandrasekaran. And that calls for tremendous support from the husband and other members
of the family. According to Saldanha, unless you have excellent support you cannot have a
successful career. "This is true for men as well, but it is more true for
women," she avers. Midha too owes much of her success to her "extremely
supportive" husband and her mother, who took care of her child while she had to
travel a lot during her job in Australia. Says Lakshmi Kanchan, Program Manger, Corporate
Communications, HP, "Sometimes situations do arise when you have to make a choice and
no two guesses on what gets priority."

While Padma Ravichander, GM, ISO, HP, says
that she has accepted that there is no balance between work and family. Khurana cites
Switzerland as a case in point. In case both husband and wife are working, they take
leaves alternately during the week to attend to children and home. But that is too good
for India! Luckily, she has a very supportive husband and understanding daughter. And so
is the case with most other `successful” women-or so it seems, especially in Indian IT.

Another Woman Another Age
All these things bode very well for a country which saw women”s liberation when it was
passe in most Western countries and which is accustomed to such cliches as, ”Behind every
successful man, there”s a woman”. Now the ”veiled success” is fast-becoming an upfront
reality, more so in Indian IT. The good news is that it is not only the handful of women
profiled here that have made IT a successful career. The number is large, and growing
fast-probably faster than Moore”s law. The country is witnessing several niche computer
institutes opening up, such as Aptech”s Zed Points, NIIT”s Leda, or, for that matter,
First Computer”s exclusive centers for women, First Lady. These are but only one means of
proliferation of women”s career in the dynamic and expanding technology field. With ISP
pitch getting feverish-at the most by the turn of the century-the Net would have more
women logging onto satisfying, successful, and ”viable” careers. When that happens, it
will be an eventful chapter for Indian women in New Age.

SANJAY GUPTA

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