Women in IT

Upskilling, the Way Forward

Deepa Kuppuswamy, Information Security Architect at ManageEngine

Strong self-belief, a never-give-up attitude, and continuous upskilling will surely enable women reach top positions

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“We see substantial representation of women at the lower levels, but the challenges are retaining mid-level talent and having more representation at the senior level. Motherhood and family care are transitions some women find difficult to balance.”

Deepa Kuppuswamy,
Information Security Architect
ManageEngine

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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, Deepa Kuppuswamy, Information Security Architect at ManageEngine, 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?  

We have made great strides as a society, and women currently have greater opportunities than at any time in history. But we still have a long way to go to ensure gender equality. Harmful social norms, unconscious gender bias, financial dependence, and unequal division of housework and childcare are challenges that need to be addressed.

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

Zoho is an equal opportunity employer in all aspects, with women working in various positions and leadership levels across business streams. The flexible work policy, the network of mentors of all genders, and the freedom to voice your opinions help a lot. Prioritising employee welfare reflects in our company policies, such as having childcare facilities, workplace safety and support, and equal recognition of good work.

There are two initiatives I want to highlight. The first is Zoho Schools of Learning for high school students. A lot of young girls from rural areas have benefited from this opportunity, as they might not have gotten into the IT field otherwise. We’ve seen them grow as strong technical professionals with high self-esteem who uplift their families’ livelihoods. The second is our latest initiative, Marupadi: a boot camp for women looking to restart their tech career. This is a huge boost to women returning to work after a break.

In the IT industry, there are still very few women in leadership positions in India. What should women do to reach leadership positions?

The percentage of women in the Indian IT sector has steadily risen over the last decade.
We see substantial representation of women at the lower levels, but the challenges are retaining mid-level talent and having more representation at the senior level. Motherhood and family care are transitions some women find difficult to balance. When organisational culture provides flexibility and space to handle these, it goes a long way in helping women flourish in their careers. We should motivate, mentor, and guide them through the tough phases. We must encourage them and provide visibility into the exciting opportunities ahead. To the women out there, I would say self-belief, a never-give-up attitude, and continuous upskilling will surely help you reach the top positions.

On your journey as a career woman, have you ever faced gender stereotyping?  

Personally speaking, gender has not been an inhibitor when viewed in the long term over my 20-year career. But there have been instances of preconceived notions. People make assumptions on whether you will want to travel for client meetings, be available for late-night incident calls, want to take a bigger role, and be able to balance the demands of work alongside the rigours of motherhood. Deep down, social conditioning and the patriarchal mindset are the root causes of such unconscious bias.

Working women in the IT industry are still juggling with enormous challenges at workplaces. What should they do to break the bias and overcome those challenges in order to be successful?  

Focus on excellence and prove yourself with your skills. No glass ceiling can hold you back. Be a continuous learner, always take on new challenges, be vocal that you’re ready, and never underestimate your talent and capabilities. Cultivate allies at all levels. Have a strong peer network across business streams. Be vocal about your goals. It’s important to take ownership of your career path. That means expressing yourself clearly and being an advocate for your own interests.

How do you balance your personal life and critical professional roles?

I have realised through my journey that there’s no such thing as doing everything yourself. You have to prioritise what’s important, get help when you need it, and delegate when you can. Building a strong support system—family, friends, and neighbours—goes a long way. Allocate personal time for self-care, on both the professional front and the personal front. Be it learning the next new technology, taking a course to expand your expertise, travelling somewhere, or engaging in your hobbies, taking time for yourself gives you the energy and focus you need to tackle bigger challenges.

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