Women need to take more risks to be able to evolve into leaders

2021-03-17 09:55:48

Globally, and in India, the proportion of women in leadership positions in the technology industry is very low, even though in India now, 50% or more at the fresher stage are women. Last week we had an excellent discussion on the occasion of Women’s Day with five highly accomplished professionals on this subject.
All the panelists emphasised the importance for women to combine their understanding of tech with risk taking and innovation. Prashanti Bodugum, VP of enterprise business services and Chennai centre head for Walmart Global Tech India, said the problem starts with girl children being brought up to seek affirmations from men. “That continues into the workplace. And you are waiting for your manager to tell you how good you are,” she said.
Ruhi Ranjan, who started her career in a steel plant in a division that had only men, and who is now MD of Accenture growth markets delivery for Advanced Technology Centres in India, noted that women tend to be hesitant to go to places where they are not safe, or where they would be challenged.
Both emphasised the need for women to take those extra efforts needed to break out of these societal chains. “Women have to change these belief systems, and advocate for themselves confidently,” Bodugum said.
Daisy Chittilapilly, MD of the digital transformation office for software and services sales at Cisco India and Saarc, said standard career formulas will not work for women. “They need to go lateral from time to time, take jobs and roles that your friends at work call career suicide attempts. And come out of it distinguishing yourself,” she said, adding that she did that twice at Cisco, moving from a limelight role to one that people said would take her back a couple of steps. “But I came out of it unscathed, probably for the better,” she said.
Shalini Kapoor, director for AI applications at IBM, also emphasised risk taking and innovation to stand out in the crowd. She got into internet of things (IoT) back in 2010, when it wasn’t even called IoT. “I started researching, innovated. A lot of them failed, but some of them eventually led IBM to start a Watson IoT business, and that changed a lot for me,” she said. And then, in 2015-16, she started learning AI, including from interns in her lab, and was able to launch new products with AI.
Akanksha Bilani, regional alliance head for Asia Pacific & Japan in Intel, said she started off in Intel as a hardware engineer and then moved over to software, even though doing software in a processor company was very challenging. And, when she saw that the Industry 4.0 revolution was all about cloud, she moved over to that.
All of them also underscored the importance of including men in conversations around diversity. Men, Kapoor said, need to work more to make women successful. “Women need to feel equal, and that will happen when men remove their biases. We have started talking to men about what we call micro-aggressions – simple things that convey that you are a woman and will not be capable of doing a particular task or role. Lingos need to change a lot,” she said.
Don’t have to be perfect jugglers, drop some balls time to time

Women are doing a lot of juggling. I keep telling women, we don’t have to be perfect jugglers. We are throwing up multiple balls, some are steel, some glass. You can figure out which ones can drop and nothing will happen. Sometimes that steel ball is at work, sometimes at home.

Shalini Kapoor, Director, AI Applications, IBM

For women in leadership, you have to sort of stand out. Following the standard set formula is not the best way to do it. Go lateral from time to time, take jobs and roles that your friends at work call career suicide attempts. And come out of it distinguishing yourself.

Daisy Chittilapilly, MD, Digital Transformation Office, Cisco India & Saarc

Middle management is where many of us struggle. Kids are growing up, they want your attention. You are in some leadership role, where your teams are looking up to you. But it’s ok to struggle. Don’t go through emotional dilemmas. It’s all about being intentional about it.

Prashanti Bodugum, VP, Enterprise Business Services, and Chennai Centre Head, Walmart Global Tech India

The biggest success mantra is to enable yourself to raise your hand and say I can take that role, I’m as good as anyone else. And that will come when we make that sustained investment in ourselves, continue to learn, go into unchartered territories.

Ruhi Ranjan, MD, Growth Markets Delivery, Advanced Technology Centres, Accenture India

Listening is also key to being successful. Your listening skills have to be completely intact, the way that you can process what you hear, and then bring that out as results, as outcomes, that is equally important. Listen to what the company wants.

Akanksha Bilani, Regional Alliance Head – Asia Pacific & Japan, Intel

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