Undeterred by rain and maddening traffic jams, more than 2,000 women technologists convened in Bangalore for the sixth annual Grace Hopper Celebration India, the largest gathering of women in technology in the country. The event, which spans three days, kicked off with two keynotes and a panel discussion that highlighted this year’s conference theme of #OurTimeToLead.
On the Cusp of Change
Following opening remarks from Telle Whitney, President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) and Geetha Kannan, Managing Director of ABI India, Kimberly Stevenson, Vice President and CIO at Intel delivered the day’s first keynote address. Her talk centered on the concept of the butterfly effect, which suggests that small actions can make a big difference, especially in the technology industry.
Kimberly highlighted the fact that women are the primary consumers — and increasingly, the creators — of today’s most innovative technologies. With this in mind, she underscored how important it is to continue the momentum that has attracted so many talented female technologists from India into the technology market.
“We’re on the cusp of change, but we’re far from done,” said Kimberly.
Concluding her talk, Kimberly tasked the audience with three small actions that she believes will have a great impact — convince one young woman to study STEM, assist one more professional woman in advancing her tech career and mobilize one more colleague to do the same.
India: A Country of Digital Disruptors
Next up was the CXO panel, Innovation, Inclusion, Internet @ India 2.0 – Where Are We Headed, moderated by Tata Sons CTO Gopichand Katragadda. The panelists included Rekha Menon, Chairman of Accenture India, Sandhya Vasudevan, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer at Deutsche Bank Group in India, Dinesh Malkani, President of Cisco India and SAARC and Dr. Manish Gupta, Vice President of Xerox Corporation and Director of the Xerox Research Center in India.
The panelists discussed how the seemingly disparate issues of innovation, inclusion and the Internet come together to create India’s technology landscape today. One of the main takeaways from the panel discussion highlighted the importance of innovating for an educated, well-informed audience of Indian consumers. To succeed, the panelists agreed, companies both big and small must think about disruption.
“Organizations have to self disrupt and be innovative,” said Dinesh Malkani of Cisco India. “In India, we are digital barbarians. We know how to disrupt and innovate at a much faster and economical pace.”
Of course, this rapid pace of disruption and innovation requires diverse thinking, which means bringing more women into tech jobs at all levels.
Xerox’s Manish Gupta shared a story from his early career at IBM when a group of male engineers created a Linux watch, a clunky and ultimately unpopular device. He recalls a senior woman manager commenting that had there been even one woman on the development team, she would explain that nobody would wear such an ugly device.
“I’m surprised we’re still sitting here having a conversation about the business benefits of hiring a woman,” said Rekha Menon.
Cultivating Leadership Skills
The final keynote of the evening came from Roopa Kudva, Partner of Omidyar Network and Managing Director of Omidyar Network India Advisors. Roopa’s talk touched on how women technologists can build the different skill sets needed to transition from middle management to more senior leadership positions.
To start off, Roopa emphasized that the capabilities and relationships that have contributed to women’s success at a middle management level won’t cut it for senior leadership roles.
“There are no easy jobs at the top,” she said.
She advised the audience to develop the specific skill sets needed to succeed in senior leadership roles, including taking a broader perspective of business issues and quickly discerning the core business problem from all the noise that surrounds it.
Celebrating With a Night of Dance
The day ended on a celebratory note, with a delicious buffet dinner, a live DJ and plenty of dancing. Stay tuned throughout the week for more daily recaps of the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration India. And don’t miss all the action as it happens — follow the Anita Borg Institute on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and pictures from #GHCI2015!