How Women Techies Can Thrive in a Post-COVID World

Breaking the glass ceiling has long been a goal for women professionals in the technology sector. But lack of flexible working policy and indifference of senior management often dissuade them from securing a place in the boardroom, despite studies showing time and again that women have proven themselves to be capable leaders all over the planet. The COVID-19 era that is disrupting every industry and individual across the world may change that. Experts believe with work from home (WFH) becoming the new normal now, the pandemic in some ways, can create new and exciting opportunities, especially, for women in technology.

Currently, there are only 26% of women in engineering roles in India and only 7% of women manage to reach the C-suite level. The Belong Survey shows that flexibility, backed by strong senior management support draws more women, and retains them, in the workplace, especially in the senior positions. The WFH policy during the lockdown is only paving the way for women techies to eye a better career pitch.

COVID-19 creates new opportunities

Bhuvaneswari Natarajan, Senior Director, Corporate Quality, CSS Corp, believes WFH has brought forth endless possibilities, especially for women who are planning to get back to work after a career break. “The flexibility that remote working brings has allowed women to balance their work and life better with increased collaboration from the other family members. It can not only help women upskill themselves but also be a part of conversations that were earlier dominated by men,” she says.

Several tech companies are open to hiring remote workers on full-time payroll, which was not the case even a year ago. In fact, in the present scenario, WFH is proving to be more productive and a lot of companies are planning to adopt a wider use of this model even after COVID-19. This opens up the market for diverse tech talent, where companies look for talent in locations where they don’t have a physical office.

Women with skills in emerging technologies can bank upon this opportunity to restart their IT career, believes Sindhu Gangadharan – Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP, who opines that WFH will benefit both male and female employees, as it decouples them from a specific location.

“It certainly will be a boon to many women employees, who were forced to ‘pause’ their career due to family compulsions, as they now can balance both work and family more effectively. It also will give women more options to choose jobs from different locations, without having to uproot their family and social circles,” she says.

Pooja Subramanian, Technology Principal at ThoughtWorks, agrees that WFH or remote work will eliminate a lot of restrictions like travel time and enable flexible work schedules for people who can benefit from it – say women with kids or elderly people to take care of or women who have relocated because of family.

However, Jaya Vaidhyanathan, CEO, BCT Digital, cautions that despite opening up a new window of opportunities, WFH brings with it both blessings and challenges. She believes, it requires more planning, dedicated (even if small) workspace, and managing other responsibilities. The industry should quickly find ways to utilize this opportunity and build functional models to draw the balance between availability of technical skills and their utilization.

Making Diversity a long term option

While the lockdown and the ensuring WFH policy is changing the way employers are hiring resources, experts believe that diversity is a deep rooted problem that needs a long term strategy to reduce tech’s gender gap. For example, Vaidhyanathan believes, “it all needs to start at the top with more board roles being open for women.”

Agrees Natarajan who emphasized that a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment will go a long way in creating more opportunities for women and fostering sponsorships to not only retain but also advance women to pursue their career goals.

As Supria Dhanda, VP and Country Manager, Western Digital India, believes, “To make diversity in technology work for the long term, the entire stream of talent needs to be reviewed and rightly invested, right from encouraging girl students to take up engineering disciplines to organizations investing in hiring, developing, mentoring, and promoting women in technology and business and focus on how they stay with the organizations for the long term.”

While organization’s flexible work policy is the key, Gangadharan suggests women techies to have an open mind, participate in opportunities that come their way, and ensure that learning never stops in order to thrive in a post-COVID world.

“A shift of mindset is required where the organization and family play a crucial role in encouraging women in technology to pursue their passion,” says Subramanian, who believes it’s imperative for organizations to support these ambitious techies with the right policies, culture and flexibility that will cultivate more women leaders.

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HR leaders anchoring the transformation in the age of new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the entire economy to the back foot. These extreme uncertainties have caused ripples in the business models and, challenged some of the most well established workplaces policies and processes. The duration and the impact of this crisis is nearly impossible to calibrate, but still amid these rough times many organisations are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring employees’ well- being.

