Awita Badonia, Director (CSM), Nokia, tells us how despite gradual changes in mindset, women are still not yet embraced fully in the C-suite. By Satyaki Sarkar.
Handling complete India IT infrastructure operations for Nokia for more than four years, Awita Badonia has carved out a seat for herself in the world of technology, which is predominantly dominated by men. With an extensive career in Telecom R&D spanning over 24 years, Awita has worked with some of the best brands in the industry, such as Tech Mahindra, Network Programs, and Alcatel-Lucent, before the latter was merged with Nokia. Starting off as a Software Engineer at National Information Technologies Ltd to becoming a Director-CSM India for Nokia and simultaneously a holding Board Member at Alcatel-Lucent, her list of accomplishments are a source of inspiration for many budding IT professionals. She talks to us about her experience working in an industry that still lacks diversity.
“After my degree in Electrical Engineering, my very first job involved a lot of hardware and software operations, and it was the software part that caught my fancy,” says Awita. “That’s where my love for IT and the digital industry started. The experience that I got from that job was monumental in building me for my future roles. In spite of the general difficulties that women face while choosing a profession in technology, I didn’t face much of a struggle during my initial phase. However, I have had my fair share of ups and downs since then. In a male dominated society, when a woman tries to rise up into a leadership position it becomes difficult for some men to accept the leadership. It’s not always the case now, but it still does exist. In situations like those, a woman has to find a way to overcome that and move ahead.
Challenges made me stronger
“The challenges and obstacles that I faced solely because of my gender felt quite hurtful and debilitating at the time, but now, looking back, I feel that those times not only taught me a lot but helped shape, who I am today. I got to know my strengths and weaknesses, and why things went wrong when they did. When I took up a higher role I made sure that I retained and remembered whatever I had learnt during the hard phases. Though that phase was difficult, it contributed immensely to polishing and building my personality.”
Inching towards change
“Though I have to admit, the outlook the environment has changed majorly in the last decade. The industry is a lot more diverse, and you will find considerably more women in the engineering or technology line now. In addition, parents and society have also become more accepting when a girl chooses an engineering course, while earlier the medical line was considered to be enough for a girl. The mindset may not have changed completely yet, but comparatively the outlook has improved. A lot more women are taking up engineering courses, and choosing careers in the IT and corporate sector. However, the problem is that it’s no longer difficult to find women in entry-level roles, but when you look a few levels higher the lack of women becomes starkly obvious. Women either leave the job or remain stuck at the mid-level.”
Biases women face
“The biggest problem that women face to this date is the lack of sufficient network and the age old societal unconscious bias. Women still find it difficult to network and speak up, as they find themselves in the minority. This, in turn, ends up hurting them professionally. Gender statistics reveal that even if women try to learn and speak up about themselves, they are still typically heard less than men, and generally overlooked when it comes to recognition for one’s work. The statistics also depict that male counterparts tend to talk more and showcase the work they have done and their achievements compared to women. This at times doesn’t help in the advancement of the women’s careers as when it comes time for any promotion or recognition their male counterparts are noticed more and therefore get rewarded more.”
Society’s regressive attitude is the biggest roadblock
“One of the most important reasons women still do not take up a technology-based education or career is still societal mindset and attitude. Even though India has come a long way, the mindset still remains largely regressive and prejudiced against women. A majority of parents still place more importance on their daughters getting married and settled over anything else, while husbands also look down upon women pursuing any kind of a profession or studies post-marriage. More importance is placed on their duties at home than those at work. This makes many women with promising careers and even high-level roles leave their jobs as they find it hard to balance their work and household responsibilities. Additionally, as one moves up the ladder, the corporate environment also gets more difficult for women, who find that they have to push through a lot more obstructions, doubts, and judgmental opinions to get somewhere.”
How to break the glass ceiling
“All in all I do feel that the current situation is changing, and will continue to change. However, it’s a very steep, uphill journey, and the process is very slow. It is a road wrought with difficulties, obstacles and hindrances that will challenge women at every step, and make them doubt themselves. However, as the saying goes, it is still a glass ceiling, and through rigorous determination, willpower, and a resolute mind, it is possible to break it. Women need to learn to take risks, venture out of their comfort zones, and delegate tasks, not only at work, but also at home. That is what will strengthen and allow them to develop their leadership qualities, while letting them balance their responsibilities at home as well. They do not need to be superwomen, but simply to play to their strengths and keep at it; only then will they be able to achieve all that they know they can.”