Women in IT

OVERCOMING THE BARRIERS

Anita Kapoor, Director Legal, Lenovo India

Women should focus on many of their abilities, like multi-tasking which are required to succeed in the new world

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“We need more women at the leadership levels so that the conversation flows top to bottom. Direct, transparent and aimed strategies are required to nudge women in the right direction– this can be done through organizational means, the women community themselves and fitting managers.”

Anita Kapoor, Director Legal, Lenovo India

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The International Women’s Day was celebrated with the customary pomp and fanfare this month a few days back. Despite all the buzz surrounding women’s empowerment and conversations on gender diversity in tech, women are still underrepresented and often discriminated against in the tech industry, if we go by the numbers. But the silver-lining in the cloud has been the recent strides taken by the fair sex in various walks of life, including the IT industry.

In commemoration of the International Women’s Day and in celebration of and gratitude to Women’s Power, we have embarked upon cataloguing the achievements and voices of leading women in the tech industry.

In a special interaction with SME Channels, Anita Kapoor, Director Legal, Lenovo India, reveals her views on gender parity; how women can reach leadership positions in the IT industry; what it takes to handle business-critical roles; and how to strike a balance between personal life and critical professional roles. Edited excerpts…

As a society, do you think we have been able to ensure gender equality? What needs to be done to attain this? 

On a positive note, the world is more aware than ever before of the need to fight gender inequality. While awareness is half the battle, there’s a long road to achieving gender equality across the globe.

To present an instance, women hold only 20% of managerial positions and just 15% of board positions in Asia and it could take 1656 years to attain gender parity in Asia at the rate forecasted by the latest report from the World Economic Forum 2021.

We need to talk about every day, every place equity- it encompasses breaking down barriers and dispelling stereotypes in any given industry or role. Gender equality doesn’t mean we must have a 50:50 balance of men and women in every profession purely for the sake of equal representation. What is required is equitable treatment. Equity means recognising that fairness often requires enabling people differently so that they can achieve the same outcome.

Gender inequality cannot be ensured by governments and organisations, it is engraved into the mindset of the people over centuries.  However, gender-positive recovery policies and practices by the government (focusing on education, health, skilling, economic and political participation among others) and organisations are the key to promoting gender parity and creating the shift. The purpose of affirmative action policies to increase female representation is to counteract systemic discrimination over centuries against women. It creates gender equity by overcoming the barriers women face simply because of their gender. Pushing for equal wages for the same positions at work and sharing household chores at home can help.

In the corporate sector especially, effective mid-career reskilling policies, combined with managerial practices, which embed sound, unbiased hiring and promotion practices, will pave the way for a more gender-equal future of work.

Please shed some light on your work environment. Would you dub it women-friendly?

Yes, absolutely! We at Lenovo, have globally tried to create a more amicable and equitable environment and are glad to have a collaborative and action-driven approach. We are fortunate to have all the international validations and recognitions for what we stand for. Most recently, Lenovo has once again been recognized in the 2022 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI). Lenovo has a global employee base of over 71,500 employees, operating in more than 180 markets around the world, with women comprising 36% of the workforce.

Lenovo’s culture of trust in its people is a great foundation for equality, allowing for flexibility in working conditions while still getting the job done. We have strong reinforcements internally as well for our gender-neutral and unbiased policies towards a productive work environment. It is exciting to see multiple leadership positions that are headlined by women, and they have climbed the ladder with their capabilities and competencies.

We regularly engage employees through Lenovo Listens, internal surveys that help us better understand employees’ challenges and address them for better productivity, inclusion and to drive employee satisfaction and retention. I am excited to note that the last annual Lenovo Listens employee survey sets all-time high scores for:

  • Promotion of fair and equal treatment in the workplace
  • Fostering opportunity for success for employees of all backgrounds
  • Maintaining an environment of respect

Amongst other notable workplace policies, there are gender-neutral strict and effective policies against Harassment and Workplace Offences to help create a safe workspace for one and all. Lenovo offers progressive benefits to employees, including Gender Transition Support through medical, mental health, and pharmacy policies.

