Ever since last year, the #MeToo movement has been dominating the headlines. Be it Hollywood or our very own startup ecosystem, sexism and discrimination against women have brought to the fore again the burning topic of gender diversity. Be it Uber in Silicon Valley or TVF back home, they served as a stark reminder of how diversity and inclusion in the workplace are still farfetched goals in many startups and companies.
However, there are still those firms which have taken many steps ahead rather than just paying lip service to diversity and inclusion. One of them is Microsoft which believes that diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to the evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for the company. Thus Microsoft works continuously to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities.
The organisation aims to continue working together to take thoughtful, enduring and practical diversity and inclusion initiatives that transform the workforce for the benefit of the industry, employees and customers. The idea is to instill the right inclusive mindset within the organisation, thus ensuring that women are able to find their rightful place as leaders in the corporate world.
In this respect, on the occasion of Women’s day, Inc42 spoke to Subha Sateesh, Program Manager, Microsoft Office Group to talk about her experience as a women in technology and the role Microsoft has played in fostering the spirit of diversity and inclusion, in order to develop leadership and management potential and support women employees in boosting their careers.
Being A Woman In Technology
Inc42: How has your 15-year experience been as a woman in technology?
Subha Sateesh: I have had a very interesting and exciting journey at Microsoft – about 12 years in the US and more than four years in India. Having started with Microsoft Word 2000, I contributed towards the first three releases of Microsoft OneNote. In addition to being part of a great team, this experience with OneNote gave me deep insights into the intricacies of creating a new product and developing it further.
Since then, contributing to many Microsoft products that enable people to be more productive has been impactful and fulfilling, especially working on accessibility features designed to help people with disabilities use technology more easily. I also use my personal experience, and what I have seen around me, to actively mentor newer generation of women entering our industry.
Inc42: What were the kind of challenges you faced in this field? Can you elucidate with some examples of how policies at Microsoft empower and hone women leadership?
Subha Sateesh: Comparing my own experience with that of my women friends from other technology companies, I certainly think my experience has been a culturally better one in this regard. But unconscious bias about women’s skills in math and engineering, cultivated over centuries in largely patriarchal societies, can exist – more successful women and a generally progressive society are the answers to eliminate it altogether.
Inc42: How did being in Microsoft help you to excel as a woman in technology?
Subha Sateesh: Companies like Microsoft have taken a number of steps toward creating a more diverse and inclusive culture, and work with the entire ecosystem, including partners to work towards that same goal. A strong and more diverse workforce helps with problem solving, breeds innovation, and helps with retention of top talent. The bottom line is that diversity is good for business.
Specifically, in technology, organisations are increasingly conscious of the need to prepare youth, especially girls and young women, for new job opportunities within the evolving digital economy, and several MEPs (Microsoft Education Partners) have lent their support to efforts to close the digital skills gap. But everyone needs to play their part.
For many years we’ve been working to strengthen the role of women in technology. This year, we’ve teamed up with non-profit organisations, governments and industry leaders to raise awareness of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and ICT (Information and communication technology) careers amongst young women, as part of our #MakeWhatsNext campaign celebrating female innovators throughout history and motivating the next generation to make their mark in ICT.
Gender Diversity In Microsoft
Inc42: How does Microsoft foster gender diversity and inclusion in its technology culture?
Subha Sateesh: At Microsoft, we take great pride in the diversity of our employees and believe it is fundamental for our culture, core values, business imperative as well as an opportunity to invest in our employee’s abilities to foster change and create an impact in this industry. We actively support gender and other diversity, and invest a significant amount of effort, time, and leadership to ensure the company is hiring, retaining and growing a diverse talent base, while also offering a long-term career plan.
We have implemented several effective policies and programmes to ensure an increase in the diversity ratio across our workforce in India. There is a conscious integration of diversity and inclusion thinking that goes into all our HR activities. With an aim to ensure that women are able to find their rightful place as leaders in the corporate world, our programmes help hone their leadership and management potential and support women employees in boosting their career to new levels through multiple platforms.
Some of our professional leadership and training programs include:
- Springboard is a programme for women looking to transition back to full-time work after a break and this includes a mix of on-boarding, training, and careful mentoring.
- Our collaborative programmes such as ReachOut and our signature events such as Confluence provide mentorship to talented women employees, grooming them for future leadership roles as well as helping them achieve a balance in their personal and professional lives.
- Codess is a distinct Microsoft effort that encourages gender diversity in the field of engineering. An external outreach programme initiated in March 2013 in Europe, and introduced in India last year, Codess serves as a platform for women coders to share personal and professional experiences as well as network and learn from each other.
- DigiGirlz, a Microsoft YouthSpark programme, gives high school girls the opportunity to learn more about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on technology workshops. This annual one-day event provides ambitious girls with career planning assistance, information about technology and business roles, thought-provoking exercises, and interesting Microsoft product demonstrations.
Microsoft is committed to fostering a healthy work-life balance by enhancing productivity and efficiency for our employees through a flexible work environment as part of our workplace advantage philosophy. All our employees are offered the opportunity to explore flexible work options, which helps them stay connected seamlessly and ‘work from anywhere’.
This is reflected in our enhanced maternity policy that now offers flexible work arrangements for two years to our employees. Our infrastructure enables all employees, including new parents, to be mobile while continuing to be collaborative and engaged, even when they are not in office.
Inc42: You are also involved in development of such assistive technologies that align with your personal passion and also with the company’s mission to empower people and create a more inclusive environment for all. Can you shed light on how Microsoft helped you in that direction?
Subha Sateesh: The commitment of Microsoft to accessibility as a corporate social responsibility and the presence of a central team and governance definitely sets the tone for the entire organisation, including product development. So, driving the development of accessibility features in our products, as I have been doing most recently with a few of the Microsoft Office products, has helped align my personal passion with the company’s goal to empower people and create a more inclusive environment for all.
This aspect of my work involves identifying, analysing and defining several factors including the accessibility requirements of a product, and guidelines to achieve them. This is in addition to helping refine the accessibility technologies and tools and infusing artificial intelligence in them.
In conclusion, Subha’s advice to women who want to make a career in technology is to look upon certain specific areas of a company such as the company’s commitment towards diversity, support of work-life balance and women in senior leadership roles acting as mentors. One may also evaluate if the company is embracing the idea of women now being big and fast adopters of technology, and value women’s perspectives being critical to all areas of the business and levels of the organisation.
Subha rightly adds, “Technology offers a wide range of career choices to women and the choice generally often hinge on the goals they set for themselves and their alignment with company’s stated mission.”
For today’s women who are marching left, right, and centre to brace every kind of challenge- be it technological or otherwise, nothing could be truer than Subha Sateesh’s words that ultimately their career choices should sync with their personal goals. And the conscious choice of working for a technology company that values gender diversity and inclusion. On Women’s Day, here’s hoping that each woman may find her own path!