It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) and we are celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements and accomplishments of women. To mark the day, we’ve spoken to some of the most influential women in technology. The theme of this year is: ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’
There’s a huge gender gap in STEM industries, but that also means there’s a huge opportunity to change your career and build a future that incorporates women everywhere. As, technology sector has an inclusive culture, we should focus on building a world where all women can thrive.
Today, data drives our world. Women who work with data can improve their economic potential and help to close the wage gap that still persists between men and women.
Ms. Priyanka Anand, VP, and Head of Human Resources for SEA, Oceania and India, Ericsson said that gender inequality and bias is a global challenge however, it is encouraging to see the conscious efforts being taken by organizations as well as governments at large to address this issue. “Organizations today have robust Diversity & Inclusion programs, and I am confident these efforts will reap benefits in future. It is also important to note that a number of socio-economic factors influence this inequality and it is a collective responsibility that governments, organizations and individuals have to work together to bridge.”
Ms. Padmashree Shagrithaya, VP, Head, AI & Analytics, India I&D, Capgemini, noted that inequity is a state of mind and unfortunately entrenched deep within us. We are all party to this, men and women! It is people who make organizations. Today, many organizations are committed to build policies focussed on encouraging women to take leadership roles and trying in every way, to fight back, this inequity.
There are still some areas where inequity appears entrenched in Indian organizations. These issues are very debatable why women still lag behind men despite the increase in the number of opportunities and affirmative action programs.
Ms. Manbir Kaur, an Executive and Leadership Coach (ICF-MCC), Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) Enhanced Skills Practitioner and an Author, said: “Yes, at present there are many types of inequities in the Indian Organizations when it comes to equal opportunity for all genders. Many organizations are actively working to make amends and taking various steps to hire women as well as support women who are on board. The initiatives include active mentoring, coaching as well as formation of women support groups and self-help groups as well. Organizations are also making effort to seek diverse CVs as they roll out new roles.”
Vaishali Phatak, Head – Technical Learning Services & Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), Tech Mahindra, said, “At Tech Mahindra, we believe in building an environment where different genders, generations, abilities, and cultures co-exist, learn from each other, and together contribute to Tech Mahindra’s larger vision of enabling people to ‘Rise’. Further, we have several initiatives towards hiring, nurturing and retaining associates which include providing flexible working schedules, strengthening transparency in reporting on pay equity and focusing on diverse hiring across verticals. Keeping a strong focus on making associates “Fit for the Future”, we provide right ecosystem for capability development as well as exposure to new ideas. We believe, it is imperative to nurture growth opportunities for women to optimize their capabilities and leverage their strength to serve as a strategic differentiator in India’s economic growth.”
Milisha Pote, Park Place Technologies Account Manager, India, adds: “Inequity depends on the level of transparency and types of sectors. In the public sectors of India, the compensation and benefits are equal regardless of gender; however, in my observations, the private sector still has a long way to go. In scenarios like maternity leave for example, during probation periods and the hiring of female personnel right after maternity leave, employers still showcase a certain level of hesitation.”
Evolution of learning and career
Women and men face a similar scale of potential job losses and gains, but in different areas. To adapt to the new world of work, they will need to be skilled, mobile, and tech savvy. Some organizations and businesses are genuinely putting effort into getting more women in leadership and creating holistic career advancement programs for women employees.
Ms. Sagarika Ayyannamahanthi, Chief of Staff & Head, Strategy, Lenovo India felt that companies are increasingly providing more opportunities for women to grow – for example, most companies are acting on the insight that women opt out of workforce to handle care giving responsibilities at home (could be kids, aged parents, etc.). Taking cognisance of this, companies are driving special programs to attract women returning back to work. At the same time, companies are creating policies and guidelines to help employees address their personal priorities without compromising on career growth opportunities. Post covid-19, with hybrid working model gaining prominence, it should hopefully bring more women back into the workforce.
Deepa Narayan, Vice President, Employee Success, Salesforce India, commented: “Re-skilling is most definitely the order of the day, for individuals to sustain competition and stay relevant. However, it is also essential to connect with peer groups and mentors, who can support and enable your growth on both personal and professional fronts. At Salesforce, we have programs that aim to amplify the progress of women in every step of their journey. We achieve this through professional and personal development, allyship, supportive connections, and taking action on gender equality.
The Salesforce Women’s Network for instance is our largest Equality group and our programs include content and activities to support our values of empathy, trust, well-being, and advancement of women. This includes supporting the #IamRemarkable initiative, Gender Equality focused VTO, and conducting Safe Space Discussions.
