My journey as a woman leader of Indian origin began more than two decades ago, as a team leader for Amdocs’ site in Cyprus.
Before long, I was the first woman line manager at the site. I was a rare breed, not just because I was the first woman in a leadership role, but because I was soft spoken and didn’t put my foot down often. Being around passionate, opinionated men all day long often left me with an uncomfortable feeling. I had no skills in socializing outside of work either. It did not help either that I did not drink, dance or connect with western music.
But I was used to being a rare breed. I was an electronics and telecommunications graduate at a time when only 5% of graduates in this stream were women. Societal expectations of a woman’s role in India are deeply entrenched. Gender diversity at work is not upheld as a value. Women are expected to be the sole homemakers, and the tasks – both practical and emotional – of raising children and taking care of parents and in-laws falls squarely on their shoulders. If something happens at home, the woman’s career is the first to be sacrificed. For this reason, half of the women who graduated college with me do not work today.
Thankfully, it is changing. Women are becoming more independent and finding their voices in the workplace. Employers, too, are recognizing the unique needs of women and catering to that. Amdocs, which opened in India in 2004 with 300 employees, actively encourages its women employees to balance their work and personal lives through family-friendly policies that include flexible work hours and parental leave. Today, the Indian offices in Pune and Gurgaon represent close to 50% of the Amdocs workforce worldwide with 15354 employees – of which 4806 (31%) are women. McKinsey’s organizational health index (OHI) 2020, positioned Amdocs India in the Top Decile with a score of 84% for six critical health indicators and in May 2021, the Economic Times of India recognized Amdocs as the Best Workplace for Women.
Despite being less vocal than my male counterparts, I was never shy in expressing myself if my point was technical in nature. That is what led to my rapid growth in the early phases of my career. Still, there were invisible barriers I couldn’t break through and at a certain point I realized it was because I was hopeless when it came to corporate politics. It was a painful road but eventually I understood that in order to succeed, I would need to work on more than just the technology aspects of the job. I would need to nurture professional relationships, identify sponsors and increase my visibility. I volunteered for multiple cross-projects and seized every opportunity to work with new people and as a result, my confidence bloomed. Twenty years on and I have had the privilege of mentoring and influencing hundreds, if not thousands, of women at the company, sometimes via formal programs like INSPIRE - a senior leadership initiative that focuses on bridging the gender gap - but also in less formal frameworks such as team meetings or women’s meetups. My advice to women in India is thus:
- If you have been asked, either implicitly or explicitly, to put your career on the back burner in favor of family commitments, speak up. Explore your options, talk them out with your family and your managers. Find your support system – both at home and at work. Try to harness as much help as you can to deal with the double duties of work life and home life.
- Find a way to network that is aligned with your personality. I learned all too late that we all need allies, friends, and well-wishers in the corporate world.
- Don’t remain in abusive relationships. Abusive relationships can exist in the workplace as well. Ask for what you deserve and if that fails, move to a different team. Don’t fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy – it’s never too late to get out.
- Do whatever is in your power to mitigate burnout. Burnout is real for everyone, but it has more impact on women due to their double duty. Invest in a hobby, take regular vacations and when you can’t, take mini-breaks or days off.
I am glad to see that the new crop of women who are joining the workplace in India are different. They are more confident, savvier, and better attuned to social and political dynamics as well as to global consciousness. They are an inspiration to my generation. To them I say: stay hungry.