Women Leadership in the Indian IT Industry

By Ushasri T.S , Senior Vice President & General Manager, Manhattan Associates India

Ushasri T.S , Senior Vice President & General Manager, Manhattan Associates India

Headquarted in Atlanta, Manhattan Associates (NASDAQ : MANH) is a supplier of supply chain management software with a market capital of $1.25 billion.

I was recently reading media news reports of the elevation of a senior woman leader as the managing director of India operations for a large computer services company. It instilled a sense of pride in me and among many others across India Inc. This news could not have come at a better time, especially when there are ongoing debates about the plight of women in the country.

Women’s participation and contribution continue to increase in the Indian IT sector. Today, we see women making incredible amounts of progress in technical and management education. Along with this progress, there is also been an upsurge in conversations across the board on "women in technology". Attitudes towards women in the workforce too are changing.

However, the time is opportune for us to turnaround the conversations a bit, so as to focus on the participation of women in C-suite levels, within the Indian IT industry. Having been a part of this industry for over two decades, I continue to see the majority of opportunities in technology to be in the marketing and HR divisions and less in the C-suite, and even lesser a woman at the helm. Research reports are a plenty that emphasizes on the benefits of having women on leadership teams; an essential part of creating any successful organization. So what prevents more and more Indian women from reaching leadership positions within the IT industry in the country?

Women today have all the necessary skills, but when it comes to grabbing an opportunity, they are often uncomfortable to do so, lest they come across as too ambitious or aggressive. From my experience, a key barrier is gender stereotypes. Taking-charge skills are often considered as masculine and Indian women constantly battle with expectations associated with these perceptions related to gender. It is tough to maintain the balance between "being nice" and "being firm." The problem with gender stereotypes is that if a woman leader is being who she is, then she is likely to be seen as a soft leader. If she acts contrary to that, then there is the problem of being labeled as unfeminine or too tough. Organizations have to provide aspiring women leaders the necessary tools and training to deal with the effects of stereotypic bias and perceptions.

The age-old conflict that women have between balancing expectations of being a care-giver and that of a professional is another reason that prevents many women from breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. In one of the TED talks I listened to, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg (why we have too few woman leaders) advices women, "don't leave before you leave." Women often plan on ramping down while in the planning stages of starting a family, sacrificing opportunities to learn and grow until they really need to leave. Another interesting phenomena I have seen in several companies is the "fight or flight moment." The fight or flight moment typically inflicts women employees at the mid-career level. Attrition levels spike at this stage when women are in mid-management levels and have about 12-15 years of experience. This is the stage in their lives when women are in their nurturing phase, where their children are growing up and have increasing demands from education. I too battled with that need at that phase.

Enough has been said about maintaining work-life balance. The ground reality is that it is a tough task. This is an actuality that women have to live up to if they decide to stay in the workforce balancing a demanding job and finding the time for personal life, family and pursuing other interests. Some solutions have helped me cope with these challenges

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