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Women in IT leadership: first-hand views

Anushkar Mohinani | Nov. 24, 2011
The Singapore Management University gathered an expert panel of three dynamic women from the financial services industry to share their personal perspectives on gender diversity, IT career prospects in the industry, and work-life balance.

Three highly accomplished women in the technology and operations (T & O) division of the banking and finance industry examined best practices to encourage stronger female presence in the workforce; explored career prospects for women in the industry; and shared their unique perspectives on work-life balance during the Women's Place in Financial Services T & O panel, at the Singapore Management University.

Organised by the university’s Master of IT in Business (MITB) programme of the School of Information Systems, the panel participants consisted of Sunila Shivpuri, chief information officer (CIO) Private Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank; Ho Lok Pin, head of technology architecture, OCBC Bank; and Jayaprada Putrevu, executive director, Asian Infrastructure.

Director and senior lecturer of the MITB programme, Enoch Ch’ng, opened the panel discussion by noting the gender imbalance in the information technology (IT) field, which tend to have higher ratios of male to female. Consequently, said the panel moderator, this could have implications on the representation of women in IT leadership roles.

Where are the women?
Based on the intake of the MITB programme, women constituted 16 percent of the cohort in 2007; 21 percent in 2008; and 30 percent this year.

Despite the rising ratio of females, the statistics indicate women as minorities in the area, noted Ch’ng.  He then asked the panel whether the gender imbalance extended to the workplace.

Deutsche Bank’s Shivpuri who took the question said the imbalance is not limited to the IT career paths but rather the workforce in general. “In fact, it is pitiable to see the ratio of Asian women in senior positions,” she said, referring to a Shell-sponsored study on gender diversity in the workforce across the region. 

Based on the data, Shivpuri said India has the lowest percentage of women employed and one of the lowest representations of women at the senior level.

Gender diversity is a topic that has received heightened attention, but unfortunately the low statistics of women in corporate boards prove inequity remains, she added.

Sunila Shivpuri, CIO, Private Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank

Closing the gender gap
Promoting gender diversity in the workplace is a business imperative, agreed the panel of experts.

Schemes should be established by policy makers to initiate the advancement of women in the workforce, suggested Shivpuri. “On the other hand, I would hate to have a quota system to enforce women’s advancement,” she added. 

Women make up half the population – this alone should encourage companies to harness the potential of women in the workforce, according to Shivpuri. “Organisations will be dated very fast if they do not embrace gender diversity,” she said. Companies that want to thrive in a global economy need to understand that women are valuable for business and the inclusion of more women in corporate boards is crucial to boosting competitive performance, she added.

“Besides, women bring added advantageous skills to the table — there is no reason why companies would not want to exploit that,” Shivpuri stated.

The panelists further initiated discussions on ways in which companies could play a role in endorsing the participation of women in the workplace and closing the gender gap in corporate boards. 

One of the ways companies could encourage a stronger female presence is to accept flexible work arrangements, they collectively suggested. Inflexible workplaces have the potential to preclude the advancement of many female executives with family responsibilities, according to them.

OCBC Bank’s Ho also suggested accessible childcare facilities to retain valuable female workers. The bank, for instance, has successfully implemented initiatives for working mothers as part of its human resource policy, she said. “It has set up a lactation room to accommodate the needs of nursing mothers and a workplace childcare centre to offer convenience to working parents,” she elaborated.

Putrevu further expressed a different approach to retaining female employees. She said some women have insecurities, which lead to diminished interest in their jobs. This especially happens when women come back to work from their maternity leave and feel they are unable to progress from where they left off, she added. This eventually hinders them from catapulting their careers, Putrevu explained. She advised that interest could be inculcated in these women to set aside their doubts. 


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