The fact that only about 12 to 15 percent of the engineers who are building the internet and its software are women, is disturbing. The scant number of women in new tech, especially in the areas of data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence has been a worrying trend for organisations all over the world. The resultant sexism is increasingly becoming one of the side-effects, making the global protests for gender equality so much more necessary.
And these numbers are even more abysmal for the Indian new tech sector.
Why is it so? And what can be done to change it?
Analytics India Magazine is featuring women leaders in these sector for all of March celebrating Women’s Day.
Deepa Madhavan, director – Enterprise Data Services at PayPal
What does a career in analytics or data science look like for a woman?
A career in data science is the same for all professionals and the data analytics we work on is a significant asset to the company. Times have changed and the percentage of women in big data analytics is growing at a rapid pace.
As a Director of Enterprise Data services at PayPal, I lead a very enthusiastic and talented data engineering team. Our data is everywhere — from the enterprise data that powers regulatory and merchant reporting to consumers and merchants, risk, marketing, partners, payments, pricing and credit, telesales and call centres. More recently our team has been working on some of the latest technologies with visualisation, providing amazing real-time data capabilities to the company.
Why did you choose this field as a career option?
I did a Bachelors in Economics and a Masters in Computer Science. The field of analytics and data in my opinion is a perfect blend of both these fields and very aligned to my educational background. I also realised the benefits of staying in this field. Tech-related companies are growing rapidly and driving nearly every industry today. Being part of the FinTech sector means there are more opportunities for growth and impact. But most importantly, tech-related sectors will be driving much of what our world looks like in the future. That’s why it’s all the more important for women to be a part of these fields and to have a say in the direction in which these fields are developing.
How is your growth story so far?
For most of my career, I have worked in consulting in various industries. Before working at PayPal, I worked with Deloitte Consulting in San Francisco, Pennwell Corporation in their telecom consulting division in Mountain View, and in a green energy start up called Optimal Technologies.
Throughout my career, I have always felt the need to take advantage of new opportunities and hence moved from company to company to grow. At PayPal, I have been able to work across a number of roles which have kept me engaged and motivated. Beyond the work itself, the amount of effort the company puts into employee engagement, women initiatives, wellness, and diversity is just phenomenal. It’s hard to believe that I have worked here for eight years already. I guess time flies when you are having a great experience.
Do you struggle to maintain a work-life balance?
As I mentioned before, all professionals face challenges in different ways. I feel that, it is important to find the equilibrium and be the best judge of what to prioritise given the respective situation. The goal should be to work in perfect harmony at home and at work as well. I feel like women give up on their careers too easily — while challenges exist, recognising that we have a fantastic ability to multi-task and be impactful in the workplace is something that more women need to realise. Companies need to do their part and tailor policies to support more women at the workplace.
For example, PayPal runs a program called Recharge that I feel very passionately about. It’s a program targeted to bring women who have left the workforce, due to personal reasons, back to work. I myself underwent the same journey when I took a break in my career to take care of my three young children and coming back to work after the break is something I am so thankful for. In my role today, I do my best to give opportunities to women who have taken break and want to work again.
Your thoughts on incorporating more women in new tech sectors
There is no easy answer to incorporating more women in tech sectors. It has to be a multi-pronged approach that is sustained over years in order to address the imbalance that currently exists. Some of the things that need to be done:
Get young girls interested in tech early in their education: Girls are not usually encouraged (or even sometimes discouraged) to pursue tech related areas. Early biases against math and science need to be corrected. Otherwise, the effects compound as girls grow older. They start off being weak in math and science. This leads to a lack of confidence towards pursuing a degree in a tech related field, and then subsequently a lack of women available for tech positions.
Women who are already in tech being role models: This ties into #1 above. The more female role models there are in tech, the more young girls will see this as a viable path for themselves. Role models can be an incredibly powerful influence. In this case, they are showing that not only can a women be successful in a tech career, but that she can be successful in a career period, even before, during, and after starting a family. (The latter is itself still an issue in India.)
Support from existing management: Existing leaders and management need to go out of their way to show that women are needed and valued. They need to be able to sincerely and effectively communicate the importance of a balanced workforce so that the entire company sees this as a priority as opposed to a feel good initiative. They can demonstrate this commitment by ensuring equal opportunity, equal pay, structures to support working women with families, and focused hiring.
What are the key changes in education/career choices that could change the current scenario?
We cannot dispute the gender imbalance in the technology field across the globe and in India. Even though women choose the field of technology as a career option, the attrition rate at the mid-management and senior levels are high due to both professional and personal pressures. This attrition can lead to disinterest among girls/women towards a career in the field of technology.
Hence, apart from building practices to retain existing talent, there is also a need to nurture future talent and get them interested in technology and exploring STEM education programs. We need to introduce young people to STEM in fun, artistic ways to help them understand that technology is full of surprises. It is not merely coding or engineering that we need in the industry at the moment – we need technological craftsmen with the passion to strengthen the technology community in India.
At PayPal, we have something called the ‘Girls in Tech’ program which is an initiative in this direction. We want to give girls between 8-14 years of age, a hands-on experience and understanding of technology at an early-stage and help them make a calculated choice in the future.