According to a recent TimesJobs survey titled ‘Indian workplaces response to COVID-19’, diversity was the flagpole for all hiring activities during the COVID-19 lockdown. This survey received responses from 1,145 HR professionals working across diverse industry verticals.

The survey highlights the various work regimes and that India Inc. adopted has been the top priorities for the companies amid the COVID-19 lockdown time.

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International Women in Engineering Day: Diverse Workforce is the Way Forward

It’s the year 2020, and thanks to technology, the world is witnessing a change at an unprecedented pace. Unlike days of the past, women are being encouraged to take charge and be a part of the ongoing transformation. The field of engineering especially is opening up new opportunities for women who are now challenging stereotypes and discrimination. On this International Women in Engineering Day, women leaders share their thoughts with us on what has changed for women in the field of technology, and how their respective organizations are ensuring a diverse workforce

The IT industry in FY’18 had 34% of women working across the sector and set to grow. The industry has seen the value women bring to the table and their endless possibilities. Organizations are already creating initiatives like work-life policies, employee-friendly needs, space in top management circles to promote a healthy mix of a talented workforce. Going forward, they should provide diverse work environments with opportunities to help them pursue career goals, like ones set up by the IDC and CIO Executive Council. With the industry now open, there’s nothing stopping women in accomplishing what they need. Every challenge presents an innate opportunity for innovation. So don’t limit yourself, celebrate every small achievement, and look forward to more. The WFH model has given the freedom to women who can balance their work-life environment, upskill themselves, and be more productive. It gives them a platform to assess priorities and step up boldly into a world that was earlier dominated by men. The future looks bright!

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5‌ ‌things‌ ‌lockdown‌ ‌has‌ ‌taught‌ ‌to‌ ‌IT‌ ‌professionals‌ ‌and‌ ‌IT‌ ‌companies

1. Shift to the New Normal
The way the IT industry works will never be the same, and the shift to the new normal has not been an easy feat for many. Invaluable takeaway from the crisis is the swift migration to a high percentage of virtual work, and the increasing use of digital collaboration tools. The industry is thinking about redrafting job templates to include remote work options in the post-pandemic phase; a significant portion of the workforce is likely to work from remote.

2. Bolster Wherewithal
Another key lesson from the crisis is the need for enterprise resilience; tempestuous seas have revealed skillful sailors who can transition unchartered waters. The IT industry is taking this learning to accelerate their customer experience. Enterprises are thinking beyond core capabilities; they are strategising around emerging and future capabilities to future-proof their business. Toughening operational resilience is on the to-do list of industry’s top brass.

3. Invest Strategically
In line with what I said earlier, a vital lesson from the crisis is to invest in best practices, solutions, and industry standards. XaaS (cloud, consumption-based pricing), digital innovation, extreme remote work, employee reskilling, and rapid response frameworks are a few examples. The industry has learned to make quick decisions and accelerate digital transformation.

4. Amplify Customer Experience
The industry learned to handle the significant spike in demand for customer support. IT professionals realised that an organizations’ display of assurance, continuity, and engagement during a downturn will be indelibly imprinted in the minds of customers. The IT fraternity has learned that when the stakes are high, customers do not care how much we know until they know how much we care. The crisis is the catalyst to transform the customer engagement model.

5. Ramp up Employee Experience
The last but essential takeaway for the industry is that employees need emotional succor. IT professionals have had demanding schedules and they have stretched themselves to ensure business continuity for customers. Prolonged confinement, gloomy news, and fragile job situations have brought IT professionals’ mental health problems into focus. The industry has taken this seriously and intensified their programs on psychotherapy, self-help, virtual engagement, and counselling. The industry has learned to be more empathetic and appreciative so that employees have a deep sense of belongingness and satisfaction in what they do.

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Has covid-19 hit women in tech harder? Hear from them directly

While it is a well accepted fact that the Covid-19 crisis has been disproportionately affecting the health of men more severely, women have been feeling the effects of the coronavirus in different ways. Before the pandemic struck, they were already underrepresented in the workforce – particularly in tech – and the crisis has further deepened this chasm.

