Seeing strength in diversity

Seeing strength in diversity

Seeing strength in diversity

Despite the fact that we live in a world where women comprise almost 50 per cent of the population, there are many workplaces that continue to lean heavily towards men. While it only seems logical that organisations recognise the importance and benefits of including women in the workforce, the reality stays otherwise. Geetha Kannan, managing director, Anita Borg Institute (ABI), India is doing her bit to change this and she tells us how.

ABI is a social enterprise founded on the belief that women are vital to building technology that the world needs. Having lost her father at a young age, Geetha was brought up in an all-women family, where she saw no distinctions between the capabilities and choices available to a male or female. “The strong women in my family instilled the belief in me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. The overall sense of equality also came with the strong lesson of mutual respect and inclusion that one should offer to all men in our lives,” she says.

After completing her schooling in Coonoor, Geetha completed her MBA from Bharathiar University, Coimbatore. While she spent the first few years working in sales and marketing, the majority of her career has been spent at Infosys. Working with e-commerce, acquisitions and organisational restructuring, it was her stint with corporate human resources that opened her mind to workplace diversity.

Beating the bias
“At Infosys, we launched the women diversity initiative, IWIN. My passion for diversity led me to work closely on the diversity initiatives with associations such as National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM). In 2013, I took on the role of managing director of ABI India. Here, my sole focus has been to connect, inspire, and guide women in computing and organisations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative in India.”

Inclusion of women in the workplace gives access to a larger talented workforce and diversity in creative thinking and work styles that are much needed for business success.

“Organisations have introduced many practices and policies that encourage the career growth of women; yet there are unconscious biases at varied levels. These continue to have a strong influence in hiring decisions, job allocations, performance reviews, promotions and salary negotiations,” she maintains.

“At ABI, we have built platforms such as the Grace Hopper Celebration India (GHCI) conference, the technical executive forum, regional hackathons, HR round tables, workshops and other such initiatives that are focused on connecting, growth and retention of women in
technology,” informs Geetha. Incidentally, GHCI is the largest gathering of women technologists in the country.

Geetha’s drive to succeed stems from the commitment to excellence and motivation to do her very best at all times, which includes her relationships and work. “It has always been important for me to know that I have left no stone unturned in trying to achieve the best result. Even at times when I have not been successful, this approach has helped me come out feeling stronger,” she says.

The key to doing well, according to her, is integration of different elements of life. “The key drivers for my professional and personal life were initially a supportive mother and later a supportive husband and daughters. Of course, organisational practices and policies, great managers and the determination to make both aspects (personal and professional) work together, also mattered,” she adds.

One of the biggest achievements in her career has been the broad spectrum of work Geetha has delivered successfully over the last 23 years. “I see success in the growth and achievements of some of my colleagues and team members. I consider the strong network that I have built through my years of work, as one of my biggest achievements,” she avers.

Geetha is very passionate about reading and admits that she somehow finds time to read, even if it is only for a few minutes on a busy day. “My family and friends are my strength and I enjoy spending my time with them,” she says. “I have always been keen on some form of physical exercise every day. Over the years, this has varied from playing cricket to practising yoga these days.”

She believes that most successful women have grabbed available opportunities and actively created opportunities for themselves. “According to me, there are four unique traits that make women credible and successful professionals – being passionate and collaborative of what they do, multi-tasking and being high on emotional intelligence,” she states.

Her advice to young women who are about to start their career is practical. While women tend to focus a lot on acquiring skills and enhancing their capability, Geetha advises that they also need to think about their ‘career identity’. Every young woman should identify a career that is sync with her motivation, interests and competencies and then chalk out a long-term plan, she says.

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