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April - 2009 - issue > Women in IT
Behind a Successful Woman Executive…
Jaya Smitha Menon
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Glass ceiling is perhaps just a cliché today. The term ‘glass ceiling’, coined by The Wall Street Journal some 20 years ago, till recently saw researchers debating on why women seldom reach the highest ranks in business. Do women choose less stressful jobs so they can enjoy life more? Are they shut out of golf games and other informal networks that help men make crucial professional contacts? But what we witnessed at SiliconIndia Women 2.0 summit were a group of distinguished leaders in the industry who have defied the above-mentioned conventional thoughts, and another group that is set to prove the ‘glass ceiling’ theory wrong. Seeing them one really wonders whether the proverbial glass ceiling really exists?

The emergence of women leaders in organizations around the world has changed the working environment in the management of even the most male-dominated firms. The changing demographics in the labor force reinforces this trend and will continue to do so over the next decade. So, are the rules being rewritten by the new women leaders? And beyond the organizational policies and practices that help women advance in their career, what does it take women to obtain ‘C-level’ opportunities?

Stepping Up and Developing the Leader in You
They tell you all the time that you have to be a leader to have any success in this industry, but no one ever really explains how to become a leader that people want to follow. So what does it take to step up and develop the leader in you? “Leadership is not something you acquire overnight. It is a process that takes time to develop. As a woman, to become a leader the first thing one needs to do is to break away from certain myths,” feels Archana Handa, Director, Corporate Communication.

She identifies 7 different myths that women mostly build in them.
* Career means sacrifices.
* My situation is different; I have to work within boundaries.
* Finding a mentor will solve my problems.
* Glass Ceiling is unbreakable.
* Successful women are primarily driven by ambition and greed.
* Be like a man to succeed in the man’s world.
* I should be thankful to my family and organization for letting me do this.

Mrinalini Ingram, Senior Director, Finance and CFO, Cisco is a perfect example of a woman who has moved ahead by breaking these barriers. Born and brought up in the U.S. she moved to India for her career along with her husband and 2 children. Mrinalini says, “Women need to focus on taking advantage of their individual strengths and opportunities in a changing environment in which their male counterparts can be their allies as well as competitors.” In this environment, women do not have to overcompensate in terms of ambition and determination, but can focus their efforts on building skills, networks, and relationships. At the same time, companies and other organizations can do their part to promote the advancement of women.

Ascending the Corporate Ladder
The number of women joining the IT industry might be increasing, but when you move up the corporate ladder women constitute a very minor percentage of the senior management. What makes it so challenging for women to ascend the corporate ladder either as a tech lead or a business lead? Is the set of rules for this different for men and women? What does it take to make the final cut?

It goes without saying that performance and meritocracy are the underlying factors of success. Given that, when opportunities strike, how do you make use of it to your advantage and ascend the corporate ladder. Passion and positive outlook - points out Nivruti Rai, Director, Intel - are the most important things for success. “Unless you have a passion for what you do you will not excel in your work,” she explains. Moreover, the passion will make you learn more and become an authority in your area of work. A positive attitude will help you view criticism as constructive, while helping you learn from failures. For Radha Shreeniwas, Group Manager, Target, success came when she took the risk and chose a path, which was not a rosy one. Radha exemplified how breaking away from your own comfort zone and choosing a scarier option in career could actually lead to success. She feels that the 'corporate ladder' is much closer to ‘rock-climbing' - tough, steep, at times horizontal, and demanding a firm grip.

The Great Juggling Act
Even today, the reality is that women still need to balance their work and domestic responsibilities to a far higher degree than men. This requires that the ability to manage time and set priorities be even more developed. “A little planning and organizing will make the juggling act easier,” says Uma Iyer, Managing Director, R2k Software

Be proactive at work and at home - plan doctors' appointments for your kids well in advance, maintain a long-term schedule of work that needs to get done, and make sure that the two don't clash. You should, however, be aware that unforeseen circumstances might arise, and so allow for flexibility in your schedules. “Communicate at both ends regularly about your priorities,” advises Prasanna Moses, Director, Unisys.

Mentoring for Women
Mentoring is today an integral part of the organizational culture. But the challenge here is to make the mentoring program effective. Hence mentoring is more about commitment than chemistry. It's about personal growth and development rather than promotions and plums.

Earlier, the best relationships between the mentee and mentors were built on commonalities. It is not so any more, says Vani Sharma, Director, Citrix. "If you're matched with someone like you," she says, “the potential for discovery is negated. You should pair with someone who, by his or her very nature, will challenge you."

Rituparna Mandal, Project Manager, Texas Instruments, feels that mentoring should be customized according to the requirements of a mentee. For instance, they can raise the profile and effectiveness of mentoring and coaching by tailoring and customizing such programs more to suit the needs of individuals, rather than following a “one size fits all” approach, which does not appeal to creative and ambitious people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur?
“If you want to be an entrepreneur because you want to be your own boss and hate taking orders, then this is not the place for you,” says Revathi Kasthuri, Founder of Laqsh Job Skills Academy. Because, when you start your venture you become answerable to your customers, employees, investors, and all other stakeholders.

Entrepreneurship involves the ability to identify the right opportunities, risk taking, and access to market. An entrepreneur has to breathe and live his or her dream 24x7, physically and mentally, and is required to be available to attend to the call of the business whether from the customer, the employees, or the market forces. This calls for the ability to put up with tremendous amount of pressure and stress. “Hence, seeking support and co-operation from family is very important,” points out Sudha Kumar, CEO of Prayag Consulting.

An entrepreneur faces challenges right from day one. The challenge in building the core team comes initially; the founding of team and attracting the right talent. Then comes the challenge of getting the funding, Angel or Venture. In the second phase comes the challenge of customer acquisition and in the final and last stage comes the challenges faced in scaling the business, taking it to the next stage of growth, and so on.

“Women have the natural flair for creativity and the motivation and perseverance to make things happen. Should a woman decide to be an entrepreneur, these inherent characteristics will help her immensely,” explains Uma Balakrishnan CEO of Axcend. However, as an entrepreneur, one needs to get the gem of a business idea oneself and be self-motivated all the time.

Women have made great strides in recent decades, but there is still a long way to go. There will be times when you are passed up for a promotion, or when an expected salary rise doesn't materialize. The only way to respond to such setbacks is to keep on pushing. Bear in your mind that many women have faced similar obstacles and made it to the top. As Chitra Kasthuri, Vice President, Alcatel Lucent puts it, “Take pleasure in the work you do. Have belief in your own abilities. Keep on improving, keep on learning, and thereby expand your horizon.”

Success is just around the corner!

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