Encouraging Women leaders in the technology domain has always been a topic of interest. However, the ongoing pandemic has further heightened the need to empower women by providing them any support that they may need. Various studies have indicated that the flexible working hours and work from home model prompted by the pandemic has helped companies realise that offering this convenience even once the pandemic subsides can help women flourish. Jaya Vaidhyanathan, CEO, BCT Digital spoke to Dataquest on the occasion of International Women’s month to discuss what has changed for women, and what more can be done.
DQ: How has the perception towards women in technology changed over the years?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: Women have always been rare in the technology domain, but things are gradually changing for good. About 43% of India’s women are STEM graduates – and this is a noteworthy achievement. As of today, we have a good number of women entering the STEM work fields, but it’s nowhere near the expected level. Alarmingly, only a meager 14% is currently employed in STEM fields, and this needs to change.
In good news, there is increasing acceptance of women graduates at the STEM recruitment level. At the same time, there is a general concern that there are not as many women applicants to technology roles. At the workplace, a large percentage of women are reportedly continuing to encounter gender bias in areas like performance-related evaluations, with some studies pegging the figure at 81%. Such pre-set notions and unconscious biases may take longer to resolve. We will have to balance these both and work towards correcting this perception.
DQ: What are your thoughts on diversity in the technology industry?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: Diversity is a wide-ranging subject that includes gender diversity, physical or mental challenges, sexual orientation, age and so on. Compared to all other industries, technology is one field that holds the capacity to include contributors from across all walks of life. For example, the IT sector is one of the largest employers of women. There are plenty of opportunities available on immediate notice to seekers as well as the intent to be inclusive. But as an industry, we are still in the learning phase, and we stand to benefit from any formal training that prepares us to percolate inclusion and diversity down to the grass roots of the organizational hierarchy.
DQ: The pandemic has thrown up several challenges for women. How have you dealt with it, and helped your team deal with it?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: It has not been easy. The lockdown threw us off balance for a brief while, but we were able to respond rapidly and turn things around. Our teams strived to actively support client needs, and they did a commendable job at that. Interestingly, many of them were juggling work and home, and several did not have access to a family network or paid support system. What really helped in such instances were meticulous planning and constant, honest communication. Team members checked on each other, adjusted their day’s priorities based on mutual understanding. We minimized long meetings and adopted flexible hours. All of these proactive measures, implemented with employees’ well-being in mind, eventually ensured we were able to deliver to expectations.
DQ: What are some of the measures that need to be introduced to help women employees sail through the pandemic?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: Counselling surely tops the list. With the lockdown situation, many working women faced the need to shoulder the domestic burden all by themselves. This in turn was visibly straining their mental and physical well-being. Every company that practices a remote or hybrid work model needs to introduce more self-care programs targeting women employees. Flexible hours are also critical. Studies reveal that remote work during the pandemic era has been instrumental in reducing the attrition rate among women in IT by half, mainly due to the flexibility it brought. Women employees also need to be encouraged to actively pursue training and certification programs, as peer-learning and healthy competition are often missed out in the remote work scenario.
DQ: What are the steps that are needed to be taken to ensure more participation from women?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: As women, we are often too hard on ourselves and too critical of our capabilities. Very often, it takes a lot of encouragement for us to come forward to voice our needs or seek help where needed. There are many social circumstances that force women to put career progression on the backburner, which in turn means they hesitate to make use of the growth opportunities available to them, like training, mentoring or health sessions. This is an area most corporates struggle with.
In my experience, I have noticed how small things like involving them in the goal-setting process, setting highly personalized goals and objectives, having smaller group sessions or genuine 1:1 discussions where their ideas are encouraged and so on, can be great at enabling women professionals to break free of their constraints, open up and participate more.
DQ: As a woman working in the tech field, do you have any role models that you look up to?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: I am inspired by the life and achievements of Katherine Johnson, a pioneer in the US aerospace vertical. All her life Katherine strived to break the stereotype around women in the STEM fields, while simultaneously struggling with the perceived “disadvantages” of being an African-American woman in her day. Her journey is well-documented in the book “Hidden Figures”. She, and many other women engineers like her who have overcome tremendous challenges to make their contributions recognized inspire me everyday.
DQ: Why in your opinion must companies entrust women with leadership roles?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: Women are natural leaders. In a conducive setting, they can be quite dogged in their pursuit of excellence – driven by a focused vision, clear objectives and a robust roadmap to achieve those objectives. Problem solving, multitasking, attention to detail, empathy, adherence to protocol and data-driven decision-making are ingrained in each of us. Not to mention the intuition that we inherently possess. Women leaders are known to lead from the front and do not shy away from the most adverse situations or encounters – and that I consider the number 1 quality for a leader to possess.
DQ: How has your journey been in your organization?
Jaya Vaidhyanathan: It has been fascinating in every way. We combined the twin traits of “business first, technology agnostic” to pioneer the concept of reverse innovation in the fintech industry. Our intent was to position India as a product innovation hub, by bringing hugely successful, locally built products and services to the global playing field. Today BCT Digital’s products are exhibiting 10X growth potential, and are adopted by leading financial institutions world over. This is a testament to our success, and I am happy our efforts have borne fruit so early on in the journey.
DQ: What are some of the gender-inclusive policies in your company?
BCT Digital has a custom-designed platform called ‘WATER’ (Women’s Advancement, Transformation, Empowerment and Recognition), that promotes gender equality at workplace. A highly successful initiative, WATER imparts focused tools, techniques, and opportunities to women through engaging thematic programs, the endgame being their all-round economic empowerment. Through WATER, women professionals can avail services like support groups, mentorship, professional forums, and like-minded communities, and this in turn helps them enrich their health, safety and holistic development.