On the occasion of the Women's Day, DQ Channels asked some women leaders in the IT industry about how easy or difficult is it to reach the top. The responses show a realistic picture, but at the same time, they are hopeful of a changing scenario.
Linda Tong, GM, AppDynamics says, “I started my tech career in 2007 at Google working on Chrome OS and was a key member in the team that designed the Android operating system. My time at Google and startups in Silicon Valley was generally positive but it was clear that there was bias across the tech industry. I was promoted less often than male peers and had to fight to break through the glass ceiling. A key factor in my success was having the support of mentors and champions as I progressed along my career path. I’ve been lucky to have amazing people willing to sponsor me.”
However, Linda gives some realistic figures. She adds, “The tech industry is known for being a male-dominated sector with just 5% of leadership positions in Silicon Valley occupied by women. I am passionate about creating a culture of belonging for all employees at AppDynamics, across the full spectrum of diversity.”
“I think that to make true progress, it’s not the responsibility of one team or one leader who is focused on diversity - it’s altering the mindset of the entire organisation to place that diversity lens on everything they do, from interviewing to product development, so that the effort is organic. Leaders need to change the way they think about organizations, as well. Instead of only prioritising revenue and product, employee experience and company culture need to be front and centre. Are you opening up a space where everyone feels safe to speak? Are you not just hearing them, but really listening? Are you taking that input and intentionally creating an environment where people can engage?”
--Linda Tong, GM, AppDynamics
Shreyasi Singh, Founder & CEO, Harappa Education says, “For all its cutting-edge vibe, and the image of a modern, future-forward industry, the world of technology and internet businesses has glass ceilings too; almost, as hard and unshakeable as many other industries. First, despite the fact that India has an incredibly high number of women engineering graduates, it would be difficult to find even half a dozen technology start-ups, or event established companies, that have women as their Chief Technology and Chief Product Officer; two of the most coveted, influential and challenging roles in digital businesses. Ladies are barely represented in the founder’s seat as well; and there are few women CEOs of tech start-ups. This would be true of boards of several of these companies as well. Even on the funding side, not only is the venture capital world predominantly an ecosystem of men, the fact is that ladies-founded businesses attract a miniscule fraction (single-digits) of overall venture capital investments.
“The trek to reaching the top of digital businesses therefore is as challenging, if not more, than many traditional businesses like banking, where ladies have done very well to reach leadership positions.”
--Shreyasi Singh, Founder & CEO, Harappa Education
Anjali Managoli, Senior Engineering Manager, Honeywell India says, “Only 23 of Fortune 100 companies have female CEOs – that is less than 5%. The data speaks for itself - it is difficult for women leaders to reach top decision-making positions – the glass ceiling does exist. Given the stereotype that has historically existed about the kind of jobs women can excel at, it is a steep uphill task to break this stereotype and prove that women are equally capable of running organisations.”
“When you look at the current status, in my view, what led to this issue is a gap between supply versus demand of women leaders with relevant skill sets and strong aspirations to grow. Additionally, the unconscious bias in the decision making processes (like hiring, promotions/advancements) has also been playing a key role.”
--Romita Mukherjee, Global Senior Director, HR, Whatfix
Changing for the Better
At the same time, some of these women leaders are also hopeful for a changing situation. They give suggestions about how the scenario can improve.
Romita Mukherjee, Global Senior Director, HR, Whatfix says, “With social and demographic shifts in workplace composition/practices, aspirations of ladies in building a long-term career is shifting the mindset of businesses hiring women in key roles. There are numerous studies carried out in the last 5 years that indicate how important it is to have women in leadership roles as those companies are likely to be more innovative than the ones led by men. Along with this, a huge focus on diversity and inclusion is further adding speed to get ladies in leadership roles. Organisations which were the first movers in getting women leaders are leading the way and benefiting from the decisions they made.”
Romita goes on to add, “Emerging global people practices on strong sponsorship and mentorship of women for critical roles, continuous efforts on addressing the unconscious biases within the organisation and specific plans around D&I shall pave the way for more women to grow and scale. Strong plans on coaching women leaders early on in their career through developmental processes and focus on overcoming some of their limiting beliefs will also greatly help. Organisations can also take efforts around creating accelerated women talent development programs similar to young leaders’ development programs to grow an active pipeline of women ready to take up challenging roles in future. Additionally, it’s equally imperative for the women workforce to develop strong resilience during various life changing stages and deal with the situation with a positive outlook.”
