Empowering Women in IT - eWIT
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'Empowering women in IT', known as eWIT, a Chennai based IT forum that focuses on women empowerment programs was the brain behind the entire workshop on 'Women in IT' track of BangaloreIT.Biz2009.
The track focussed on 'Sustainability and Success for Women in IT' as the theme.
Ms. Vijayalakshmi Rao, President, eWIT, and Director, Scope e-Knowledge set the stage for the track. She said that given their skill sets and inherent strengths, women have the capability and potential to build successful careers for themselves in the IT industry. To a large extent, there is no gender discrimination in the IT industry. While there is scope to enhance the basic share of women it is sustainability that is crucial and the most important determinant for success. In one of eWIT's research initiatives, it was found that close to 90% of the companies interviewed had some women-friendly policy or the other in place, whether formal or informal. It made business sense for companies to focus on Gender Inclusivity with the objective of ensuring sustainability. Hence for an enlightened audience consisting of working IT professionals, it was felt that 'Sustainability & Success' would be most relevant as the theme for this track.
Women as Transformational Leaders
Women possess certain unique strengths that make their leadership style some what different from that of their male counterparts. Is their collaborative style of leadership for instance more relevant in steering organizations today? How have women leaders transformed organizations by their vision, innovation, art of negotiation and employee-oriented approach? Given the unique leadership skills, women can make excellent transformational leaders. The women who were invited to speak on this track were believed to have made a significant contribution to the enterprises they serve.
Ms. Rajalakshmi, Director, STPI-Bangalore & Development Commissioner - for IT /ITES SEZs in Karnataka expressed concern that the women participation in the top and middle tier has only marginally increased. As per statistics, she said that there is a definite need for women to sustain in their careers. She said that various amenities are being provided by the government and forums like eWIT are playing a major role to help women. She said that women need to network, take advantage of these facilities and make the most of opportunities available.
Ms. Chitra Kasturi, Vice President-IRPC, Alcatel - Lucent India Ltd. wanted to know how many of the women in audience actually have a set of goals. She emphasized on the importance of setting career goals by discussing the same with superiors and consciously working towards achieving them. Starting life as typical Indian woman focussing primarily on marriage and family, Ms. Kasturi completed higher education in the US after attaining motherhood and started her career thereafter. She said that women have to be assertive in the workplace. Citing from her own experience, she mentioned the various women leaders within the organization that she considered as her mentors who have helped her to get where she wanted to be. She highlighted the need for women to take up assignments and jobs that others cannot do and did not want to do. By doing such jobs well, one can earn the respect of the organization and be counted as an invaluable resource. Exhibiting firmness where required, being thorough in what one does, and having the humane touch were other key takeaways from her speech.
Ms. Farzana Haque, Global Head - Large Accounts, TCS, highlighted that Indian women have skill sets that are difficult to find and replicate. Most of us are hardworking but to be successful, one needs to look within oneself and evolve strategies for achieving set goals. She was of the view that the attitude decides the altitude to which one could grow. She emphasized on hard work and passion as main ingredients for success. She also recommended maintaining one's own identity, planning and prioritizing daily activities, and not sacrificing family and personal life. She also emphasised that to be a leader, one must help others to grow.
Panel Discussion on Enabling Self-Empowerment
No one can do it alone. To ensure success in the corporate world, women need to empower themselves by seeking help and support from wherever they can, from within and outside.
Some of the avenues of support are accessing coaches and mentors, being part of forums and groups, establishing a supportive family infrastructure and tapping other creative avenues of organizational support. Ms. Sashi Rajamani, COO, Development Enablers moderated the session. She expressed that while women need to seek support they must also have the courage to seek help.
Ms. Sunita Cherian, General Manager-Talent Engagement and Development, Wipro Technologies, shared the approach Wipro has taken to support women in order to help them sustain in the industry. Wipro identified 3 stages of attrition for women - up to 5 years of experience, 5 to 10 years of experience and above 10 years of experience. For the first group, up to 5 years, Wipro discovered that they should provide as much exposure and learning opportunity for women as possible so that they do not think of giving up the profession and instead feel inspired to continue. For the next stage of up to 10 yrs, Wipro has provided extended maternity leave, work-from-home option, crèche facilities etc so that women are given the necessary flexibility and motivated to come back to work. As per the statistics, 70 percent of the women availed of this. For the third group, it is the stage of empowerment where they are groomed and empowered to take up higher responsibilities on the business front.
