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Aarthi Subramanian is chief digital officer at Tata: It's a moment of celebration for women in tech

Aarthi Subramanian’s appointment as the Tata group’s chief digital officer should be seen as major achievement for not only herself but women in the the technology sector in general in India. Coming at a time when the sector is witnessing a paradigm shift, the move should inspire many women to strive for newer heights.

For the uninitiated, as the chief digital officer, Subramanian will drive digital adoption across the companies of the salt-to-software group as well as its digital initiatives. Subramanian will take up the new role in August.

That a woman professional’s promotion as the chief digital officer is being held up as an inspiration should not be surprising considering the dismal number of women in leadership positions in the Indian IT sector. This, despite India’s software technology sector having reached heights in a short span of time over the past decade. We have made our software footprint matter and our workforce and its expertise has led to many countries in the West now putting down rules to ensure that we don’t take away their jobs. But we have not given women professionals prominence by giving them key roles in the sector, except for very few who head IT firms or are in leading positions in MNCs.

However, a Nasscom survey sees promise for the women in the sector. The percentage of women working in the IT sector has gone up to 34 percent in 2017 fiscal from 28 percent in fiscal 2016. Revealing this, a Nasscom report in partnership with The Open University (UK) titled “Women and IT Scorecard – India. 2017”, said that it is estimated that the number of firms that have more than 20 percent women at the senior level will increase to nearly 60 percent, and nearly 51 percent of firms will have more than 20 percent of women at C-suite level.

Currently, women in senior positions in India Inc is under two percent and that is primarily because of the leaky pipeline, points out Geetha Kannan, MD, Anita Borg Institute – a non-profit organisation whose primary aim is to recruit, retain, and advance women in technology.

Aarthi Subramanian, Chief Technical Officer, Tata Sons. Courtesy: TCS website

Aarthi Subramanian. Image: TCS website

Most women’s careers are derailed or paused due to marriage and childbirth. Some are forced to quit and join the husband if his job takes him away from the city or country the woman is working. The pressures of societal roles ensure that there are fewer and fewer women at the helm and hence every time a woman breaks through the glass ceiling, it is a moment of celebration, point out analysts.

“Traditionally men have been selected in position of a chief technology officer and it is refreshing to see a woman professional being entrusted with this role,” said Kamalika Bhattacharya, CEO, Quodeck -- a gamification platform. “It is especially good to see a traditional group like the Tatas bring competent women to the fore in leading positions,” she said.

The truth is India has a better track record of women in the technology sector at entry level. However, it peters down as they go along the tech ladder. And so there are very few women who manage to reach the leadership position in the technology sector. Seen in this context, Subramanian’s elevation indeed makes a difference though seeing it as a mere gender issue would be doing disservice to her career and her achievements. Remember, Subramanian has had a long tenure of 25 years at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) where she started her career.

“There are so many women with a good track record but they have not been given the leadership role in the technology space simply because of subconscious biases that still operate in the workplace,” said Sujaya Banerjee, CEO, Capstone People Consulting, a consulting firm.

Banerjee says that it is in this context that the Tata group recognising Subramanian’s calibre and giving her an important position on the Tata Sons board becomes laudable. “I am glad that after being with the group for 26 years and her role earlier as Executive Director of TCS, Subramanian has been given her next big challenge.”

Subramanian’s elevation to the Tata Sons board as the chief technical officer gives a lot of encouragement for women in the technology space and those studying for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to be hopeful about a growth path in the male-oriented space. “It also promises a career graph at the highest level and how ambition need not be tempered just because one is a woman,” said Bhattacharya.

When capability is recognised, does gender matter? Kannan says it is not as easy as it sounds because it is not always about capability. "The leadership yardstick is different when it comes to women," she says, adding that women often do not exhibit staying power as the compulsions of family take over. "We have to break 6,000 years of culture and it is extremely gratifying to see Aarthi Subramanian being given a major responsibility. Role models like her will change the way many organisations see women in the tech space," says Kannan.

Updated Date: Jul 17, 2017 13:56 PM

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