Here’s the fifth and last part of our series Being Women – the Balancing Act, where we have candid discussions focussing on the women of today, who beautifully juggle work and family. We spoke with some of the most prominent women from the Indian Analytics Industry this INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY.
A data scientist by day Vanitha D‘Silva is driven by identifying patterns, deriving insights and problem-solving. She has been instrumental in Oxigen’s evolution to a data-driven organization. She and her team enable key business decisions through the actionable solutions they develop. She’s now associated with Gartner Inc as Forecast and Market Share Lead.
Analytics India Magazine: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? What was your childhood dream?
Vanitha D’Silva: I’m not sure what you’d call it, grown-up me would call it owning a bookshop, but the kiddie me had no intention of selling books but just being surrounded by and reading thousands of books, every single book imaginable.
AIM: Who is the one woman who inspired you? Why?
VD: I wouldn’t really say there was one woman who inspired me. I was in college and I came across so many different women -the cook, the mess worker, the lady selling tea. Just across the underprivileged section of society who struggle to make ends meet and who go through so many odds but persevere. That was really inspiring to me. So if you really put your mind to it, fight, you can get things done.
AIM: What defines you as a leader?
VD: Well I think having a vision and the drive to see it through; ability to carve a path and learn along the way; and definitely empathy. The three of them together.
AIM: What are the challenges that you faced being a woman in tech?
VD: I wouldn’t really say major challenges. But yeah, it is not really nice being the only girl in the room. Especially when figuring out solutions or building data stories, some of the best brainstorming can happen in a more relaxed but professional environment and its not always easy to get past the labels when you’re the only girl. But I think at least in India we are really lucky that our peers have always been very supportive. There hasn’t been any outright discrimination as such. But it’s always nice to have more girls around. I would say a challenge currently is to individualize yourself with a body of work as opposed to a checklist – no of years of experience, skills etc irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman.
AIM: How do your peers react to a woman leader?
VD: Frankly, I’ve never had to face outright or subtle discrimination because I was a woman. As a leader, if we let our work speak for us, its more than enough to get everyone on board, whether you are a man or a woman. There is always that one skeptic, but different points of view is always good. Our working world today has evolved to a point that our peers realize that we don’t need to be bogged down by these definitions. The proverbial seat at the table is up for grabs for both men and women.
AIM: Equal pay for equal work, where does the tech industry stand on this?
VD: I don’t think there is any differentiation in the pay in India. I think what happens is that more often than not is that us women get left behind when we decide to have kids and go on maternity breaks or such. I think we also are less likely than men to negotiate aggressively so although we start out at the same level, pay scales can vary wildly further on in our careers. But in terms of pay, I don’t think there is any differentiation.
AIM: What are the issues women face when coming back from maternity leave?
VD: I am just coming back from maternity myself. The main problem is how to get absorbed back into the workplace. Find work that is motivating and inspiring enough which will allow you to leave your small child at home. And it is very hard to see your peers move ahead of you in the months that you have been away. And a lot of guys, especially younger guys, who haven’t been through it consider it a holiday, which it most definitely is not so some women can feel a little hostility.
The first time I went on maternity, which was quite a few years ago, it was a lot harder to do this but flexible working environments and a changing mindset have changed that. I believe to get women back to a level where they can contribute when they return from maternity, as there is a misnomer that they will not be able to, it takes a great support system both at work and at home. They need a project that is both flexible and challenging enough to motivate. The most important is for women to keep upskilling themselves, even while on break so they don’t feel left behind.
AIM: Work or family — what is important in the eyes of the society today?
VD: I think typically women had to bear the larger share of the family burden. I do see it changing wherein the fathers and husbands are taking on more and are able to balance it out now. By support I mean for women to make their own choices independently and not worry that it’s the wrong choice, although we’re going to go over it a couple of hundred times in our heads. For instance, if you have a small child day care facility near the office, flexible working hours, it would be so much easier — for men as well. Earlier, since it was assumed women would take on the family, it was not okay for men to for ex leave work early for a sick child. Society is slowly accepting that men contribute as well which allows both to men and women to enjoy the best of both worlds
AIM: How did you balance family and work?
VD: It’s not easy I think all of us are going insane! But yeah I have a very strong support system, my husband pitches in a lot. We try and figure out our schedules accordingly. If I’m working late he tries to come home early. We pick up work from home as well and have a great support system at work that allows us to do so. Great managers and a great culture in the office which allows you to take these decisions. And of course you need to be motivated and driven with the work that you are doing, because it would otherwise not allow you to manage so many things and contribute effectively at work.
AIM: Tell us about an instance which motivated you to push the barriers.
VD: I think having children was the one thing that really motivated me more than anything else. Being an example for someone else, trying to spend quality time with them, and at the same time doing justice to your own personal goals and ambitions. That’s what really pushed me and has motivated me.
When I had my daughter, that’s when I really needed to take a step back and decide what my priorities were. Balancing my personal ambitions as well as motherhood, as I wasn’t ready to let go of either. And that really drove me to go against the norm and carve a path for myself that would allow me to do.
I think having children made me more effective at work as well. I didn’t have time for mistakes!
AIM: What is your support system?
VD: My family, great neighbors that form an extended family — they help out a lot. I will say that my support system is also my team at work, because they really inspire me and push me along even on days when I think, “Oh my God what am I doing? I can’t manage this!” I have a new born baby right now and I am still able to take work calls and contribute, which is purely because of my manager and my team and my daughter who keeps switching parent and child roles with us!
AIM: What do corporates lack while implementing gender diversity?
VD: Recently, there has been a lot of talk about gender diversity about organisations making a move to ensure there is diversity at workplace. I do think that culture change is also very important. So for instance, the maternity law which allows us six months paid leave, is a concern in a lot of companies. “How are they going to manage work and their baby?”, “Will they be outdated in 6 months” These are all very valid questions. So I think having a dialogue about this and figuring out a way that works for both — the woman and the company really helps. And if we are truly diverse, men also need to be part of this conversation.
AIM: Saree or Suit? What empowers you more in the boardroom?
VD: Having two kids, if your clothes are clean and ironed, you are good to go! Extra points if you don’t have any paint or crayons or stickers somewhere around.
AIM: Your advice to other women in tech
VD: Don’t let anything stop you. Always figure a way out. And if you feel it’s too hard, take it one step at a time. The most important thing these days is to keep learning and upskill yourself.
AIM: Your advice to corporates on how to retain Women employees?
VD: Women bring a lot to the workplace. So it is very important to include them — especially to have a diverse workforce. So make sure that they are motivated enough. That they do not get sidelined. That there is enough support for them to continue working even at the most challenging times of their lives. Sometimes, just having an open dialogue with these women to come up with a plan together would go a long way.