Tech’s wonder women on acing the C-suite game in India

The C-suite is a boy’s club; but only for now. Women leaders in tech explain how to reach the top rung of the corporate ladder.

According to NASSCOM, India’s technology industry currently employs nearly 3.8 million people, of which nearly 1.3 million or 34 percent are women.This number is much higher than the overall female share (24 percent) in India’s total workforce. But if we consider each step in a corporate ladder, the numbers start to drop. While over 51 percent of entry level jobs are taken up by women, only over 25 percent of women reach managerial positions and less than 1 percent are in the C-suite.

Yes, less than 1 percent.

TOP 5 BARRIERS EXPERIENCED BY WOMEN IN TECH

48% Lack of mentors

42% Lack of female role models in the field

39% Gender bias in the workplace

36% Unequal growth opportunities compared to men

35% Unequal pay for the same skills

Source: ISACA

In spite of this, women in India’s tech industry are thriving, compared to their global counterparts. In 2012, 15 percent of the companies surveyed by NASSCOM had over 20 percent women at the C-suite level. The industry body estimated that in 2017, nearly 51 percent of firms will have more than 20 percent of women in the C-suite.

Whereas globally, the numbers remain stagnant. According to KPMG, women in large organizations make up to 10 percent of the leadership in the IT function. The numbers become dismal in smaller and mid-sized organizations.

Glory Nelson, senior VP-IT at SpieceJet, says India’s numbers are promising as there are a lot of women opting for computer science and instrumentation engineering courses. “The era of technical growth has led to engineering colleges being set up in tier-3 and tier-4 cities of India, which is great for opening doors to a technical career,” she says.

No country for women CEOs? 

But there is a huge gap of women in senior leadership roles in tech. Entry level jobs like coders or designers usually have higher number of women than positions such as technical architects, senior developers or managers.

The gender gap in the C-suite exists, but research suggests it is not doing anyone any good. According to the McKinsey Institute, bridging the gender gap in economic activity could add USD 28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. Of this, almost USD 3 trillion could be added to India’s GDP alone. 

“If you don’t network enough – you don’t have an understanding of the behind the scenes of the industry. And if you don’t have a good mentor, you are out of sync with the kind of options you can negotiate for.”

Glory-nelson

                                     ‎Glory Nelson, Senior VP-IT, SpiceJet

 

 

 

 

 

Almitra Karnik, who is the head of marketing at CleverTap, believes employees need to understand that having a balanced workforce is critical for decision-making and revenues. "Catalyst research shows that companies with a higher percentage of women in executive positions have a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than those that do not. Another Catalyst study found that companies with the most women directors outperform those with the least on return on invested capital by 26 percent," she points out. 

Nelson says a male-dominated cultural mindset is one of the factors behind the status quo. "Women are considered as primary caregivers in the family. Juggling responsibilities and the drive to go higher in the corporate ladder can be stressful for women."

“The CEO role is not about technology. It’s about people management, liaisoning, product development, and getting more business in, which may be a struggle. Glass ceiling could be a problem. But, it is not impossible to break it.

neha-kini

                                            ‎ Neha Kini, Head-IT, Vedanta Sterlite Copper

 

 

 

 

 

Neha Kini, who spearheads IT at Vedanta Sterlite Copper, and has been with the organization for nearly 17 years, believes she was extremely fortunate to have a role model in the organization when she started. “I’ve always had good mentors around me. Another important factor is that women have to make way for other women to reach the top. It is our responsibility to mentor the next generation, bring them to the surface,” she says.

Networking, mentoring to seal the deal

According to ISACA, the biggest barriers women face in the IT workforce  are – a lack of female mentors (48 percent), a lack of female role models (42 percent) and limited networking opportunities (27 percent.) 

“Transparent communication and mentoring helps to get more women into leadership roles. Once you create a culture of constant feedback, you can build more leaders into the system and it becomes a cycle.”

Almitra-Karnik-CleverTap

                                     ‎Almitra Karnik, Head-Marketing, CleverTap

 

 

 

 

 

Emphasizing the importance of mentoring, Karnik says, transparent communication and mentoring helps to get more women into leadership roles. Once you create a culture of constant feedback, you can build more leaders into the system and it becomes a cycle.

Yes, the C-suite is still a boy’s club. In 2013, India took its first steps to change this with a new Companies Act. According to the new mandate, all listed companies must have at least one woman on its board of directors.  In the NIFTY 500, female representation was 5 percent in 2021, which increased to 13 percent in 2017.

But it will take a lot more than a legislation to have more women CEOs in the next decade. “Running an organization needs a different kind of mindset. It needs networking, investments, financial background, and contacts,” says Nelson.

Echoing Nelson’s view, Kini adds, “The CEO role is not about technology. It’s about people management, liaisoning, product development, and getting more business in, which may be a struggle. Glass ceiling could be a problem. But then I think, it is not impossible to break it.”

In the Indian context, instead of dropping out after a certain time period and choosing comfortable career options due to personal commitments, women need to display the confidence that it’s not family over career for them. And most importantly, there shouldn’t be any guilt while choosing both, she points out. “Having a computer science degree will help you reach the first rung of the ladder, but what gets you to the top is a visionary approach, networking and knowing what you’re worth.”

There are organizations today which hunt for fresh blood for a CEO role, but you have to negotiate at that level. If you don’t network enough – you don’t have an understanding of the behind-the-scenes of the industry. And if you don’t have a good mentor, you are out of sync with the kind of options you can negotiate for, says Nelson.