Empowering Women in IT - eWIT
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The first anniversary of eWIT, held on March 9, 2007, was an overwhelming success.

More than 400 women representing over 80 companies participate in eWIT's First Anniversary Event. About 20 companies had become members of eWIT on the spot, and more than 200 individuals have become members of eWIT during the event.

The program was focused on "Role of society, industry, and government in enhancing the share and sustainability of Women in IT/ITES". Top executives from various IT companies participated as panelists. The panel was chaired by ex-Sify CEO, Mr. R. Ramaraj.

The Chief Guests for the event were Mr. N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu and Frontline, Mr. Arun Jain, Chairman and CEO, Polaris Software Lab, and Dr. Chandramouli, IAS, IT Secretary, TN Government.

The panelists brought out various key points related to the topic of discussion along with interesting and relevant facts.

Ms. Sushila Ravindranath, Editor, New Sunday Express, said that those women who are already highly educated with MS and PhD have already learned and know how to succeed in their career. It is the lower level, not so educated women in IT/ITES sector that need help in sustaining and succeeding in the industry.

Ms. Poornima Shenoy, President, Indian Semiconductor Association, said that today in IT, in HR and QA areas, there are women executives but these are staff area. In line area, the revenue generating area, there are not that many women. We need leaders, mentors, who help and guide the women in line area to make sure that they do not exit the industry. She also suggested the importance of networking as a valuable tool to get ahead. Telecommuting, flexi times are important that the industry need to look at as options for women. She said that though the role of society and government are very important the organizations and leaders could make a real impact.

Ms. Kalyani Jagannath, Director, Operations, Virtusa, mentioned all that women needed was a little support during critical periods of life. The opportunity is there for women to grab but women need to realize that flexi time does not mean less work.

Ms. Archana Ramanakumar, Senior Manager, Cognizant, emphasized that all along women carry the guilt of not doing full justice to home. She said that by being organized and managing the time efficiently, women can achieve the balance. She also emphasized on the importance of networking and self improvement. The improvements in infrastructure in terms of secure networks, etc. would open up more options for women and industry on telecommuting and part time options.

Ms. Srimathi Shivasankar, Member, Diversity Office, Infosys, said that India is ranked at 98, below Sri Lanka and Algeria when it came to women education. This shows that government and society have a very important role to play in bringing female children into primary education and more. Srimathi also said that women do not have level playing ground with women in other countries when it comes to 'work from home' because the secure, fast internet connections are still not there and this is another area where government needs to invest more. She cited several research outcomes: Catalyst indicates that those companies that had women in senior positions had 35% more ROI than those companies that did not have women in senior positions. Harvard Business Review -that those companies that have top women executives also seem to have an environment where many younger women excel because they draw inspiration from the women at top positions. Gartner recognizes that gender equality in the workplace is going to be a major phenomenon for growth in the South Asian countries. - Her belief was though the society, corporate, and government can support the empowerment of women, it is the women who should want empowerment. Women should strive to break the boundaries to reach the top - by networking - women network to build relationship, but they do not network for business - women need support from the employer only during the time where they need to do the 'work-life' balance, that too, not at the cost of losing productivity, but with a measurable productivity based support.

Ms. Sulochana Ganesan, Sr Vice President, Hexaware, said that the industry is friendly towards women employees; what women expect is equal opportunity, conducive work environment, and has provisions for healthy work-life balance; these are being recognized and provided now by companies. It is up to the women to use these benefits and make sure that do their part to excel. She also mentioned that the society is the weakest link - how do you make people around you understand what it takes to be working in the IT/ITES world and have them support you in a way that you can excel - that is the challenge.

Mr. Ramaraj, chairing the Panel, said that the Women in IT/ITES are at a nascent state. About 70% of the women today have less than 10 years of experience only. He said that studies have shown that < 1% of women hold top positions in the industry - because women fear failure, they are afraid to come back after the marriage, child, etc.

