Women Leaders In Tech: Time For Some Action

by Sohini Bagchi    Mar 08, 2016


In the recent past, there have been great strides for the inclusion of women in the tech industry, especially in leadership roles. Some IT organizations are making gradual progress to bridge the gender gap by introducing gender-centric programs on leadership and making the environment conducive for women within the enterprise. While research reveals that female leaders in the tech industry perform equally, and sometimes even better than their male counterparts, the percentage of women tech executives are relatively few in numbers. CXOtoday speaks to some leaders in the tech industry who share their insights on reducing the gender gap that remains. 

Start early on

According to experts, encouraging women to become future leaders (and choosing technology as a career option) should start early on and it should be a rigorous process throughout. Vinti Doshi, CEO and Co-Founder of AUtoncab, a mobile app which provides on-demand last mile connectivity to urban commuters, says, “The building blocks need to be laid out early on. Stereotyping of careers based on genders should be avoided. Early on, starting from schools, girls should be encouraged to be more involved in STEM activities. Work place policies should accommodate the time flexibility a woman may require with a flexi-timing or work from home policy.”

Joydeep Mukherjee, Managing Director, Financial Services, Delivery Centers for Technology in India, Accenture and the Human Capital & Diversity Lead for Accenture in India too believes it is important to encourage more women at the school and college level to take up technology careers by creating awareness, and help women excel in their technology roles at the professional level. “Women need to be exposed to stories of other women who are successful in their careers and who have navigated through various experiences in life as this serves as inspiration,” he says.

Read more: Women In Technology: Finding The Missing Link

According to Mukherjee, at a professional level, women must be encouraged to dream long and big on technology careers, and organizations must support them with the right culture and environment, and infrastructure of learning and development to achieve these goals. “For instance, at Accenture, we focus on ‘Intentionality of Careers’ where we encourage women at the entry-level itself to become intentional about their careers and take steps towards achieving long term goals. This helps an individual to consciously invest toward career goals while navigating planned and unplanned changes in life,” he informs.

A support system

It is also important for organizations to create a strong support system for women executives, believe industry leaders. According to Doshi, “A gap in a technology career puts an individual behind the rest, if she has to take couple of years off for family reasons. Retraining programs should be introduced and maybe special incentives or considerations should be introduced for hiring such individuals returning after a break. Companies should consciously encourage and help move the deserving woman candidate up the corporate ladder. Such steps will encourage more women to take on technology careers.”

Agrees Archana Bisht, Director, 1to1help.com that offers counselling services to employers. She believes that companies also need to invest in training the managers on how to interact and support women in their team during this challenging phase in their career, like motherhood.

“Nearly 43% of women quit their jobs post maternity.  It has been observed that most working women would rather not quit their jobs but do so because managing home and career becomes a huge challenge which they find difficult to cope with. As a result, it is important to ensure that organizations put in place solid maternity policies that benefit both the women and the organization,” says Bisht.

She cites an example on how companies should look at hiring specialized maternity coaching through experts who can help pregnant women and new mothers to handle their work and life challenges. The role should ideally be from somebody who’s not part of the organization because women may not be able to discuss personal challenges with a mentor at work.

Training a continous process

Many tech companies are conducting regular training programs for women, to push toward a more diverse workforce. “Diversity is officially a key element of Accenture’s Global Talent Ambition for 2020, backed by our CEO, and the top management,” mentions Mukherjee. The company offers rigorous training to help women expand their network, connect with role models in leadership, and hone their skills for advancing to the next level. “In fact, our senior women leaders serve as faculty for these courses, giving the younger group access to those who have been successful. We believe this reinforces our commitment to develop our next generation of women leaders in technology,” says he.

Read more: Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Indian IT Firms

Gender empowerment training also forms a key part of Target India. “Today, around 40% of our leadership team in India constitutes women, something we aim to replicate across all levels. We have implemented various measures to improve our diversity ratio. To boost our gender ratio, we have created an environment of equal opportunity, continuous learning and innovation,” states Sam Jackson, Director, HR, Target India.

With diversity and inclusion being critical to the success of the company, Target India is spending more time and effort finding, retaining, and empowering women workforce to grow.  ”Getting relevant training and exposure to crucial developments in the industry helps motivate our women engineers to excel in their roles. We host women in technology meet-ups and hackathons on a regular basis to do just that. We also organize regular leadership townhalls and coffee chats, where leaders share their experiences and ideas with the teams. To maintain high performance standards and drive great work, we recognize the role that training plays. Hence, we have developed a detailed learning and development plan for our talent,” informs Jackson.

