I met Vinita Rathi at the recent Digibury Weekender, where she gave a presentation entitled "Why we all need women in tech." Her presentation was thought- and audience-question provoking and I was thrilled when she agreed to sit down with me and talk about women in technology. In this conversation, among other things, we touch on how businesses with more women in leadership tend to be better performers financially; motherhood and maternity leave as a business advantage; perspectives on problem solving; and how to move technology companies and industries towards gender balance and diversity.
Diversity helps the bottom line
Vinita has gathered performance data on companies and points out that the top financially performing 20% of companies have roughly 37% of women in leadership roles, while the bottom 20% only have around 19% female leadership. "I'm not saying having women on your board will make you successful," she clarifies, "but I am saying it definitely increases the probability of making the company successful."
"It's a long-term story. I'm not saying it will happen in a couple of years. It's more like looking at the ten-year horizon and you would see that difference."
Different brains, different advantages?
"I always hear that men are probably better at programming because of their inclination towards mathematics, because that have a bigger brain which works faster when solving problems. However, I disagree with that in the sense that programming is not just about solving problems; programming is also about finding problems. The faster you figure out the problem, the more efficiently you'll be able to solve it. And scientifically – what I found in my research – female brains are faster when coordinating between the right brain and the left brain. Even though men have a bigger brain, the coordination between right brain and left brain – between creativity and problem-solving skills – is faster in females. What differentiates females is that if you have creativity in analyzing the problem, then you're halfway there and it's just about the solving. At that point the 10% bigger brain thing really doesn't matter," and mixed, balanced teams are going to get you better solutions faster.
Motherhood as an advantage
"If you think about the skills I would say women are usually great at, we have been known for nurturing relationships. The value system that we carry with us, the emotional stability that a woman has only improves after we have gone through motherhood. However, at the same time, you would have some arguments about different areas where you would say that because women go on maternity leave they get out of touch, they go out of the industry and that makes it difficult for their organization to absorb them and encourage them further because it's commercially not viable."
Vinita makes a strong point about why this does not apply in tech: "Technology is no longer single-coder work." It's rare nowadays for individuals to be solving the big problems alone, or implementing massive projects on their own. "Technology is more about teamwork, more about bigger teams working on bigger things, doing bigger innovation. This is where you need all these skills."
"Think about a mum, what she has learned," during maternity leave, "She's now more patient, she knows how to make sacrifices, she now has more emotional stability, she now knows how to nurture relationships, build people ... That's where I say that women are very good at building teams. They are not made for winning the game, but they are more there, working behind the scenes, building teams which, at the end of the day, win. That's why we need more women in tech, so that we can do more wonderful things."
"There's this prevailing thought in society that programming and technology is all about boys, versus the 'softer' things are more for girls. " To change that perception, "There needs to be more education around programming languages. It's not rocket science; it's just another language. Just like you have English, you have pen and paper to write something, to write a piece of music, that's how you can use a programming language to build things. The moment you do that, girls would absorb it just like the way they absorb English or French, they would absorb Java, C#, C++. That's how I see it. We need to explore how we can have more girls taking programming languages early on in their education trajectory."
[You can see and hear the podcast interview with my own children, Oliver and Victoria, talking about DrupalCon and my daughter's contribution to Drupal 8 here on the Acquia podcast episode 1st DrupalCon, 1st contribution! Meet Oliver and Victoria.]
Call to action - pay it forward
"Nothing is going to change in the next year. It will take time. What is really needed right now is that effort which might change things five years down the line." So what can I do? What can you do? How do we move towards better gender (and other) balance in our industries? "Become aware that at every workplace, there might be women [ed.: men, too as we established a bit later in the conversation] going through things that they're not aware of. Be cognizant of that. Start observing. And if you see things happening around that, be proactive. I can't tell you how much women [ed.: everyone!] would appreciate that." Vinita says women are often reluctant to fight for what they want and it's made worse by being in the minority in the work place and perhaps subjected to double-standards. "It's just that helping hand that they need."
Vinita sums up that if you see a candidate or colleague not getting what they deserve, you should stand up for them, help them. I say we should all help each other and pay it forward where we can. You never know when you're going to be the one in need of a helping hand.
- Name: Vinita Khandelwal Rathi, Women Who Code London, Systango, CodePunt.today, ex VP Goldman Sachs
- Follow Vinita on Twitter: @vinitakrathi
- Women Who Code: www.womenwhocode.com/ - A global non-profit that encourages and promotes women in technology that aims to connect 1 million women in tech by 2019.
- Follow Women Who Code, London Chapter on Twitter: @WWCLondon
- Work affiliation: Co-Founder & CEO at Systango, Co-Founder at CodePunt.Today