We are dedicated to building gender equality in the workplace and beyond through empowering, supporting, and investing in our global community for women and their allies. Women currently make up 33.6% of our global workforce, up from 31.6% in 2018. Salesforce is committed to Equal Pay for Equal Work. We evaluate pay on an annual basis to address any gaps among gender globally and race in the U.S. In 2020, we spent $2.1 million to address any unexplained differences in pay, totalling more than $15 million spent to date to ensure our global workforce is paid fairly.”
Ms. Deepa Kuppuswamy, Information Security Architect, ManageEngine (Zoho Corp). said the spectrum of career opportunities available for women in the tech industry is very diverse. From classic programming, data analytics, or cybersecurity to product management, user experience design, or product marketing, the options are unlimited. The tech industry has been at the forefront in having flexible work schedules, remote work, and employee-friendly policies, which largely facilitate getting more women into the workforce.
Within the cybersecurity domain, which I am part of, there is tremendous growth and a massive talent shortage. At its core, cybersecurity is about protecting people from harm. There are ample opportunities for women in this field who bring a risk management mindset and a diverse perspective. Security engineers, threat analysts, incident responders, digital forensic experts, ethical hackers, and risk and compliance analysts are a few of the specialised roles organisations look for to help build a cyber resilient future.
Ms. Garima Srivastava, Associate Director, Samsung Semiconductor India R&D (SSIR), said the learning opportunities for women in the technology space have improved drastically, but career opportunities have not increased at the same pace.
According to a United Nations report released last year, India tops the world in producing female graduates in STEM, but ranks 19th in employing them. Women constitute merely 14% of the total 280,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research development institutions in India. Ensuring equal opportunities for both women and men should be the focal point for the tech companies.
Ms.Vidhya Duthaluru, Director, Engineering at Uber, said: “I have always been fortunate enough to have the right opportunities and great mentors throughout my career. One of the things that helped me is that I chose to keep the primary focus on learning and on technical growth early in my career, so that I developed core competencies in my area of expertise. As I continued to focus on learning, it gave me the depth and the breadth necessary to be successful in the various stages of my career. Several mentors (men and women) have helped me along the way, guiding me to make the right choices at the right times.
“Another key skill that I have worked on to improve over the past several years is to accept a challenge even if I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to go about it. Taking some risks without being sure of success often pushes you to challenge yourself, break down problems in different ways and think out of the box. Inherently, women take on roles or responsibilities that they are nearly sure of succeeding in. I think that limits us from realizing our own true potential. Overcoming that and taking on risks more easily has helped to constantly push me out of my comfort zone which has in turn contributed to continuous learning.”
More leadership opportunities
Today, are women getting more leadership opportunities? The overall number of women in top business roles is still painfully low. Women still have the challenge to make what men make for the same job and to attain the promotions that will place them in leadership roles. But, women have made progress and they can make more. Ms. Padmashree Shagrithaya personally believes that this is the era for women. Many organizations have already realised the need for having a diverse leadership team and are keen on bringing good talent on board. It is for us women, to grab these and bring the needed change.
Pooja Subramanian, Tech Principal – South East Asia & Australia Market at ThoughtWorks noted I see more and more women aiming for and excelling in leadership positions. While there have been trailblazers like Indra Nooyi, Rebecca Parsons and Gita Gopinath, people are only recently realizing the business benefits of diverse leadership. For instance, SEBI regulations made it compulsory to have at least one woman on a company’s board from October 2014. This helped move diversity numbers in the boardroom to 17% year-on-year in March 2020 from just 6% in March 2014.
Infact, here’s an interesting story about leadership – Mary Barra is known to have given General Motors a new lease on life when she took over the company that was not doing well at all. Her success as a leader was the return on GM’s investment in training Mary (on leadership), that finally paid off when they needed sure-footed, confident, and exacting leadership the most. This story is an example of how an individual fit is for leadership irrespective of their gender – but based on their aptitude, training and support offered.
Lynette D’silva, Head of Regional HR, India & APAC at Amdocs, comments: “At Amdocs, we follow strategic methods to close the gender gaps in different aspects. We work in a systemic way to address the critical enablers in womens’ career moments of truth.
We focus on setting internal goals for women representation across the managerial chain. At Amdocs we ensure that our women employees are getting equal opportunity. For instance, we organise coding contest called wCode Clan for the women in the IT industry. We also run unconscious bias trainings to eliminate biases and provide a level playing field.
We have our signature leadership programme which is especially curated for women employees every year to build their skill set as a women leader. We have a women’s forum that helps provide a platform to our women employees to interact and learn from each other’s experiences, running various sessions like financial planning, wellness and wellbeing sessions, etc and also bringing in voices of women leaders from within and outside the organisation, sharing their personal and professional journey and experiences.
Boundless in another one of our diversity initiatives aiming to hire and bring in more women at the workplace. We are also helping our women employees to manage their work and personal life effectively, by adjusting our company’s policies with flexible work hours, parental leaves etc. We are focussing on offering women-focused development programs, diversity training for managers and even building intervention programs in our communities, working with girls at young ages to promote them into STEM. I believe, organisations must create long-term gender diversity objectives and start building and training women leaders from an early stage.”
