While there’s a lot of conversation around women in tech, there are major hurdles that prevent them from reaching their pinnacle of success. At the entry level, there is an increasing population of young women joining the tech workforce, but the middle and senior management level is still largely dominated by men.
To discuss this critical issue, a roundtable on ‘Unlocking the power of women in tech’ was hosted by MAKERS India at YourStory’s TechSparks 2020, conducted virtually last week.
The speakers were Maggie Inbamuthiah, Managing Director at AnitaB.org India; Prashanti Bodugum, Vice President, Technology and Chennai Center Head, Walmart Global Tech; and Sheenam Ohrie, Dell Digital & APJ CIO Leader, Dell Technologies. The session was moderated by Madhurima Agarwal, Director - Engineering Programs and Leader - NetApp Excellerator, NetApp.
Focus on ‘returnship’ programs for women
Although several corporates offer programs for women to return to workforce after a break in their careers, it often becomes mere tokenism. At other times, it doesn’t really cover the women workforce in the middle and senior levels.
However, Sheenam pointed out that this is a serious agenda at Dell and several other organisations today that are trying to enhance the senior leadership levels for women.
“Earlier this year, we introduced our 2030 Moonshot Goal, which spoke about how by 2030, we would have at least 50% of our workforce as women, and 40% of our leadership would be women. That also means that the middle management and the layer of women leaders that are getting into the executive level have to be focused on,” she shared.
Dell also runs specific programs for women managers, and those who want to get into the technical side. “One program - called Rise- is focused on middle management women leaders who are talented and those who we think can fit into executive roles. This is a program that enables them to understand themselves, challenge their own biases and get them prepared for much bigger opportunities,” Sheenam added.
On ensuring diversity at the grassroots level
The need of the hour is to encourage young girls and women at the grassroots level to come forward and be a part of the tech workforce. According to Prashanti, slowly and steadily, the situation is changing.
“It is actually very encouraging to see a lot of young girls coming from smaller towns, completing their engineering degree, and bagging campus placements. When we start the careers of young girls today, we almost see a 50-50 ratio of girls joining these programs. What is heartening to see on their faces is a sense of achievement, a self-empowered financial freedom, and a strong aspiration to define their life goals. It’s very gratifying, because young girls seem to have a greater purpose,” she added. However, she also mentioned that life skills are lacking for them.
Maggie, on the other hand, shared that there is a lack of direction and exposure in girls that needs to be addressed. “They really need to hold on to their aspirations in spite of social expectations. Next, they need to reach out and network to turn those aspirations into achievable goals, and then have confidence and the presentation skills to get that and really make a mark,” she added.
Tackling unconscious bias
Prashanti believes these are very deeply embedded systemic biases which influence our own thinking. “I would have had the easiest maternity process and it’s not fair for me to think that why does someone require a longer leave? They might require more medical attention. I think it starts from us, we unconsciously discriminate between women, and between women and men. The need of the hour is to create a workplace that values difference. The best way to do it is to understand boundaries, use affirmative language, stay connected, build a safety net, and be inclusive, because all this creates a foundation, and once you establish that, it is going to be helpful for women to be aware of the biases, and focus on the action,” she shared.
Maggie added, “There is a wiring difference for sure, and I feel the way women look at a business perspective differs from the way men do. I think the difference is good because it helps us look at it in a more holistic way; women are able to look at the relationship aspect between things, and how the solution can be sustainable.”
A word of advice
Wrapping up this insightful discussion, the three women leaders shared a word of advice, based on their experiences.
“There is a trait that women have - we keep asking, are we good enough? We constantly have the guilt factor. And I think the problem is we think our first deliverable has to be picture perfect. My advice is to let go of a bad bias, let go of the guilt. Striking a balance is important; at the end of the day, being happy with your choices is all that matters,” Sheenam said.
Prashanti shared an advice which was given by one of her mentors when she started her career long ago. “No role is too big or too small, just find the relevance of what you are trying to solve, and the passion will follow,” she noted.
Lastly, Maggie ended the panel discussion with a great thought to reflect upon. “Growing up, many of us would have seen mothers and neighbourhood aunts talk about things every evening. I think it is inbuilt in us as a community to draw support from each other. I feel it is important to never underestimate that, and focus on building a network,” she said, signing off.
(Edited by Athira Nair)
Watch more videos of MAKERS India roundtables at TechSparks 2020 here.
MAKERS India also launched it’s first report titled State of Women in Tech Entrepreneurship in India. The report offers first-of-its kind insights and trends that track the rise, opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs in India’s start-up ecosystem. Read and download the report from here.