Empowering Women in IT - eWIT
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eWIT Fifth Anniversary – 3 May 2011

eWIT conducted its 5th Anniversary event on May 3, 2011 at Hotel Savera between 5pm and 8pm. The theme of the event was 'Women in IT – Men's Perspective'.

The event started with an invocation by Ms Kavya Narayanan and then, Ms. Jamuna Swamy, Executive Committee, eWIT welcoming the speakers and the guests.

eWIT president Ms Vijayalakshmi Rao made a presentation on eWIT, its journey so far and its current activities. She also presented the focus areas for the future.

Ms. Usha Srinivasan, Advisor, eWIT then took over to moderate the speakers' session. She introduced the speakers and briefed the theme of the evening to the audience.

Mr. Raju Venkatraman, Managing Director & CEO, MEDall Health Care Pvt. Ltd., the first speaker, spoke about the women who have played a role in his life – mother, teacher and manager. These were the people who had groomed him and influenced him. According to Mr Raju Venkataraman, women are born leaders. They excel in decision making. Despite being emotional, their decision making is well grounded. At the top positions, the number of women is very small whereas the number steadily increases down the pyramid. A key reason for this, in Raju's opinion is that women do not want to apply themselves in roles of greater responsibility as they are hesitant to come out of their comfort zones and do not express themselves adequately, due to fear of being perceived as too aggressive or rigid. Mr Raju gave some examples from his experience, which led to the formation of this opinion.

The five most important traits/skills that a woman should possess to be successful are – Courage, Honesty, Energy, Clarity and Having an edge over others.

After this Dr. Santosh Babu, MD of Elcot released the souvenir. Representatives from sponsor companies - Excelacom Technologies and Mahindra Satyam – received the first copies of the souvenir. Ms. Rajini Reddy, General Secretary, eWIT thanked the sponsors of the souvenir.

Interestingly, the next speaker, Mr Sanjay Kalra, Entrepreneur at large, had invited opinions from social media users on the women workforce and shared some of the responses in the forum. Some responses about how men perceive working women indicated that women are generally perceived to be nurturing, possessing inner strength, good multitaskers and placing attention to detail. Women leaders are perceived to possess a keen eye for customer satisfaction and delivery timeliness, besides being diligent, sincere, intuitive and hardworking, which makes them good leaders in execution. However, some respondents also stated that women in IT are always under pressure to prove themselves that their work is comparable to that of men. While Kalra felt that while most of these could be stereotyped notions, he emphasized that women are already empowered and there is no need to continue working for the cause of empowerment of women in IT, at least among the city educated and bred workforce. He believes that at very senior levels, capabilities are not judged according to gender and it is a more level playing field. He also feels that both masculine and feminine approaches to leadership are expected at such high positions and men and women, respectively, must learn to balance these qualities as they ascend the corporate ladder.

Mr Ravishankar, Sr. Vice President Human Resources, HCL Technologies, shared some of his experiences with respect to the challenges he faced in recruiting women workforce. He stated that stereotyping of the working woman was done mostly by women rather than men. He shared the example of recruiting a woman executive in the HR department of one of his former companies in the manufacturing sector, amidst much apprehension from his senior management. He acknowledged that, contrary to general belief, the presence of this woman executive in meeting actually begot very responsible and courteous behavior from generally unruly union leaders. He spoke about the policy of reasonable accommodation introduced in his company, which allowed certain flexibilities for women, which were necessary due to legitimate reasons such as pregnancy or child care. For the rest of the cases, Ravishankar advocated the adoption of gender neutral policies in organizations. In his opinion, policies must be equitable and it is important not to send out a wrong message that women employees always need more favorable treatment than men employees, to the extent that the benefits are misused. He also mentioned about the "supermom" syndrome and the associated guilt factors, which according to him are mainly responsible for women to opt out of their careers soon after they assume family responsibilities. Ravishankar enumerated some initiatives towards creating support systems for young mothers, such as opening day care centers and appointing life coaches, which his company has embarked on. According to Ravishankar, making an organization women-friendly is a business requirement rather than a social responsibility.

Mr David Nallathambi, Sr. Vice President & Head HR, Scope International, expressed delight over the fact that the cause of women empowerment has over the years transcended beyond fundamental issues facing women. He was happy to address a group that was already empowered to a large extent. He reiterated that while many organizations have made significant headway in addressing issues related to employing women, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that in several organizations, these are still pressing issues including safety, sexual harassment and work-life balance. He emphasized the concept of equity as opposed to equality while considering ways and means to address issues related to the women workforce. He also reassured the forum that at senior levels, decisions regarding hiring or promotions were seldom based on gender and were always based on capability and responsibility. Stating that most policies should be gender neutral, Nallathambi also emphasized that in certain aspects, there must be exclusivity for women, especially in issues regarding health and wellness. He was optimistic that today, there is a greater level of acceptance of women working, and men, especially of the younger generation, are getting more comfortable with working with and reporting to women colleagues. Acknowledging that as an extremely positive trend, Nallathambi believes that the day is not far off when men in the families too start extending significant support to women's aspirations and share the responsibility of excellence in careers. Nallathambi foresees that very soon, gender issues afflicting women will become a thing of the past.

The talks were followed by a very interesting Q & A session in which many women and men from the audience raised questions and also commented on the views expressed by the speakers.

Ms. Namagiri, Executive Committee, eWIT, called upon the eWIT Excellence Award 2011 winners to receive the awards. A representative from Cognizant, Ms. Meera Vijayaraghavan, Director - Process & Tools Group, sponsors of the eWIT Excellence award 2011 distributed the prizes to the winners of the competition.

In recognition of the service to the IT/ITES industry Ms. Rajalakshmi was presented a citation. It was read out to the audience and handed over to Ms. Rajalakshmi by Ms. Sarada, Jt. Secretary, eWIT. Ms Rajalakshmi thanked eWIT and also spoke briefly about the challenges she faced while working in STPI and also gave some tips to women on how to empower themselves better.

Representatives from partner organizations of eWIT viz, CSI, SPIN, Prajnya, ICTACT, NASSCOM, STPI were given mementoes in recognition of their support and help.

The evening ended with a vote of thanks by Ms. Kalyani Narayanan, Vice President – eWIT.

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