The 10th edition of the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) in India brought together women leading technology across industries in India and abroad. The conference for women technologists was organised by the Indian chapter of AnitaB.org, a non-profit organisation focused on the advancement of women in technology.
Brenda Darden Wilkerson, CEO and President of AnitaB.org, addressed the gathering, promoting tech equity among all ‘because there is no physical or natural barriers’ to it.
“Commit to making 50/50 tech equity a reality like your career depends on it,” Brenda urged. Highlighting that India has achieved nearly 50/50 of female representation in tech, she said, “Ensure that tech is diverse, recognise that we are all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and we all can do tech.”
Leadership and empathy
Padmasree Warrior, who has witnessed major changes in the technology space
, in India and abroad , for over 16 years, also took the stage. She has been a member of the boards of Microsoft and Spotify since 2015 and 2017 respectively. She is also a member of the board of directors of THORN, which leverages tech innovation to fight sexual exploitation of children.
Earlier, Padmasree was associated with GAP, content management platform BOX, and Cornell University, among others. She has also served as the Chief Technology Officer at Motorola and was the CEO of NIO.
The techie shared that youngsters should think more aggressively on how women as leaders can shape the future. Also contemplating the road ahead, she emphasised on the value of empathy in the workplace and how the qualities of leadership and empathy should go hand in hand.
The huge healthcare space in India
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) has been a much sought-after field for a long time. But of late, Padmasree says she has started talking about ‘STEAM’, adding arts and psychology aspects to the discussion. This is her way of helping to boost the emotional intelligence of future employees. Her own mobile service startup Fable caters to mental health sector by using stories as a solution.
These are all part of the healthcare sector where the impact of tech innovations is likely to be felt the most. In India, she says healthcare was seen as a service sector for the longest time and not ‘sexy.’ However, Padmasree said that this is soon to change along with others like fin-tech and manufacturing.
The old and new in human-tech relationship
Human behaviour corresponds largely to fast evolving technology and innovations. Padmasree presented three distinct phases, including where future innovation is headed. What has passed is the era of internet and smartphones. She says QWERTY was the main interface at the time and recounted beginning their engineering classes with typing practices.
She added that while those were the days of just getting people online, the industry is now looking for ways to keep them hanging onto the virtual space. However, users are increasingly sensitive and concerned about screen time, which determines the way forward.
While technology trends such as data, autonomous system, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and blockchain are poised to grow big, she says, the responsibility is shifting towards safely harbouring people online. “We must move beyond the hype to solve the complex,” Padmasree said, adding that women should skill themselves in the three ‘A’s - AI, Automation, and Analytics.
Women leading and creating is centuries old
Amidst much discourse around empowering and enabling women to lead, Padmasree shares that women leading change and creating new things is not a barrier-breaking feat. Women initiating change and innovating has been around for centuries.
She cited many examples including Mary Dixon Kies, who issued the US patent for a weaving process in 1809, movie star Hedy Lamarr who co-invented a radio communication system that created unbreakable code in 1941, which was eventually used by allies in WWII as well.
The next time someone says computer and technology is not a women’s place, Padmasree asked the audience to educate them about Ada Lovelace, the world’s firs-
t ever programmer who worked on the first general computer in 1843.
What has to change is how women lead. “Today, a woman leader should be able to influence, share experiences, and become a community builder while also being your true self, as opposed to the popular idea of leaders being different,” she advised.
Women should go guilt-free
At the same time, the age-old dilemma of juggling work and family remains. When the floor was opened for questions, a colleague of Padmasree from Motorola in Chicago recalled a time when Padmasree had to take a call on attending an important meeting or taking care of her son who was unwell. The lady asked if times like that has changed as a mother.
“Whatever you choose, whether you keep your child in other’s care or let go of an important meeting, it is okay. The choice you make is not wrong. Women tend to adjust more than anything and must learn to go free of guilt,” Padmasree replied.
Personally, she shared that the biggest challenge in leading has been to inspire. And so, she advised the women gathering to invest all energy in inspiring and exciting people about new ideas.