As a brand, what Lenovo is doing to promote woman power?

Lenovo strives to always empower and encourage employees and their ambitions, all genders alike. At the same time, we recognize the importance of specific programs, employee resource groups and initiatives towards inclusivity and parity.

Women In Lenovo Leadership (WILL), is an internal group that has formed together to enable and advise our women leaders to get to the next level. WILL addresses gender diversity and inclusion at Lenovo workplace and in the community. It is dedicated to the growth, advancement and empowerment of Women within Lenovo.

Some of the key initiatives that WILL undertook in AP and improved since its launch in 2019 include:

  • Diversity promotions improved to 37% and attrition rates improved.
  • Key activities such as mentoring and job shadowing for women employees in India, Central Asia Pacific, Australia & New Zealand and Japan offer new learning experiences.
  • Gender benefits were balanced or extended such as maternity health benefits, leave entitlement across Asia Pacific locations, Lactation rooms and extension of insurance cover for same-sex partners.

In 2018, we announced a goal to achieve 20% female executive representation worldwide by 2020; today we have 21% of our executive roles globally filled by women. We’ve also set ambitious aspirational goals to increase the representation of female executives by the fiscal year 2025/26, to 27% of Lenovo’s executive population.

In male-dominated factory roles, Lenovo Puducherry Plant stands out with about 30% women including female Shopfloor managers. It is a transformation that is leading a positive societal change.

As a global technology leader, gender equality is a top priority of our social impact efforts. Through the Women’s Leadership Development Program, many of our female employees have benefitted from formal mentorship and 33% have moved into executive-level positions.

In addition, we also are looking at how our social outreach programs can take the efforts beyond the organization. We believe that technology, when leveraged efficiently, is one such tool that bears the potential to create massive socio-economic impact across various fields and disciplines. At Lenovo, we try to ensure that our community and philanthropy led initiatives are gender-inclusive. We have a target of 50% for gender inclusion and over the last 2 years, we have attained between 44 and 47%. We have some great examples of what we have done across various regions, such as the “Code Like A Girl” program in Australia. And, if you haven’t already, do watch Lenovo’s New Realities for many inspiring stories celebrating women using smart technology to showcase and solve global social issues and empower empathy.

In the corporate world, there are still very few women in leadership positions in Indian organizations. How do you look at this as a successful woman? 

In the times we live in, there’s no dearth of information. Studies have found that women possess a natural advantage when it comes to personality traits for leadership positions. Despite that, women are not adequately represented higher up the value chain of the organizations. The issue is no less grave globally-  in the Fortune India 500 list, in 21 years the female CEOs represented in this list have crept slowly up from a dismal 2 to 41.

In my experience women work harder to prove their mettle. Dealing with career breaks without adequate support system at work and home creates additional hurdles. Take the recent pandemic, for example, LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 shows 89% of women were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with as many as 85% women in India having missed out on a raise, promotion or other work offers.

We need more women at the leadership levels so that the conversation flows top to bottom. Direct, transparent and aimed strategies are required to nudge women in the right direction– this can be done through organizational means, the women community themselves and fitting managers. If all these factors work towards nurturing a talent, an immense scope for growth and development.

When we talk about women in leading roles, I feel we also need to be more assertive and confident in our abilities. As women, we are more prone to be dismissive of our own achievements- again, a result of systematic conditioning over centuries. We should share our journeys which in a way inspires more to join in and break any barriers, the bias and yes the glass ceilings!

In your journey as a career woman, what sort of gender stereotyping have you faced? 

In the workplace, I have had to challenge almost all traditional ideas and stereotypes such as “women lack authority, are more emotional than men; are less strategic”, “women have less flexibility and time to focus on their jobs as they juggle multiple tasks at work and at home”.

Rather than these old-fashioned stereotypes, women should focus on many of our abilities, like multi-tasking which are required to succeed in the new world where we no longer manage hierarchically but where attributes such as emotion, empathy and teamwork demonstrate the ability to inspire teams and drive them to ambitious goals.