Ms. Vidhya Duthaluru, Director, Engineering, Uber, said most progressive tech companies are striving to ensure that they follow an equitable process and remove any unintended biases while evaluating candidates for senior leadership positions. One can definitely see an uptick in such roles within tech, especially when we see fairly large companies appointing women to senior roles. Changes like these require a significant shift in cultural mindset but making the investments as we are doing now will allow us to reap benefits in the future. At Uber in India for example, 33% of our senior leaders are women.
In addition to senior leadership, companies should also be striving to provide entry- and mid-level leadership opportunities. This phase is where women face most challenges balancing various priorities in their lives. Support during this phase and providing the environment for mid-level women leaders to succeed will go a long way in ensuring greater equitability in senior roles in future.
Ms. Latha Chembrakalam, VP, Powertrain & Electrification, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions said thatleadership opportunities don’t come without skill and ability. Given that there is no dearth of talented women, the question is only about – how can barriers be transformed into enablers? Compared to the past, women have increased share in senior leadership and even on the board, but we have not reached the percentage we should have. It is certainly getting better as many organizations have understood and percolated the message to current technology leaders that gender diversity is valuable.
There are lot of roles in tech and digital – leadership roles, project management and architect roles. Apart from that, special roles which are very much in demand exists in user experience, data science, cyber security, financial analysis, graphic designing to name a few. In an engineering organization or in the field of technology, there are no women-specific roles. It’s a common job profile, which, irrespective of the gender, anyone can do, barring the shop floor roles.
Diversity in leadership is good for business. Women are increasingly become a decent part of the workforce, but the bias and discrimination in the workplace make them dropout in large numbers. However, a balanced leadership team can be difficult to create overnight. Is it right to assume that the workplaces are becoming more female friendly than before?
Ms. Ruhi Ranjan, MD, Lead, Growth Markets and Inclusion and Diversity, Advanced Technology Centers in India, Accenture, said: “When I think of an organization that lives and breathes equality and works tirelessly to create an inclusive work culture, I can’t think of any organization better than Accenture. We believe the future workforce is an equal one, and our commitment to equality starts at the top with our CEO and board of directors. In 2017, we announced our global goal of achieving a gender-balanced workforce – with 50% women and 50% men by 2025. Today, women represent over 40 percent of our workforce in India.
We have several initiatives to ensure that we hire, retain, and grow women to have long and fulfilling careers. There is an ongoing focus on sensitization towards an inclusive culture and our people are trained on inclusive behaviors, bias-free and conscious decision making. Further, our women have various support networks to enable them at work and with different life stages. These platforms are also leveraged for networking and cohort-based learning. For example, we have a comprehensive Returning Mothers Program where every woman employee, before proceeding on maternity leave, is aligned with a Returning Mothers Coach, who helps them successfully transition back to work post maternity.
How have the learning opportunities have evolved? Today, individuals have a great opportunity to access resources online and take control of their own development.
Ms. Garima Srivastava, SSIR, said we have witnessed an increase in women in leadership roles now as compared to earlier, but the number is still woefully low. In 2019, women held only 8% of management roles, 9% of business management roles, and were only 2% of CEOs in India.
There is still a lot that can be done to improve this, starting from a focused strategy, that ensures increasing the representation of women in such jobs but that also incentivizes them to remain in these positions. The role of women mentors and a support system in form of male allies are integral in cultivating an organizational culture that enables women to advance.
Is tech still a barrier for women?
Much has been written about male domination of the tech world. Why do women remain underrepresented in the field. Does technology still remain a barrier for women? Ms. Priyanka Anand, Ericsson, said that as per the UNESCO report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. The gap is alarming, especially as STEM careers are expected to be the jobs of the future – driving innovation and inclusive growth among others. As we progress towards the era of 5G – it is only right that we inspire and engage more and more young girls and women to take up STEM studies as a career opportunity, raising awareness for a better tomorrow.
Pooja Subramanian, Tech Principal – South East Asia & Australia Market at ThoughtWorks, said: “Not at all. Technology is for all. Women are more than capable of not just assimilating and leading any new technology, but also creating disruptions in the field. For instance, Zhamak Dehghani works with ThoughtWorks as a Principal Consultant and is known for her thought leadership on Data Mesh – an architectural paradigm that unlocks analytical data at scale.
The internet has democratized access to technology and there is no dearth of resources, online/offline that women can access, to learn at their own pace and revolutionize the tech landscape.”
