Dr Damini Gupta, AVP and Lead, AI and Fintech at Mphasis NEXTlabs, was in conversation with Analytics India Magazine about gender disparity at the workplace, her career in data science, and the need for more women role models in the new tech industry.
What does a career in analytics or data science look like?
Data science is an emerging interdisciplinary field that requires exploration of various solution approaches e.g. statistical methods vs. machine learning vs. deep learning etc. It needs an ability to evaluate the problem from multiple perspectives. Women are better at processing multiple strands of thoughts simultaneously, therefore are naturally suited for a career in data science.
Data science is a nascent field which is still evolving. Innovations in this field are happening in community supported open-source platforms which makes it easier for women to constantly upskill themselves. As data science landscape is constantly evolving it offers opportunities for women to shift to analytics at various levels including mid-career transition or when joining back work after a break.
Why did you choose this field as a career option?
It was a happy coincidence for me that a career in data science became available as I was finishing my PhD. It gave me an opportunity to leverage the techniques and tools I had mastered in PhD to solve problems the in the domain of my choice.
Artificial intelligence is changing the way we interact with each other and with our environment. What could be more exciting than being part of that change?
How is your growth story so far?
I am relatively a late entrant in this field. It is good so far. Coming from an academic background, I have learnt a lot in a short span of time. As I am working with a research lab, I have had an opportunity to work on many diverse problems and lead a team of talented youngsters to deliver innovative solutions.
Do you struggle to maintain a work-life balance?
Compare to academics, managing work-life balance in the industry is more challenging. IT industry with its global presence does not offer fixed working hours. With clients and stakeholders spread across multiple time zones, one has to be flexible with working late night and early morning when needed.
Luckily for me, working in a research lab offers flexible working hours and with my son grown up, managing both work and life has become easier.
Who are your role models?
For, me, the inspiration has come from multiple sources — Indra Nooyi, Kiran Majumdar-Shaw, Rani Laxmibai, Madam Curie and Rosa Parks. I am inspired by their courage, fortitude and determination to overcome any obstacle in the path of success.
Your thoughts on incorporating more women in new tech sectors.
There are fewer women in the tech industry because there are fewer women in engineering colleges. Even today, when we visit colleges for hiring, not more than 20 percent of the graduating class is women. There is a dearth of women studying engineering.
It is a problem, we need to solve at a societal level. I believe, as a society, we focus too much on teaching girls how to cook and look pretty. Our girls need more interaction with female scientists and engineers at the primary level. They need more female role models. I appreciate your magazine’s feature on women in analytics so much more for that reason.
Equal pay for equal work, where does the tech industry stand on this?
Industry-wide surveys report gender disparity in pay packets even in the tech industry. The wage gap is slightly less here than in other industries. Bigger challenge that needs to be addressed is not having enough women in leadership positions. We seem to be losing out on promotions. There are far fewer women at senior positions than at entry level.
Additionally, women tend to hesitate to have the salary negotiation conversation with their managers. Truth is, in the corporate world, salaries are a function of capability, performance and negotiation.
How do your peers react to a woman leader?
I have not faced any discrimination or favouritism at the workplace due to my gender. My peers treat me as an equal and vice-a-versa.
What are the issues women face when coming back from maternity leave?
In our society, raising children is still primarily a woman’s responsibility. With additional responsibilities at home, women find it difficult to make time for skill upgradation. Simultaneously, well-meaning managers while trying to be considerate and supportive to new mothers end up giving them less challenging assignments even when women are willing to accept them. Both these things, end up hurting women’s long-term growth prospects. In my opinion, time management and skill upgradation are the biggest challenges for women coming back from maternity.