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Title:Women lead India ops of top IT MNCs

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BENGALURU: Silicon Valley is often criticized as being a boys' club. Men dominate the software industry, and hold most leading positions.

The Indian software industry cannot completely avoid that tag. But here, women constitute a higher proportion of the technology workforce than in the Valley, and, extraordinarily, almost all of the biggest IT multinationals in India now have a woman at the helm.

Accenture on Friday elevated Rekha Menon as its India chairman, and she will lead a workforce of over 1 lakh people, a third of Accenture's global strength. Menon joins a league that already has Vanitha Narayanan, MD of IBM India, Neelam Dhawan, MD of HP India, Aruna Jayanthi, CEO of Capgemini India, Kumud Srinivasan, president of Intel India, and Kirthiga Reddy, MD of Facebook India.

Narayanan and Jayanthi too lead companies that have over a lakh employees. Dhawan leads a firm estimated, by IT publication DataQuest, to have $6 billion revenue.

Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar Shaw said she was glad to see MNCs repose such confidence in Indian women professionals. "I welcome Rekha to this exclusive league of women chairpersons in India. I wish Indian companies would recognize women in leadership roles the same way," she said.

Archana Garodia Gupta, president of the FICCI Ladies Organization, noted that women broke the CEO barrier first in the banking sector. "Once women like Chanda Kochhar (ICICI Bank) and Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC India) became heads of banks, the mental barrier that people had about the capability of women crumbled. Women are now being appointed not as figure heads, but because of their capability as business leaders. My batch in IIM-Ahmedabad earlier had just 10% women. Now it's 30%. This will give more women the option to try and make it to the top," she said.

Such transitions do not happen naturally. Venkat Shastry, partner in executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, said leadership outcomes such as this are a result of long/strategic investments companies like Accenture make in promoting innovation in leadership and management practices.

Capgemini's Jayanthi said it's not so much about being an MNC or being Indian, but rather about how global, open and merit-based the culture of the organization is. "Perhaps MNCs are used to seeing women leaders in their international network, and accept them quite naturally, whereas in other companies it might require a very strong internal change management. There are several Indian organizations too with women in the corner office," she said.

Work-from-home options, initiatives to encourage women to return to work after breaks (like for having a child), mentorship programmes and hiring policies that identify less-represented segments are some of the instruments used to strengthen diversity.

Sucharita Eashwar, MD for India at WEConnect International, an organization that promotes women entrepreneurship, said Accenture was a pioneer in gender inclusion in both employee and supply chain policies and practices.

Intel recently doubled to $4,000 the bonus for any employee referring a woman, a veteran or a minority candidate for a job in the company. Intel's chief diversity officer Rosalind Hudnell told TOI recently that the company last year started a home-to-office programme in India that encourages women who left the profession to come back as interns for six months and see if they fit in. "We were happy with the way they came to speed. We'll see if we can adopt this in other parts of the world," she said.

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