In the lead up to The Rising 2020, the second edition of Analytics India Magazine’s Women in AI conference, we reached out to several accomplished and successful women in tech across industries to hear from them directly:

Working From Home – A Blessing Or A Curse?
The tech industry, as a whole, maybe benefiting from work-from-home policies amid the pandemic, but its effect on the lives of working women tells a different story. The greater share of (unpaid) housework and increased burden of childcare is where Covid-19 seem to have hit them the hardest.

“Barring some exceptions, I believe that most professional women who’ve been able to work from home have had to take on round-the-clock duties that were typically shared by and delegated to daycares, schools, parents, and domestic help,” says Nidhi Pratapneni, SVP, Product, Analytics & Modelling, PVSI at Wells Fargo.

According to her, most women credit their support system for their career successes, but with that largely vanishing amid the lockdown, the Covid-19 crisis could further hamper their return to – or progress in – the tech industry.

The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the chasm that still exists between male and female professionals, thanks to cultural perceptions and expectations. In fact, according to a report, women in the tech industry are almost 1.5 times as likely as men to feel a greater burden of childcare due to Covid-19-induced lockdowns.

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Companies honoring annual increments and performance bonuses during COVID-19

While COVID-19 surely paved the way for sustained ‘working from home’ measures across the globe, the pandemic also has been responsible for multiple unfortunate lay-offs, pay-cuts and unpaid leaves across organisations. The annual season for appraisals has understandably been lack-luster for most parts, but few organisations have not broken tradition and honored annual increments and performance bonuses despite the COVID-19 challenges.

Here’s a list of organisations that have given their employees performance bonuses, delivered on their commitment for new hires or ensured timely salary remittance:

1. Nayara Energy
At Nayara Energy, achieving results and caring for people are integral aspects for their culture. Given the immensity of the COVID 19 pandemic, Nayara Energy remains committed to honouring all employment offers that were made. In fact, new employees joining the company in the midst of the lockdown period were facilitated virtual induction to equip them with the business as well as with their functional teams. The company also expanded employee benefits such as covering COVID-19 under insurance, seamlessly moved parts of their operations to work from home, enabled remote working through accelerated skill building, and continue to ensure timely salary remittances to all. In recognition of the continued efforts by our employees, the annual performance linked incentives were also paid out to all eligible employees.

2. CSS Corp
CSS Corp has rolled out high single digit annual increments for its employees for FY21. Apart from this, variable pay for FY20 has also been given. At the lower bands, which constitute 70% of the workforce, the variable payout was 100% and at higher levels where metrics are a little more stringent, the payout was around 80%. We have also handed out promotions to all eligible employees. Apart from this, we have given an additional incentive for those employees who played a critical role in helping CSS Corp transition to a 100% productive WFH model early in the cycle in March itself. We call them our COVID heroes. We believe, in these times it is a great opportunity for organisations to lead with empathy and take care of their employees’ interests and these decisions will help add certainty in uncertain times. From a hiring perspective, we are targeting an addition of 1,000 employees this quarter. We ended Q4 FY20 at around 7,000 employees, so that makes it a net headcount addition of almost 15% this quarter.

3. BSH
In these uncertain times, BSH is doing everything they can to help to keep the morale of all their employees high and give them a sense of security. BSH is probably one of the only organisations in the industry that has given an increment instead of salary cuts or job cuts. In a bid to manage fixed costs in this period, while they have cut down on marketing and travel costs and put a freeze on future hiring, they have made sure to not cut down salaries or stop promotions since they believe that retaining the best manpower at any cost in testing times is the strength of their organisation. As per appraisal cycle, all staff of BSH India got their increased salaries and promotions for previous year’s performance by March 31. About 1000 sales consultants, on third party payroll are being paid full salaries along with sanitary facilities for their safety. BSH also recently introduced a new insurance policy inclusive of COVID-19 for all employees.