Dr. Wing Lam, Vice Chancellor of GlobalNxt University, that runs women’s leadership programs for big companies in India, like ATOS, Infosys and Crompton Greaves informs, “I feel the benefits of this kind of program is that they allow the women in the company to be more vocal, and encourages them to achieve by not withholding themselves just because they are female employees.”

Women empowerment is at the heart of several institutional and government efforts, and yet the large gender gap exists. This disparity will never end, unless we include equality in our thinking. Let’s be mindful that we are talking about parity of opportunities, actions and life choices here (and not about natural events such as child birth, which really is not an excuse for the inequality that exists!). There is no scientific rationale for differentiating the technology innovation done by woman versus men, unless we want to think that way. If we get our thoughts right, we could go on to see a tremendous increase in the economic and social development of India. Let’s each one of us make a personal commitment to start thinking of women as equals. The choice is ours!”
-Geetha Kannan, Managing Director, The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) India

Chanting the Diversity mantra

“There is need for more diversity in organizations. I think managing diversity is important as there are people from different cultures, locations and of varied age, which need to be addressed progressively. I believe managing diversity is key challenge for any organization where gender diversity also plays a key role apart from the other categories of diversity,” says Lam.

Geetha Kannan, Managing Director, Anita Borg Institute (ABI), India too believes that for women to climb the technical ladder across all managerial levels, diversity has to be a companywide goal and there has to be a 100% commitment from the leadership. “Organizations need to invest in the professional development and growth of women in technology, to create that talent pipeline,” she notes.

Read the full interview: More Power to Women in Technology

Diversity is a way of life at Snapdeal too. According to Deepthi Singh, Senior Director, Multimedia Research Group at Snapdeal, “Companies should actively seek to have a good gender balance in their workforce. Research has established that gender balanced and racially balanced teams are more likely to experiment, share knowledge and fulfill tasks. Also, diverse leadership teams are established to be economically more successful than their less diverse counterparts. These are great value additions to any company.”

On how companies can encourage women in leadership positions, Singh adds,“In the early 2000s when I joined the industry, there was only one other woman coder in a company of around 200 people. The welcome change is, the gender ratio is much healthier at the entry level now. However, even today many women do not stay for the long haul and, it takes time to be able to set an example.  In my opinion, encouraging and enabling women to stay for the long haul will certainly help.”

Charu Malik, Head, Decision Sciences at Snapdeal, who believes ‘digital’ is a way forward to empower women, says that technology is at the core of Snapdeal. “This is reflected in how we are constantly innovating to make our customer experience superior each day – be it through our enhanced App or integrating the FC wallet into our product or launching SD in multiple regional languages. Even if I were to look internally, it’s interesting how we are leveraging technology for our appraisal process, leave applications.”

Malik however refuses to admit a woman needs any different set of traits than a man to succeed. “To begin with, one gets hired for the experience and skills not for gender,” she says, emphasizing on the fact it is important to be sincere and focused on your job, be positive and continue to learn, evolve, and get better.

According to Pritha Choudhuri. Co-Founder and CEO at Analytics Quotient, a marketing analytics firm, ”For women that aspire to play leadership roles, sometimes make too much of external barriers. While those barriers are also important to talk about, I believe that the biggest barrier might be self belief. Overcoming inhibition, and believing that one can lead, is usually the first and biggest step to actually doing it.”

Badhriya V A, Member of technical Staff -3 at VMware adds, “It is also important for women to think out of the box, know things and apply thoughts. They say “Knowledge is power”. So the more you know, the easier things turn out to be and more confident you become.”

These are of course some of the measures to reduce the gender gap, by encouraging more women to get into decision making. Needless to say, the problem of gender disparity in technology was not created overnight, and the gap won’t be closed in a year or two. However, inclusive workplaces will expand opportunities not only for women leaders but also for businesses on the whole. As Mark A. Weinberger, EY’s Global Chairman & CEO, mentions, “Companies that advance women into leadership roles are going to have the upper hand, with more engaged workforces, stronger cultures and improved economic performance.” As we are aware that gender-balanced companies achieve better results, it is surely time for some action!