Mr Arun Jain emphasized that companies should provide opportunity inside to network, not for career advancement, but networking of families for sharing how the experiences of colleagues on how they manage the home front, opportunity to break the façade over individual's vulnerabilities. He said that society expects the women to be something which causes stress if women are not able to meet that expectation. He recognized that women have inherent strengths such as multitasking, be able to work with different ecosystems (parents, in-laws, etc.), which are qualities required for an effective manager in IT. He feels that glass ceiling is getting away as companies are becoming more open and embracing. He suggests that family meetings on weekends to express feelings, sharing expectations, etc. among family members are important to resolves several issues and draw support. He said that we (men and women) need to jointly share power and processes for building the new society.

Dr. Chandramouli IAS, The IT Secretary, Tamil Nadu Government - said that the BPO industry has a very negative image such as having very loose moral values that could adversely affect women succeeding the industry. He said that the industry has to address this serious negative image. He also said that the industry, society, and government have to work together to create a conducive environment for women to thrive, policies need to be put in place to address the working mothers during child birth and child care period. He said that, though, policies are being addressed by the government, forum's like eWIT can bring more visibility to this and enable government make better progress that would increase the gender equality. He also mentioned the importance of women entrepreneurs in the industry that would give confidence and the mentoring required by younger women to sustain and excel in the industry.

He has summarized his thoughts with an acronym "BEWITCH".

B - Branding - Remove the negative perception, brand the industry as a safe place for women to work.

E - Entrepreneurship - Women Entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to set up business. This way, women can get a fair role. He mentioned that eWIT can help develop entrepreneurs. He mentioned that there are several government schemes that exist for women entrepreneurs which could benefit the women.

W - Wide based - Tier - 2 and 3 cities to empower more women where the government is planning to set up IT parks to get job opportunities near their homes.

I - Infrastructure Building - Provision of secure connectivity to homes of people where large number of women today is not able to come out of home but is willing to work flexi-hours - Intrastate WAN was being put in place for govt. The government is also thinking of 5000 common centers for the benefit of rural men and women.

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T - Talent - skill building - need to phase out the talent crunch - 100000 graduates are produced and not all are employed - even those who are employed - they need to keep upgrading their skills and move up the value chain.

C - Counseling / changing the cultural mind sets - Even the upper elite of families exist where a career for a women is acceptable only as long as it does not interfere with the social norms (like 'my daughter has to get married ' no matter what).

H - Hand-holding / Networking - eWIT should not remain confined to a room and this has to be spread far and wide.

He has also mentioned that on behalf of TN Government, he would render any support that is possible to enable eWIT achieve the objectives.

Mr.N.Ram said that ICT is a good thing happening for the country as a whole. Growth in the industry would lead to uplifting our country capturing and reorganizing the brick and mortar economy and diversifying, and empowerment of poorer households and communities through first generation IT employees emerging from these families.

He said that having 300000 - 500000 women in IT work force is enormous - He drew parallel to the media industry. He said that women are doing much better even in Journalism and dominating in numbers and quality even in new media. He insisted that though in other countries the glass ceiling operates overtly and covertly, there is discrimination, and women are called 'minority', India must avoid such negative things. He said that with organizations such as eWIT, this can be done.

He was critical about the lack of credible data published by Nasscom and other groups. He mentioned about lack of accurate data on how many internet users are there, is it 80 million, 90 million, or 11 million - how many of these are slight users as opposed to power users. He insisted that we need reliable numbers on how many women work in the IT sector, is it 23 % or 25%? He asked how anyone can focus on initiatives if the data are not accurate or even reliable.

He also emphasized on the importance of education and training to empower women and mentioned that eWIT can contribute in a big way in this area.

He said that he was delighted to note that women are already setting and influencing in this agenda building role of the industry. He assured that the liberal, progressive, forward looking media would support eWIT's initiatives whole heartedly. He insisted that we consciously seek the support of media, despite the negative propaganda about BPO segment. He said "don't get defensive about it... don't get too worked about it. it is a conservative society so change or radical change against the conservative ways would be critical. need not have skins too thick .. you need to be radical about the changes that are happening in this sector".

Ms. Rajalakshmi, Director, STPI and President , eWIT, mentioned about the vision and values behind eWIT and emphasized the importance of active involvement and support of women in the industry. She also recognized all the individuals, and corporate members such as Scope International that have provided support during the first year of eWIT.

eWIT is thankful to all the participants, panelists, and the chief guests. eWIT will look into all the suggestions, and appeals made in the event during the upcoming years towards achieving its objectives.

 
 
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