Earlier this month, software product development firm SAP Labs said Sindhu Gangadharan will take charge of its India operations, following the exit of longtime managing director Dilipkumar Khandelwal. In May, the company appointed Mankiran Chowhan as head of SAP Concur, another business unit.
Earlier in February, Kalavathi GV took charge of the Philips India Innovation Center, the software research and development unit for Philips’ healthcare business.
Sukanyya Misra, senior vice president, India Tech Hub, Mastercard was handed over the reins of Mastercard’s India Tech Hub, the company’s largest technology hub outside of the US.
“There are more women going up the ladder in these companies and there is a fairly large spread, so some of it is natural demographic progression,” said Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, managing partner, Multiversal Advisory, a CXO search firm.
Part of the reason could be funnel pressure progression, she said, meaning as more women in the workplace rise through the mid and senior levels, it is only a matter of time before some make it to the top.
“It also has to do with increased awareness around diversity and inclusion, but none of this takes away from the ability and capabilities of these women to take on these roles,” she said.
Inclusion is another big driver of this change, said Chaitra Vedullapalli, who set up the Women in Cloud initiative in the United States to help a larger number of women entrepreneurs build million-dollar enterprise businesses.
“Companies are realising that they are missing out on a specific customer ecosystem and need women to actively participate in the business. This is visible by the rise of women in leadership roles and in venture funding,” she said.
Companies, especially multinationals, are increasingly veering around to the view that a woman at the helm helps bring in a different perspective and approach to business.
“With many companies realizing the immense value in diversity – in all its forms, I am hopeful that we shall continue to see boardrooms that honour a wide array of unique perspectives,” said Mastercard’s Misra. “Personally, I do not think leadership in its essence is any different for men and women.”
The business need of employing women in technology facing roles is now becoming more clear, said Santanu Paul, CEO, TalentSprint, a company that provides digital learning programmes for working professionals and young graduates.
“The technology industry is waking up to the reality that consumers paying money for software applications are as likely to be women as men,” he said.
The impediment, however, has been a shortage of talent in campuses that can adequately reflect a need for diversity in large technology companies.
The tech firms are addressing this issue by finding talent from the hinterland and retraining them. Of the 7,276 applications received from female engineering students attending TalentSprint’s Google-supported Women Engineer program, a majority came from modest family income backgrounds. Most applicants, from as many as 664 colleges and 83 universities, were from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
“The top institutions already have gender bias built into their classrooms, so now the thinking has moved to asking if there can be alternative sources to find women programmers who are not part of pedigree education but have the potential with training and intervention…if they can be turned into world-class programmers on par with those from the Top-20 institutions…,” Paul said.
Training is just one part of the process though, since technology heavy roles also require a high degree of client management in addition to strong technical abilities.
“There is a very high level of customer interface and women have done that very well along with nurturing the business, creating long term wins and rapport, and building on it,” said Chetty-Rajagopal of Multiversal Advisory.
One reason why women are suddenly rising to the top in tech companies is also to do with how long the industry has been around in India. Tech roles have been there for a considerably shorter time period compared to more traditional services or marketing roles.
Many women leaders actually started their career in services, like Pankajam Sridevi, managing director of ANZ Technology who was with Wipro BPO before moving to ANZ. Only a few, like Intel’s Country Head Nivruti Rai, have risen through the ranks, having spent almost 25 years with the company.
Product engineering is now becoming a big part of the industry and as it grows, more women leaders will emerge for these roles, said Anand Subramaniam, Associate Director at management and strategy consulting firm Zinnov.
“The tech ecosystem in India is going to the next level and multinationals, too, are more confident of the tech talent here. Women are also traveling and showcasing their capabilities and coming into the mainstream,” he said.
There is also a clear mandate, in India and globally, to bring in more women at the top. This goes beyond ticking boxes on diversity, said Chetty-Rajagopal.
The success of initiatives like the Delhi-based Women in Tech (WiT), which is aimed at creating roles for women returning to work after a break, is also spurring women in leadership roles. WiT was started in 2018 by UK-based lender RBS and collaborates with various companies across cities.
A large number of women drop out of the workplace at different points in their lives, and companies are realising that this is a talent pool they cannot afford to miss out on. “What drives me personally is passion, persistence and a sense of curiosity that fuels continuous learning. These have been the building blocks in my professional journey,” Misra of Mastercard said.
Most companies have put in place programs that allow women to get back to work at a level closer to where they were at when they had to take a break. Some firms have even introduced internships for former employees to let them ease back into the workplace before taking on a full-time role. However, there is scope for improvement.
“There is a lot of room to grow. We have to take a short-term and long-term view on how to get more women in tech. You have to get rid of the unconscious bias during hiring and fight predisposition towards hiring men. The conversation also has to involve men and the entire ecosystem, and move beyond forums and human resource initiatives,” Subramaniam of Zinnov, said. Even though more women are leading captive firms in India, it is still a single digit percentage in terms of the overall number of captives, which are at about 1,250 in the country.
Steps are being taken to develop communities for women coders and to encourage more girls to study Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) while in school, but a lot more needs to be done.
“There is an African proverb – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’,” Chowhan of SAP Concur said. “Unlike the generations before, women today have the acknowledgement, understanding and support of the entire ecosystem.”