Jhilmil Kochar, MD, India, CrowdStrike says, “Working in the IT sector for over 25 years, I have held many rewarding roles, and have personally employed over a hundred women who have made significant contributions to the tech industry. As a leader at CrowdStrike, I feel it is our responsibility to encourage women to work across all areas of the business including marketing, finance, procurement as well as technology including engineering, threat hunting, forensics, sales and services. I also feel strongly that young women in technology must find a good mentor to help them to succeed, and as a mentor of the Pune women in cybersecurity group I encourage women to be proactive, and commit to continuously learning from superiors and peers.”
Jhilmil adds, “We focus on supporting our people in growing their careers, with specific groups dedicated to women, parents and employees of all backgrounds, our goal is to expand everyone’s perspectives through meaningful connections and conversations with those they might not interact with on a daily basis.”
“Technology helps to make these connections that lead to meaningful change. As enablers of technology, we’re on the cutting-edge of the modern workforce. I feel it’s our responsibility to take the lead here. If we can collectively shift our mindset towards bringing more women into tech, we can reap outstanding benefits for our industry and for society.”
--Jhilmil Kochar, MD, India, CrowdStrike
Yati Agarwal, CFO, SirionLabs says, “As the CFO of SirionLabs, the SaaS leader in contract lifecycle management, I am responsible for the financial health of the company. It has been an incredibly fulfilling role as SirionLabs has grown at a phenomenal pace to be recognised as a market leader in just a few years. Undertaking a leadership role at a fast-growing tech company and reaching here has been an enthralling journey requiring hard work and perseverance.”
Yati adds "Over the past few years, the technology sector has seen a rise in the number of women leaders and this says a lot about how talent, passion and the willingness to go beyond and achieve our dreams, matter. As Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, had said, women don’t need to have tech degrees to build a career in tech. Their perseverance to work hard and their talent will take them places.”
"With this year’s theme of #choosetochallenge, I would like to say that technology is gender neutral so nothing should stop you from believing in yourself and leaping forward to great heights in this exciting industry.”
--Yati Agarwal, CFO, SirionLabs
“Organisations need to focus on diversity and provide opportunities to women leaders. Collectively the responsibility is with everyone including oneself in developing women leaders - equipping them and being equipped with the right skills to be ready to take up challenging roles.”
--Anjali Managoli, Senior Engineering Manager, Honeywell India
Anjali Managoli “But, things are improving now, considering we have many examples of capable women leaders making it to the C-suite. If we continue to have strong women role models at the highest leadership positions, this will be a boost and inspiration for other women to aspire to such roles.”
"We see less women in senior decision making positions in Indian IT sector but this does not mean that the industry is stopping anyone from reaching these positions. There is ample room and opportunity for high performing professionals with a foresight to take up leadership positions and I am using the word 'professionals' and not 'women' because we shouldn't look at this from a lens which creates a division. To see more women in leadership roles, all we need to do is instill this belief in women that achieving their dreams is possible and this can be done by highlighting more role models. There are women in leadership roles already and putting focus on them by building a conversation around the subject will go a long way. Media also plays a big role and sensitising the audience at large with movies around the subject, policy changes and shifts in curriculum w.r.t education all play a subtle but a mainstream role in how we perceive the role of women in society."
- Manisha Raisinghani, Co-Founder & CTO, LogiNext
“While there is a lot of chatter about increasing the number of women in IT, we need to begin at the grassroot level to bring about this change. Encouraging girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses in school and college is the first step. Over time, this will greatly increase our talent pool. Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to have led multiple teams and projects, both technical and functional, in different roles at Cygnet Infotech. Our organization is committed to equal opportunities for all. In fact, we are currently running a campaign around ‘It’s okay to take a break” to encourage women who have taken breaks in their career to apply to our organization. The response has been very encouraging."
-- Bhoomi Mehta, AVP, Special Projects, Cygnet Infotech
So we can see that the responses from the women leaders are mixed. On one hand they admit that more needs to be done to bring the women at the top. On the other hand, they also offer suggestions about how to bring this change.
It's not enough to have enough women in the workforce. Unless they reach the top, it makes no sense for the women to work in subordinate positions all the time.