Key roles in tech
Ms. Manbir Kaur said IT still leads the way. ‘451 research’ published that, the number of women employed in the IT industry in India has seen a rapid increase over the past 10 years, with more than 30% of employees now being female. According to NASSCOM’s Women and IT Scorecard – India, a study undertaken with the UK’s Open University, women represented 46.8% of the postgraduates in IT and computing during the academic year 2014-2015 in India.
The main challenge is the retention of the women staff and their inclusion into management and leadership. Zinnov, a global management consulting firm, in collaboration with Intel India, released the findings of its in-depth study titled, “Zinnov-Intel India Gender Diversity Benchmark”, as part of an industry initiative, Be-WISE (women innovators, social leaders, and entrepreneurs), which aims to accelerate the inclusive participation of women in the workplace. They found that there is 30% representation of women in corporate India, with 31% and 26% representation within non-technical and technical roles, respectively. While only 11% of senior women leaders are in the ecosystem. The junior and mid-levels fare slightly better at 38% and 20%, respectively.
Promotions vs. work-life balance
Ms. Sagarika Ayyannamahanthi said: “No, I don’t think that’s the case. But, unfortunately, we keep hearing about these things time and again – in my opinion, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The underlying root problem is that these behaviours originate from what society expects women to do or how women are conditioned right from their childhood.
“I don’t think gender is a reason for someone to compromise their career ambitions, but it’s the context – and unfortunately, in most cases it’s women, who have to take a step back because they’re expected to be the primary care givers for family. And, for it to change, society as a whole should change and recalibrate its expectations from women in a fair manner. Unless, unpaid care giving at home becomes an equal responsibility, we can never achieve equality at workplace.”
Pranali Save, CHRO, Icertis, adds: “Thankfully there are fewer instances of this happening today, but it still happens to a certain extent. Overall, there is more awareness and even in families – husbands, in-laws, parents, children, are today more supportive as well as extend help with household chores. This has encouraged women to take on demanding careers. Also, today’s corporate world is more flexible and allows women to take time off, work from home, define their timings and schedules, offers parental support facilities, etc. This has enabled women to customise their schedules to manage their home responsibilities while holding a demanding job outside and thus fewer instances of women dropping off or foregoing higher responsibilities.”
Advice for women
Ms. Priyanka Anand said: “To all women – I would say perseverance and patience is the key to achieve success in any field. Additionally, it’s important to continuously upskill themselves to keep pace with the dynamic environment. I would say, raise your hand and make a difference!”
Ms. Padmashree Shagrithaya advised women to not expect any privilege, because you are “woman”. Make yourself distinguished, riding on your competency, that you are looked up to and your sensitivities/vulnerabilities are embraced and addressed proactively.
Ms. Ruhi Ranjan advised women to build confidence in themselves and in their abilities to be successful in the field of choice, and do not let anyone talk you out of it. “Reach out and ask the right questions, make your presence felt and ensure you build the right credentials to do your job right. I always advise women to believe in the power of 5 Cs – Courage, Confidence, Content, Compassion, Communication – and make them the basis of your success.”
Ms. Sagarika Ayyannamahanthi said: “Don’t get overwhelmed if you are in the minority (it happens in more ways than one). Even in such situations, stand up for what you believe in. Learn to let go – don’t try to be perfect at everything. Succeeding at work and home requires some compromises on both fronts and don’t be guilty to make those minor compromises. Try to drive systemic changes to support the growth of those in minority (including other deserving women).”
Ms. Latha Chembrakalam, Bosch, added: “First of all, you are special and you have the ability to create life, technology is only a small thing. Nothing comes for free and hence, constantly invest on yourself, learn continuously – technology, leadership and keep yourself abreast.
“Take responsibility and ownership without fear of failure, falling and rising is just a cycle for anyone. Prioritize – work as well as life, don’t feel guilty- it is about choices that one makes. Believe in team work and collaborate, none can pull it alone. Build and exercise empathy, compassion and be authentic. Don’t underestimate the power of optimism and never give up.”
Ms. Wendy Johnstone, COO, APAC, Zendesk, added that the pandemic has shone a light on the plight for equality that cannot be ignored, with women taking on a heavier load of responsibilities at home than men despite both working from home. From managing childcare and elderly care, to household chores and home-based learning, it’s no surprise that almost one in two women in India are experiencing greater stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic, according to research by LinkedIn.
She added: “My advice to women is to be unapologetic about your mental health and the support you need. The old notion of work-life balance has evolved beyond a 50/50 split to be about harmony, where sometimes other things will take priority – and that’s okay. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that working from home can actually improve our productivity. So, remember to pause and take time for yourself. It’s okay to ask for help. Know that leaders like myself see you and are dealing with similar pressures at home. And that’s why I’m committed to accelerating gender equality for a better future.”
Ms Pranali, Icertis, says: “My advice is unequivocal – It’s an equal playing field out there – so don’t hold back; believe in yourself and push yourself onto newer challenges.”