IWD 2022: MetricSteam on female leadership and examples in tech
Comments by MetricStream senior vice president - quality, Padmini Vundavalli.
What do IT companies need to do to ensure that more women have the opportunity to achieve senior leadership roles within their organisations?
Execute more workshops and create more mentoring programmes with women leaders who are already part of the organisation, as well as external sources too. Often, just sharing one's own story creates strength among peers. A simple thought that resonates amongst us all immediately – 'we all have similar problems to deal with' - can instantly create a profound and positive impact for everyone.
I'd like to share two personal experiences.
When I returned to the workforce, I had so many apprehensions. I felt guilty about leaving my kids in daycare to come to work and constantly told myself that maybe I was doing the wrong thing. It would have given me so much strength if I'd had someone from the organisation who had a similar experience that I could talk to or who could act as a mentor and provide some words of encouragement.
Secondly, coming from India, I've always been acutely aware of cultural differences in business, particularly in communicating well. I was privileged to be on the same team as a woman from a non-English speaking background for five years. She had trouble with English but was determined not to let it stand in her way. She was always the first to raise her hand at the CEO 'town hall' and got her point across, even if it took a few goes. As long as she got an answer, that was what mattered. We never spoke about it, but just watching her gave me a lot of confidence.
My point here is that even small acts of encouragement - access to good mentors and role models - can make an enormous difference. You won't know how much you can help people if you don't ask them what they need to learn to grow.
Leaders of organisations must have a clear bottom-up approach that gives them a good view of the succession potential they have within their grasp. Give people strength, and it perpetuates from there.
What is the role of governments in attracting more women into STEM-based qualifications?
Governments worldwide must focus and emphasise girls' education opportunities because from every girl emerges a woman. We need to focus on both schools and universities, conduct campaigns and group sessions, and bring in women leaders with similar backgrounds to share their experiences.
I see this happening in our schools. Girls in my 14-year-old son's grade have access to their own targeted careers program and sessions. I didn't have that when I was 14, growing up in India. It would have probably given me a lot of strength.
I'm also passionate about believing that talent is everywhere, not just in the most elite educational institutions. There are enormous benefits to be unlocked from giving all women the opportunity to learn and achieve. So many women are looking for those kinds of opportunities.
Students generally are full of energy and form the basis for our future. You want them to maintain that energy and enthusiasm, not to lose it if or when they start to encounter differences or barriers. We need to encourage them to develop and grow as much as possible and avoid getting distracted by gender and cultural biases.
What can women do to support themselves and their peers to drive a more diverse and inclusive IT industry in Australia?
I'd go a few steps further and say the 'drive to be more diverse' applies to everyone, not just women. Several forums and groups have been chasing this dream. Leaders must encourage and support these approaches. Find your group within the organisation and share your experience. My job is half accomplished if I am an example for at least one more to join my clan! As one famous leader was quoted saying… 'Be the change you wish to see in this world'.
How do we get more women interested in tech?
This is very much 'work in progress'. I see more women in technology and engineering fields now than when I started my career nearly two decades ago. My ten-year-old daughter is only at the start of her learning journey with technology, and her questions sometimes overwhelm me. It's about providing opportunities more than anything else.
What are the highlights of your career so far?
Every job I've undertaken has been nothing less than a highlight. I believe that learning is a never-ending game. I have learnt a lot at every place I've worked, and that includes places where I may have failed to deliver. I hold no reservations in saying that. These failures have given me the strength to become the person I am today. Every moment I've spent as a mentor has boosted my confidence in becoming the change I want to see in the world.
What are some of the key things holding women back from a career in tech in 2022, and how can we solve these problems?
The fact that we are all aware and talking about it is a great starting point. Let's allow the women who are already engineers and lab experts to do their job with no gender bias and support them in their work-life balance. This will set a great example for the rest to follow suit. There is progress in some countries, not others, where cultural constraints act as setbacks that can weigh people down.
How should the industry support women in tech - (for example, training, mentorship, networking)
I think it comes down to subscribing to three principles - being consistent, offering manageable mentorship and support, and being empathetic and flexible to changing needs and situations.
Be consistent: We need to turn up the volume and frequency of these actions and conversations. I'd like to see things happen consistently throughout the year. I'm not just a woman on International Women's Day.
Be manageable: I'd love to attend presentations or speak to audiences outside of my organisation, but I don't have time and trust me when I say 90% of women are just like me. Try and capture that 90% within the organisation and allow them to speak up. You shouldn't need to go outside to find inspiration.
Be empathetic: Something I experienced while pregnant, and then again when returning from maternity leave, was a lack of understanding and empathy by leaders. Sometimes you can't make it on time, commute five days or work late. Having children transforms you physically and mentally. You aren't going to return exactly as you were and pick up where you left off. I wasn't confident to push back on it or speak up. Ideally, attitudes would change so I - and other women - don't have to think about that.
Do you have any advice for women or students interested in a career in tech?
Do not shy away from what I perceive as existing and burning issues. We must face it and overcome it. It will pave the way to a better future and a path for another woman to take on. Technology is our way forward, and I see it as the passing baton for generations to come.
How could the industry eliminate the gender pay gap?
It starts with a simple thought process. Break the bias! Allow more transparency around salaries, do not map new hires to previous salaries. It is the potential of the individual that matters. Workplaces must function as a unified force, which will happen when everyone is treated equally.
Comments by MetricSteam senior vice president - quality, Padmini Vundavalli.