As part of our ‘Women in HR’ special interview series, All Things Talent speaks to Savita Hortikar, Head of Talent Acquisition at ThoughtWorks India, who shares her thoughts on being a female leader in a male-dominated industry, addressing gender stereotyping and bias, and how to bring down existing barriers that inhibit progress for women in tech.
After having worked in a largely male-dominated industry and function for more than 20 years, my biggest lesson learnt is to embrace being different! I’ve realized this ‘difference’ is my strength.
Q: You are a veteran in the HR industry managing and building winning teams for 21 years. What has been your most important leadership lesson? How do you think that helped you get so far in your career?
A: After having worked in a largely male-dominated industry and function for more than 20 years, my biggest lesson learnt is to embrace being different! I’ve realized this ‘difference’ is my strength. And, I gradually learnt how to leverage it at meetings, in strategy-related conversations, and more.
I also actively networked (and still do) with many other women leaders. I learned from their experiences, mistakes, and experiments as well. However, what played a huge role in my success is being a part of companies that understood how business-relevant being diverse is. They were able to meet my ambitious career goals with the flexibility, support, and opportunities I needed.
Q: As someone with years of experience in leadership, what have you learned that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
A: Here are a few of the things I have learned that I wish I knew years ago –
- You are in a meeting because you have something credible to offer. Voice your opinion.
- Network a lot. Seek role models with more experience and learn from their journeys and choices.
- Don’t hesitate when asking for help.
- Don’t fear leadership roles and roles with huge responsibilities.
Q: Have you ever experienced any discrimination throughout your career in the sector and if so, how did you address it?
A: Discrimination due to gender stereotyping is something that I have experienced early in my career. In those days, a woman who was hardworking, ambitious, and goal-oriented was often considered a career-focused and aggressive woman. Also, common were assumptions being made on a woman’s availability to travel or work late hours if required.
The best way to address these instances and the systemic bias that breeds them is to speak up for yourself, talk about your goals, and be unapologetic about them.
Over my years as a professional, I have actively leveraged opportunities to correct such regressive thinking by addressing biased recruitment and hiring practices and sensitizing my team and colleagues against making assumptions about women professionals.
Q: Do you think the tech industry has some catching up to do where women in leadership roles are concerned? How to overcome this gap?
A: Yes. As an industry, we definitely have work to do to bring down existing barriers that inhibit progress for women in tech –
- Educate recruitment and hiring teams, and leadership to empathize with varied (career and life) experiences. For instance, a break of months or years on a resume is just that, and not a reflection of one’s passion for technology or their technical ability or employability.
- Break down deep-seated biases at work – conscious and unconscious. This will need consistent and proactive sensitization across teams and levels of the organization.
- Encourage more women to take on leadership roles – by giving them timely opportunities and ensuring leadership training for the next rung of women leaders.
- Decisively shut down sexual harassment at the workplace.
- Ensure pay parity for all employees.
- Create a supportive work environment that is safe for all its employees and is open to feedback, furthering an inclusive culture.
Q: What advice do you have for companies that want women leaders to be successful?
A: Rather than advice, I would call these reminders because we are all aware of these facts and have to choose to change the systems, policies, and practices that discourage women at work or in leadership positions.
- Every woman does not have the same experience at work. They could be juggling multiple responsibilities and roles on the professional and personal front. Organizations have to consistently be flexible and empathetic to ensure their women workforce is able to bring their best and most authentic selves to work.
- Organizations should design and implement policies and initiatives that directly address the biases at the workplace.
- With respect to growth and promotions, according to McKinsey, men are traditionally evaluated on potential while women, on performance. This will not do.
- Also, progressive organizations and leaders have to keep challenging themselves and working on regular feedback to build and nurture a safe and open work environment.
Every woman does not have the same experience at work. They could be juggling multiple responsibilities and roles on the professional and personal front. Organizations have to consistently be flexible and empathetic to ensure their women workforce is able to bring their best and most authentic selves to work.