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‘The glass ceiling doesn’t exist if you don’t believe in it’

Ritu Madbhavi, Chief Information Officer, FCB Ulka Advertising Limited, on traversing the male-dominated world of IT and the joys of her job. By Shweta Gandhi

Ritu Madbhavi is a mother and a CIO and believes in being available 24/7 for both. Passionate about mathematics, Ritu did her Bachelors (Honours) in Statistics from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, and followed it with a Masters in Applied Math from Carleton University in Canada. After that, she tried her hand at programming before moving on to FCB Ulka. She has been there for 19 years, and has grown with the organisation. She has just two things to tell women looking to carve their niche in the workplace—be passionate about your job and keep your emotions at bay.

Changing role of a CIO
“The role of a CIO in an ad agency is very similar to that of a CIO in any other company. However, the role has changed from being technology-oriented to business-oriented. It is very crucial for a CIO to understand the business drivers of collaboration to make better technology decisions. You cannot call yourself a CIO if you don’t understand the business. It has to be the main driving force.

“A CIO needs to create a platform to ensure better co-ordination between teams by developing tools, setting up exercises and rigorous training so that people become aware of it as part of inductions and not as a one-time training. One of the biggest decisions I took that helped improve IT in my company was moving to Cloud. Not from an end user’s point of view, but from the scalability, flexibility and agility perspective.”

Woman in a man’s world
“I have honestly never faced a gender bias or been treated differently. I believe in gender equality. Being a woman at times works in one’s favour. There is a slight advantage as men are more respectful. Their body language changes and so does their speech. As long as you don’t make a big deal of the fact that you’re a woman, no one will behave differently towards you. I strongly believe in women empowerment. When looking at employing people, gender is never a criteria.

“I am also a firm believer that family comes first. Twenty years ago that may have been a hindrance, but today everything is connected through technology 24/7. You can work from anywhere. It is true that women do have pressures at home—if a child is sick, it’s usually the mum who will have to stay at home. But I suggest finding a job that fits your needs. I took a break for three years because I believe that if your career spans 30 years, taking three years off will not hurt too much. If you do take a break, make sure you keep abreast with the latest happenings—be on the Net, read stuff.

“A lot of women believe that IT is not a woman’s world and that the role of a CIO is just hardware. But it is a lot more; it’s like any other CXO role. We need mentoring programmes for women in IT—if we hear it coming from someone experienced who has been through the issues it will make it easier.

“As a mother you have to make sure you’re available—if your kid calls you and you are in an important meeting, you have to come out and take the call. Similarly, if there is a crisis at work, you have to be there to solve it. I was lucky because I had a very brilliant support system—my mother-in-law—which made it so much better.”

Bringing order to chaos
“I’m extremely structured. I believe in planning to the last detail. I will not start a project till everything is detailed. The success is to have your project plan in place, and the trick is in the detailing. I don’t do 10 things simultaneously—I prioritise and plan.

“Combining pragmatism and organisation with creativity is difficult. But you cannot stop creativity. To be creative you have to have a scenario where you work 24/7 and need tools to do it. This whole access-anything-anytime-anywhere helps a lot. The next big thing is going to be BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and mobility. Soon, everything is going to be on the phone.”

Biggest challenge so far
“It’s very easy for a CIO to decide what technology to use. But the challenge is that people are busy with their own routines, and it takes time to move on to new systems and processes. You have to invest time in training and highlighting the benefits of the new system. It is an ongoing journey.”

Playing to strengths
“Being extremely passionate and enthusiastic are my strengths. I’m like a kid who loves finding out new things. Also I’m passionate about project planning and detailing. These strengths really help in the workplace. I also indulge in hobbies that help me take the edge off work. They include baking stuff—cookies, muffins, karela chips, zucchini chips! I also love walking; it helps me get rid of stress.” 

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