Eleven corporate leaders from the world’s top companies inspire Indian women to join the tech sector.
For Nandini Iyer getting a chance to spend the day at Microsoft’s Hyderabad office was an unforgettable experience. This 12year- old along with 80 other girls were invited by the software giant as part of their Digigirlz programme which aims to provide young school girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years, a hands- on working experience with technology. For girls like Iyer such opportunities not only help them discover careers in the field but also motivate them to study the subject.
“We brought in girls from about five different schools in Hyderabad to our office and they worked with various Microsoft products, designed an application and met with a few role models from the sector. The role models, both men and women, spoke to the girls about careers that can be pursued in the field of technology. Watching the eagerness of some of the young girls to become a tech entrepreneur and do something on their own in technology was amazing,” says Jacky Wright, vice- president of strategic enterprise services at Microsoft.
Luckily Microsoft is not alone in its goal to encourage women to work in the tech sector. At an event held by the US Department of State and led by Alyssa Ayres, US Department of State, deputy assistant secretary for south and central Asia, a delegation of ten women joined Ayres in exploring ways in which the number of women working in ICT professions and academia can be increased. Apart from Ayres and Wright, the delegation also included Shawn Covell, Qualcomm, vice- president of government affairs; Jane Chwick, Goldman Sachs, advisory director; Pearly Chen, HTC, office of the chairman; Kumud Srinivasan, Intel India, president; Julie Baher, Citrix, senior director; Dana Contreras, Twitter, senior engineer; Julia Lovin, Juniper Networks, senior director Junos Engineering; Trish Tierney, Institute of International Education, executive director; Ann Mei Chang, US Department of State, senior advisor for women and technology in the Secretary’s Office of global women's issues. The delegation met with various companies, foundations, educational institutions, government ministries engaged in promoting women in ICT in both Delhi and Bangalore.
“I’m very interested to see how technology can help improve the lives of women around the world. There is
currently a huge talent shortfall around the world in the tech sector; the opportunities exist but there is little skilled manpower. One of the ways to bridge this technology gap is to get more women engaged. Women still constitute only 10 to 20 per cent of the tech workforce in the world,” explains Chang from the US Department of State. As part of this initiative, Chang and her fellow delegates aim to look at the challenges that face women in the technology sector in India and hope to come up with a global solution to various problems. “I think the ability for us to learn as a team, help build a pipeline for women watching to work with technology and hopefully push policy is important,” says Wright.
With many international companies looking to expand their presence in India, this initiative also helps give them an insight into how they can recruit, retain and encourage more women to ensure diversity in the workplace. “It’s important for companies to understand and engage with the situation on the ground level wherever we are doing business,” says Contreras from Twitter.
Aside from representing their individual companies the delegation also had their own personal reasons for taking part in this initiative. “About ten years ago I was asked to take on the sponsorship of women in technology by Goldman Sachs. After saying no three times, as I didn’t feel there was a need for it, I eventually consented. It turned out to be such a rewarding experience for me. I’ve now retired but continue to serve as an advisor and in my new capacity I intend to keep on helping women engage with technology,” says Chwick from Goldman Sachs.
Having spent a few days in Delhi already, the delegation is starting to realise that the challenges facing women in the tech sector are more or less universal in nature with some slight cultural differences. “There are some issues that stand out as significant roadblocks in India. One is strong family ties. While large families provide a good safety net, women still need to learn to leverage the support system they have around them to further their careers. Safety issues are also a challenge and in India it seems like the measures are becoming a little discriminatory against women,” says Srinivasan from Intel.
When it comes to the benefits of working in the tech sector, the women from the delegation have many experiences to share. From flexible working hours to high salary packages, the delegation is ready to show women the positive side of a career in technology. “High tech has some of the most flexible and adjustable working schedules. I think this is a sector that can really help foster families and working parents like few others. I would certainly recommend a career in this field,” says Lovin from Juniper Networks.
Whether it’s serving as a role model themselves or working to set up new initiatives, the delegation is already an inspiration to many women in India.
ALYSSA AYRES, US Dept of State TRISH TIERNEY Institute of International