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The firms hiring in India

Some industries – from e-commerce and insurance to gaming – are hiring even during the pandemic. Also, there are firms that are doling out pay hikes. Check out a list of companies (not exhaustive) that are upping their talent acquisition and retention game.

Amazon is creating 50,000 seasonal jobs across the country for its fulfillment and delivery network.

Dunzo is looking for senior leaders – managers, directors, architects, and tech leads.

Edtech firms including Whitehat Jr, Unacademy, Simplilearn, Vedantu, are all planning to hire in the range of 500-2000 employees, Economic Times reports.

Early stage startup ShoppinPal is looking for Customer Success and Data Operations executives.

Five insurers, including PNB MetLife Insurance, Tata AIG and Reliance Nippon are reportedly looking to hire around 5,000 people as they anticipate a boom in business once the lockdown ends.

Gaming unicorn Dream11 seeks 250 people over the year for its technology, design and product teams.

Contract management venture Icertis plans to hire 180 people over the year.

FarEye, which upped its headcount by more than 12% during the lockdown, seeks individual contributors in engineering teams and techno management roles, a company spokesperson said.

Humans of Bombay is looking to hire for these positions: HR Executive, Graphic Designer, Executive Assistant and BA interns.

Grofers and BigBasket have committed to hire thousands for their delivery operations.

Hindustan Unilever, Asian Paints, Johnson & Johnson, Flipkart, BharatPe and CSS Corp are among those companies that have reportedly given salary hikes, made variable payouts and even effected promotions.

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The companies giving pay hikes

Amid widespread layoffs and pay cuts, some companies are bucking the trend, Economic Times reports. Hindustan Unilever, Asian Paints, Johnson & Johnson, Flipkart, BharatPe and CSS Corp are among those that have given salary hikes, made variable payouts and even effected promotions. Experts say companies with a strong cash-flow buffer seem better positioned to give increments or bonuses. Firms such as TCS, Infosys and PwC India have deferred hikes while Reliance Industries, Oyo Rooms and TVS Motor have cut salaries.Amid widespread layoffs and pay cuts, some companies are bucking the trend, Economic Times reports. Hindustan Unilever, Asian Paints, Johnson & Johnson, Flipkart, BharatPe and CSS Corp are among those that have given salary hikes, made variable payouts and even effected promotions. Experts say companies with a strong cash-flow buffer seem better positioned to give increments or bonuses. Firms such as TCS, Infosys and PwC India have deferred hikes while Reliance Industries, Oyo Rooms and TVS Motor have cut salaries.

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Importance of Continuous Learning during Covid-19

Locked down but not locked out from learning. Amidst certain aspects of convenience that a work-from-home model offers, the employees are getting connected with the digital learning platforms enabled by the employer. While the infection curve is yet to show signs of flattening out, the learning curve is on a new high!If the download rates of virtual collaboration tools are any indicator, virtual learning has indeed breached past the barriers of social distancing. IT service providers who are dexterous enough to take advantage of their digital skilling frameworks do so for the advancement of employees. Amid a pandemic and the ensuing harsh economic headwinds, employees are enhancing their employability through continuous learning.

Upside of a Downturn

A positive side to the downturn of our times is visible during remote working conditions. This downturn reflects the truthabout ateam’scollaboration, productivity, and efficiency. When the economic engines decelerate, it indeed is a bad time. But amidst the challenges it also offers an opportunity for professionals to recalibrate themselvesfor the emerging technological requirements. Irrespective of market conditions, continuous skilling is the byword by which professionals live to stay relevant and employable. The difference now is that COVID-19 has cast the focus on diversifying and deepening of skills. Obviously, those with deep technical or domain skills are always sought after and canmeet the challenges of job market due to economic slowdown.

Importance of Skilling

Honing one’s skills across new-age technologies has come as a saving grace for employees caught in the thick of the interim phase. Employees who had to spend approximately 1 to 3 hours of commute daily can redeploy the extra hours and energy in areas of self-development. On the one hand, the unstable economic scenario has witnessed employees signing up for training programs to stay competitive; on the other hand, those who already are on a robust skilling plan are the focus of top management. At a time when organizations are treading cautiously about costs, new investments and additional hiring, employers are looking to do more with less. Employees who are agile, flexible, and quick learners are much sought after. Those who are willing to seize learning opportunities and implement what they learn are assets for the organization.

