As our society moves closer to gender equality, women are working to build a stronger presence in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry. Today, we are seeing an increasing number of women heading some of the most important tech companies in the world. However, despite some of the big strides on the inclusion of women in the tech industry, especially in leadership roles, the percentage of women tech executives is surprisingly less. The numbers clearly point out why the discourse on women leaders in technology should continue.
In a recent interaction with CXOToday, Meenakshi V, Vice President – Engineering, SAP Labs India, which is a key solution in the SAP Digital Supply Chain portfolio, throws light on the unique challenges Indian women leaders are facing in the field of IT, her career journey and her expert advice to the budding tech professionals. Excerpts.
CXOToday: Can you tell us about your professional journey? What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Meenakshi V: I started my professional journey as a techie in Ramco Systems in the late 1990’s after completing my master’s in computer applications. When I entered the tech industry, the enterprise software as an industry segment was booming and I joined an industry leader like SAP which gave me tremendous exposure to all key aspects of technology industry. In my career with SAP, I got innumerable opportunities to lead and build products/platform from ground zero in leading edge domains like Mobile, Data Warehousing and Big Data. I recently took up the role of Vice President, Engineering to lead SAP Intelligent Asset Management that enables digital transformation of asset management using machine learning and real-time data from IoT-enabled smart assets.
One of the challenges I faced in my career was to navigate through the early parenting phase. There were times when the demands of family life were incompatible with the demands of work life but I’m glad that I stood strong with my conviction that I can make it work. My family as well as SAP played a crucial role in supporting me during those challenging times.
CXOToday: What are the unique challenges Indian women leaders are facing in the field of technology? How are these challenges similar or different from their western counterparts?
Meenakshi V: Women are under-represented in the technology workforce and the gap widens higher the position. The challenges faced by women leaders are the same whether in India or in the West. When a man takes up a leadership position, the acceptance from peers and others comes naturally whereas in the case of a woman, the standards are held high and she must work hard to prove herself and then the acceptance comes in.
One of the biggest challenges that really hinder women leaders is the lack of networking. Most of the opportunities in leadership position get filled through word of mouth. Often women leaders lack being part of the influential network. Here, having a sponsor who is aware of their talent and abilities and can speak for them. Some women leaders are more hesitant to take up a new and challenging opportunity for the fear of being unable to balance both family and work. Also, the lack of self- confidence, not creating visibility for themselves and not being vocal about their skill and achievements also stand in their way.
CXOToday: We do not see more women in the CIO or a similar senior role still. What needs to be done about it? Do you see things are changing for the better?
Meenakshi V: Lack of women in senior roles is a much discussed and deliberated topic. Looking at minimal number of women in senior roles across the globe, it sure needs correction. The often talked about reasons for women missing the ‘C’ level position is their lack of competitive spirit and preferring work-life balance to high-powered jobs. Lack of many women role models is not helping either.
I strongly believe that the real change will come only from addressing bias at a more fundamental level, which means changing the mindset to a more inclusive culture. This is also the aspect where I see the most positive change happening, be it, in education, workplace or encouraging entrepreneurship.
CXOToday: How do you think inclusion of male executives and other board member help in reducing the gender gap?
Meenakshi V: For the broad based cultural change to happen, it’s not up to any one individual to change things for women, it’s up to all of us. The cause is something we – men and women – all need to work towards every day. Women can and do actively advocate for themselves in the workplace, but unless men participate, too, real change will be difficult to achieve. Additionally, senior male executives can play a significant role in reducing the gender gap. They can help women be comfortable sitting at the table and motivate them to reach for opportunities, mentor and sponsor deserving and motivated female colleagues, be open for diverse perspectives by having an inclusive leadership team.
CXOToday: What would be your organization’s priorities in the next one year?
Meenakshi V: SAP as a company is committed to diversity and inclusion and keen on continuing to be the employer of choice for women In India as well globally. The company is cognizant of the fact that the needs of women and men are different and so are the challenges faced. The programs and policies launched by SAP supports the needs of female employees at every stage of their career. One of the goals of SAP is to have more women in leadership roles as we truly believe that a highly diverse team is fundamental to company’s ability to innovate and stay relevant. We continue to enable that through different avenues like mentoring and coaching by Senior leaders especially women who are role models to whom they can look up to and learn from, flagship programs like Confluence and Aspire, Connect, Excel (ACE) which support women who aspire to become people managers / experts and help women build foundational skills right at the early stages of their career. SAP also believes that having a diverse and inclusive environment is not optional rather it is a must-have to attract women talents.
CXOToday: What are your hobbies?
Meenakshi V: I enjoy gardening; it helps me to get over the stress and gives me immense delight to see the plants growing and the flowers blooming. I enjoy the ‘connect’ with nature when I spend time in my terrace garden. The mental satisfaction you gain by seeing how the plants that you took care of are growing is incredible. I truly believe in the quote “Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.” It gives me new hope and refreshes me each day.
CXOToday: What is your advice for women CIOs and entrepreneurs?
Meenakshi V: As you grow in your career, look at holistic development – learn to lead organization, manage budgets, keep up with changes in technology and build relationships across the organization. Build on your business knowledge as ultimately your role is to connect technology to business. Work on building strong peer relationships. One needs to work hard to build strong, trust-based relationships—not just vertically, but horizontally as well. Don’t compromise on your dreams. If you have done your research and believe in your ideas, be prepared to fight for them. Be prepared to take risks. Last but not the least, you need to invest in yourself – in your mind, body, and spirit. That will make you a better leader and colleague, and a better human being. The more women do it, the more they will come on to the mainstream.