More women are taking up technology leadership roles in organizations today. Organizations acknowledge that there are certain qualities that make women special. We asked Aruna Rao, CTO, Kotak Mahindra Bank about those special qualities. She also offers some great advice for women who aspire for career growth.
Ms. Rao is responsible for technology implementation (applications, infrastructure etc) and supports product innovation at Kotak Mahindra Bank. She also contributes her expertise to other Kotak companies, especially for systems that are common across the Kotak Group.
Q. Today we have women in leadership positions in many organisations. What are the special leadership qualities that women have?
Each leader has got a different style and it is difficult to classify all women as having some common style. Today, we work in a complex situation. Technology is changing every day; it is providing a new potential for doing something differently, almost every day. The business people are trying to leverage these new technologies to provide better experiences for their customers. Customer expectations from a banking or financial services organisation is set by their experience in e-commerce. They expect a similar smooth experience when they are interacting with the bank.
The situations are complex and you will not find a single individual with all the competencies to solve problems and provide solutions in such an environment. What it really takes is to get people with the right competencies together with a shared vision, to collaborate to provide a winning solution. I think women have a natural ability to collaborate, network and bring people together – to bring out their best.
Q. What are the kind of skills one needs to have to pursue a technology leadership role, like yours?
An aptitude for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects helps. Otherwise, the kind of skills you need to succeed in a technology career are similar to other areas. You need the same kind of business capabilities and people management skills. I don’t see this as being very different from women in technology vs other careers.
Q. Is tech a barrier for women today or is it just perception?
I am inclined to see it as a perception. I have managed technology in an IT company with 1,500 to 2,000 people. And 30 per cent were women. Today you see women at the helm of major technology organisations, like IBM, Facebook and many others.
Q. What advice would you like to give women?
There are women joining technology. They work hard as students to get a good education, then they apply themselves to getting an opening with a good organisation, and often get good opportunities for growth in their careers. My advice to them is that if they aspire for leadership positions they have to stay in the game. Women should stay in the career they have chosen. I see a fair number of women dropping off at mid-levels. They drop off for other priorities of managing the home, personal life etc. They should persist and learn to balance their different interests.
In the competitive world of today, nobody is looking to see if you are a woman or a man. If you have the right competencies you are going to get the right opportunities and the right job.
Organisations are being flexible and providing options. Some companies provide flexi-time; others allow women to take time off to have children, and then provide support to induct them back into the organisation when they are ready.
So set your priorities, if you really want to grow in your career, it is indeed possible.