Amrita Gangotra, Director Technology, Vodafone Hungary, says, "Take time out for yourself – whether it’s for self-learning, personal growth, or grooming".
In a chat with TomorrowMakers, Amrita Gangotra, Director Technology, Vodafone Hungary, talks about motivating women to take STEM subjects, diversity in the workplace, and maintaining work and non-work balance, among other things.
How would you describe your leadership style?
You cannot do things on your own. I believe in the power of teams. Hence, building a strong, knowledgeable, and collaborative team is key. Since technology is a functional area, it is critical to have a team that talks the business language, understands what the business wants, and delivers the same.
What are your thoughts on technology being perceived as a male-dominated field?
I don’t necessarily agree with that, especially when it comes to India. It is more true in the US and the UK than in India. The percentage of girls in those countries who take up STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is abysmally low. There is a lot of work going on currently to motivate girls in that direction. I’m also involved in such initiatives in Hungary and the UK. But if you look at engineering and science colleges in India, there is pretty much a 50-50 ratio of men and women.
The problem is of a different type in India. Beyond middle management, you don’t see a lot of women climbing the corporate ladder. Breaking the glass ceiling is very tough for women in all fields, especially technology. There are other cultural aspects as well that come into play – whether it is family support or not being able to work after having children.
Why are women entrepreneurs not able to overcome biases in male-dominated ecosystems?
Women are not always great at networking and establishing business relationships. Social issues and taboos – and lack of support from husbands or fathers – also come in, which makes it very hard for women to be part of the male-dominated hierarchical ecosystem. A social change in India is the need of the hour.
You have ascended from an IT leader role in India to a global leadership role in Europe. How different is your work now?
The work is completely different. I’m no longer responsible for just IT; I look after everything to do with technology. This means rolling out 4G or 5G, six-line business implementation, etc. My role is significantly different in this market. IT reports to me now and is just one aspect of my role. I’m in charge of functions such as network, enterprise delivery, etc.
Why, according to you, are there so few women CIOs in India?
This is true worldwide, not just India. In fact, it is more so globally than in India. Women tend to gravitate towards functions such as HR than technology. This is really surprising because 50 percent of students in engineering colleges are women and there are equal opportunities for both genders. Women are encouraged by their parents to take STEM subjects. I think we are being too hard on ourselves by saying women don’t take up sciences in India. I find that more common in Europe.
How did your subordinates in India feel about having a woman as their leader?
I never really gave it much thought, seriously. I think they liked the fact that I’m a woman, and more compassionate and caring. There are aspects that a woman brings in, such as having a more holistic view of family life and overall well-being.
Are opportunities for women to climb the corporate ladder the same as for men – in MNCs and local companies?
Diversity is a big agenda for MNCs and large local corporates. The government too is taking initiatives. It has made it mandatory for listed companies to have 25 percent women on their boards. If you look at the banking sector, all major banks at some point in time had women leaders. I do not have the experience to talk about smaller companies, but yes, diversity is a priority in larger organisations.
Over the years you have taken on varied roles. What drives you to innovate?
I now lead not only IT, but all technologies of telecommunication. I have the quest to learn new technologies to innovate for my business to grow – whether it is a new business line or enabling growth in existing businesses. All aspects – whether digital, IT, or telecommunication technologies – have to come together to innovate and help businesses scale.
What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Learning technology came easy to me as I was a mathematics student. Per se there weren’t any challenges I faced as an IT leader or project manager. I used to love coding and programming when I was young.
Challenges are not so much led by technology as by the organisation you work with: how you take on projects and learn new things, how the people around you support you, etc. Having a supportive boss is extremely important. Building a support system at work and home can help you overcome challenges.
I belong to an industry that is fast-growing, so keeping up with technological changes is very important. I always say, as a technology leader, the more experienced you are, the more obsolete you become in terms of your knowledge. So constantly learning and keeping yourself updated is the way forward.
Do women feel uncomfortable in boardroom meetings? Are there any personal experiences you would like to highlight?
I think they do feel uncomfortable. It is a matter of grooming. It takes some time to be able to feel comfortable. The challenge is in terms of collecting your thoughts and presenting them well. Experience teaches you how to deal with such situations. I too have had initial discomfort, but I learnt over a period of time. Every board has its nuances; understanding this is important.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I’m passionate about my work and I enjoy it. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel overworked. Different people have different definitions of work-life balance. From my perspective, if you love your work, you will find the balance between work and non-work. Work is part of my life.
The term ‘work-life balance’ is little misleading because it is work and non-work that really makes your life. When I work, I work hard. But spending time with family and vacationing is equally important to recharge. Our connected world helps me maintain that balance.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
I would like to split my answer into personal and professional aspects of a women’s life. To address the former, women try to be superwomen. They want to do everything by themselves without help. Our sense of responsibility is very high and it is hard to let go. It is an important duty but you don’t necessarily have to do everything by yourself. Take help from family members and house help. Take time out for yourself – whether it’s for self-learning, personal growth, or grooming. You should be able to do so without feeling guilty.
Next comes the latter – what one needs to do in the organisation to be able to get those promotions. Nowadays there is a lot of discussion about the gender pay gap for the same function and same position. Women find it very difficult to ask for a raise or to highlight their achievements. Therefore, knowing what career path you want to take some years down the line is important. You can then work towards achieving that goal by taking up the right projects, connecting with the right people, and being vocal about the fact that you’re aiming for that position.
What’s next on your list that you hope to achieve?
I’m reaching a stage where I want to consolidate everything I have learned, to mentor younger talent and be able to see some successes in that area. I want to create something sustainable once I come back to India.
Please share three pieces of advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs.
First and foremost, have courage. Self-doubt and advice from the family discourage women. Second, hone your financial acumen on how to run a business. Lastly, be bold – having ‘stretch goals’ for the business is important.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article by Amrita Gangotra are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of TomorrowMakers.com or its owners.