As someone who is now a part of an ecosystem that has historically been male-dominant, I guess, we would need to understand the perseverance of the women who broke through the glass ceiling when they were one of a few in the profession. The archaic notion of giving up careers post marriage and the skepticism around women in leadership roles is slowly but steadily being dispelled- Justice Gita Mittal-Former Chief Justice-Jammu & Kashmir High Court, Vrinda Grover-Lawyer & Researcher,, Indira Jaising- Former Additional Solicitor General of India, Karuna Nundy-Lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, Manjaree Chowdhary-Executive Director & GC-Maruti Suzuki India Ltd,.

When I began my career over 2 decades ago, it was an unsaid struggle in many ways. While there were many to even list, I distinctly recall a very senior Advocate who I was briefing, continued to address my male colleagues in his responses! It was only towards the end of the few months of association that he accepted me as the lead counsel. Having said that, I have also been lucky in having many supportive employers through my career journey.

So, yes, we have to work harder, believe in ourselves, persist through the negativity and doubt but eventually it is a journey well worth every step of the way.

Working women are still juggling with challenges at workplaces, what should they do to overcome those challenges in order to be successful?

To overcome institutionalized gender equality and challenge the biased system, all constituents in a workplace must work in synergy. There are three pillars that need to be in place to facilitate the growth of women and achieve gender parity– Organizations, Managers and Women themselves.

What Should Organizations Do?

This new decade is an opportunity for not just diversity in the workforce but for true inclusion and equal opportunities for women. Women want visible proof of the organisation’s efforts, not just talk.

  • Women expect organizations to demonstrate proof of their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Organizations must prove that men and women have equal opportunities to get promoted.
  • Women would benefit from their organisations having policies and programs in place to support and champion women.
  • Men dominate leadership positions in Asia holding ~80% of managerial positions, and more active male voices are thus critical in supporting gender parity efforts. Supportive male counterparts make a significant difference to a woman’s experience of parity.

Women as Managers

Women employees have a huge potential to grow and become thought leaders. In their journeys, it is highly significant that they have the right mentors, allies and motivators who can inspire them. Managers can help with reinstating the following:

  • Reinforcing a culture of equality, which includes treating male and female colleagues similarly in the workplace, having women’s views respected and supported by other colleagues in the workplace.
  • Recognise contribution: A McKinsey report noted that women have also taken up a lot more work around mental wellbeing & DEI efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and are burning out as a result. Therefore managers must recognise the time and effort women put into their jobs. Furthermore, being recognised gives them a sense of confidence and feeling supported

Women

Women themselves must uplift each other and facilitate a healthy environment that encourages growth. Breaking down barriers and dispelling stereotypes of the type of person that will be successful in diverse industries is critical to foster the belief amongst women that they can work in any industry.

To retain these ambitious, hard-working women with great aspirations to drive organisational change and gender parity, managers and organisations need to acknowledge their efforts and ensure they receive the same opportunities and treatment bestowed upon their male colleagues.

How do you ensure work-life balance? 

Burnout has been pervasive during the COVID-19 pandemic. To prevent such a situation, I try to not feel pressured by the 24×7 work culture. On an individual level, I closely guard my personal space!

We often think about work-life balance as the trade-off between time spent at work and time spent on other, non-work activities. In an ideal world, this line blurs, after work, we’re able to do things that nourish our soul and mind— whether that’s spending time with friends, family, or engaging in a hobby.

Truth is, there’s no prescription that will fit everyone. And you may have to play with what time scale feels most relevant to you. The best way to determine the best balance for you is by learning to check in with your inner compass — and your results. Some of my mantras over the years have been:

  1. Especially when working from home, physically separated workspaces. I avoid working on the bed or in family living spaces.
  2. Maintain a fitness routine.
  3. Maintain a work routine, at least broad start and shut down time- To that end, I do not have email alerts on the phone. This helps control the urge to respond in a hurry and at all times of day or night.
  4. Try something new every year, it could even be a new goal for an existing activity or reviving an earlier interest or taking up a new hobby.
  5. While this has taken a hit in the last few years, I find that at least one long and one short break with family can be refreshing and rejuvenating.

 

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