Online Learning Opportunities

Learning for the purpose of achieving personal goals or professional advancement never ceases. The digital workplaces of today offer a myriad of continuous online learning avenues. The Learning & Development function has risen to the fluctuating demands of clients; they have their task cut out in bridging the skills gap. Learning Management Systems are utilizing best practices such as online learning opportunities through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), micro modules, university programs, online certifications, and bite-sized courses. Thanks to new-age skilling frameworks, homes and workspaces have become like training labs for employees to sign up and skill up based on their convenience or their demanding projects.

Spotlight on Productivity

In an evolving technological landscape, witnessing changing client demands, the wheels of continuous learning are grinding swiftly, but the question remains as to what’s the net impact of it. A common pet peeve aired by project managers is, “Don’t tell me you’re on a nonstop learning journey but tell me how you’ve translated that learning for the benefit of the client.”

Impact of learning wanes unless it has a practical application. Employers overlook employees who are content with what they learned yesterday in favor of those abreast with technological developments. With the availability of many learning opportunities, employers raise concerns about course completion rates as well as the practical significance of learning during this downturn. Employees must think beyond earning certificates and apply concepts such as AI, automation, and analytics.The proof of the pudding, therefore, is in the eating. The future of work demands that IT professionals display their productivity by applying their newly learned skills in projects.

The Big Picture

Long periods of confinement have demanded a high degree of discipline from professionals who have extra time on hand. Between household chores and professional responsibilities, employees find themselves pulled in different directions. On the bright side, being at home with family and relatives offers solace to the homesick workaholics who otherwise glue themselves to their desks in a different city. On the brighter side, prolonged days of confinement mandate a systematic approach to learning new skills. Employees need to make everyday count to be on a par with the speed of change. Irrespective of crisis or normalcy, learning must be a perpetual enriching experience full of practical implications. The maxim “…Learn as if you were to live forever,” rings true.

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Amid paycuts and layoffs, some companies chose to shield staff during the Covid storm

India: In the midst of a storm of job losses, pay cuts and deferred increments, a bunch of companies have held firm. Hindustan UnileverNSE 0.59 %, Asian Paints, Johnson & Johnson, HCCB, Flipkart, Myntra, CSS Corp, BharatPe, BSH Home Appliances and Inflection Point Ventures are among those that have chosen to hike salaries, make variable payouts and promote employees even in these tough times.

Compensation experts said while companies across the board are taking decisions based on business realities, the concern they display during the Covid-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on employee goodwill.

“In these unprecedented times, it is a great opportunity for organisations to lead with empathy and take care of their employees’ interest. We believe that giving pay hikes will help add certainty in these uncertain times,” said Manish Tandon, CEO, CSS Corp. The IT services company has paid out increments and variable pay to its 7,000-strong workforce. At the lower bands, which constitute 70% of the workforce, the variable payout was 100%.

“It’s our job to keep the morale of employees high in these uncertain times and give them a sense of security,” says Neeraj Bahl, MD and CEO, BSH Home Appliances. While the firm cut marketing and travel costs and initiated a hiring freeze, staff were given increments and promotions went ahead.

‘Moves More Company-specific’
‘Paying scheduled salary increments and variable payouts is especially significant now, given the sheer number of companies that have gone in for salary cuts and layoffs in the past month or two. Many are struggling to retain jobs and current levels of remuneration.

“We took the decision of not cutting salaries or laying off people because, while the macro trends were looking weak starting March, we are a people-first organisation and believe that when we put people first, our people make things happen for the organization,” said Inflection Point Ventures CEO Vinay Bansal.

The likes of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro, PwC India and Infosys have deferred hikes. Reliance Industries, Oyo Rooms and TVS Motors have cut salaries while Ola, Uber, Zomato and IBM are among those that have fired employees.

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