Ms. Rama Sivaraman, EVP & Global Head, Quality, Polaris, talked of the immense family and infrastructure support available in India. She also touched on the feeling of guilt and how to overcome that. She said that there is nothing wrong to seek out support if one is committed to one's family as well as career. Support could be in the form of mentoring/coaching/networking. It could also be from family or outside the family such as hired help like maid and care taker etc. The key is to assess exactly when and what kind of help is needed and make sure it is available. At the workplace, she insisted that while work from home options & other women-friendly initiatives are being tried out by companies, it is up to women to utilize them appropriately and not misuse them. Work life balance expectations differ between men and women in Indian society and women should be able to tackle situations effectively with a positive attitude.
Ms. Aparajita Sen, Co-site Director, Dell International Services, gave her own example and to illustrate how women can succeed if they do not allow challenges to overcome them. She touched on collaborative leadership approach as a form of support system and said that as women, we need to strive for the best. In terms of work life balance her view was to look at the family as a joint enterprise, so that the goals were common and the family members became stakeholders and played a participative role in achieving the targets. She felt that women can add a lot of value to organisations and they must be action-oriented to make sure this happens..
Mr. G. Inbavanan, Founder & Chief Practice Officer, People Dimensions@Work, touched on important aspects like self, empowerment, and leadership. He highlighted the difference between a mentor and a coach and the importance of having access to both sets of people. According to him training must not just focus on technical skills but also address issues of time application and work values. Work-life balance was an issue for men as well but women get affected by it because of 'guilt'. Finally he felt that women need to find answers themselves to the problems they face.
Making it to the top
Exciting entrepreneurs share their stories and experiences of building their businesses. Do you desire to grow a business from start-up? Work solo or manage a diverse set of employees? Buy a going-concern or turn one around? Three enterprising women from diverse backgrounds explained how they did it which gave valuable ideas for the participants.
Ms. Rina Vivekanandan,Managing Director, RevenueMed, started her career in the airline industry and then shifted to health care. She joined Revenue Med as the first employee and was instrumental in growing the company from 1 to 1200 employees in a short span of 5 years.
She advised women to take up everything with a sense of passion and determination. She also shared the tough times she had in implementing processes and bringing about change in an already existing set up which was used to operating in an adhoc manner. She highlighted the need to be friendly and trusting with the team at the same time, to be aggressive where required as this would in fact be well appreciated by the team.
Ms. Sarada Ramani,CEO, CI.COM (P) Ltd, explained her entry into the career by accident, coming from a very conservative background, solely to help her daughter's computer science subject in school. Later she found herself competing with the younger counterparts as an IT person. With determination, she pursued her higher studies and took up entrepreneurship based on the trigger by one of her mentors. She shared the turbulent times of bringing the business to a sustainable position despite the financial and business challenges faced. Her key messages were to realize that life would not always be a bed of roses, to keep augmenting the level of knowledge, to understand ones strength and capitalize on it and not fear failures but learn to overcome the same.
Ms. Vanitha Narayanan, Vice President Sales-India/South Asia, IBM, highlighted that the challenges women face are all the same - be it in the US, China or India. Having chosen sales as her career option and excelled in it, she recognizes that this area throws up different kinds of challenges for women. She suggested that boundaries need to be laid down clearly and insisted on learning and seeking guidance from male colleagues and managers wherever required. She shared her experiences of having progressive men in her team including her managers. Her observation was that women tend to give up easily, if they are not heard. She highlighted the need to be assertive, winning the trust of customers and peers by showing commitment and conviction and involving the family in career moves and achievements.

Each session was chaired by eWIT executives, Ms. Kalyani Narayanan, Ms. Sumitra Seshan, and Ms. Kala Balasundaram respectively, who introduced the speakers and concluded the sessions.
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