There is much being said today about the topic of women in IT. I feel that, first and foremost, companies should recognize the value that diverse teams bring to their projects and bottom line. We know that big process improvement initiatives are complex, especially when they involve an enterprise software system. In fact, a 2014 study commissioned by TCS found that nearly 50% of enterprises indicated that their IT project ROI was less than 10%, and only 9% indicated an ROI higher than 35%. Further, five out of the top six primary skill gaps faced when implementing a transformation were non-technical, “soft skills”. That’s why project teams must possess diverse skills to be successful. Emotional intelligence, a trait shown by research more likely to be found in women, can be critical to keeping a project on track. And that, in turn, is why more organizations should be hiring and grooming women to contribute to the success of their IT projects.
Please join me as I participate with a panel of experts to discuss women in IT leadership roles in an audio program, “Game-Changing Women Radio, Presented by SAP: Women in Tech: Decoding Diversity in Silicon Valley and Beyond,” 9-10 AM Pacific / 12-1 PM Eastern on Tuesday, April 14.
My career – and the careers of other women at Tata Consultancy Services – show what can be gained by having capable women in positions of influence. We have repeatedly seen the difference that emotional intelligence can make in project success, whether or not it is brought to bear by women or men.
To be sure, the project management skills in setting key performance indicators over the life of a project and getting people to meet them are crucial. If you can’t help your team resolve the business process and technical complexities of these projects, you will be in trouble; no amount of emotional intelligence will save you. But ultimately, successful projects require working with people who have feelings and needs, especially the need to be heard. In managing a number of large SAP software implementation projects, I have seen the interpersonal skills that many women in IT bring to critical situations make the difference between success and failure.
Again, this is not to say that only women bring such skills. I’ve seen many of my male counterparts excel in emotional intelligence. Nonetheless, women with high emotional intelligence provide a core capability to managing big SAP projects that is often overlooked.
This won’t be a surprise to adherents to the concept of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestselling book “Emotional Intelligence” points out that women – who in general are better at emotional empathy (feeling what other people feel) than men – make good group leaders, teachers and counselors because of their “ability to sense in the moment how others are reacting.”
Such an assertion is important to make at a time when women fill only one-quarter of the jobs in technology fields. Organizations need more women in these important roles – especially in leading major technology-based process improvement initiatives – if they want to increase their odds of project success.
Listening, Followed by Action
I have found the skill of listening can have a great positive impact, especially in times of conflict. Taking the time to hear what others have to say about their work, and what is important to them in working with others, creates productive relationships. This kind of listening can pay dividends in many spheres, such as executive meetings when intense discussions bring conflicts to light, and when complex projects require people to change their business processes.
But while listening is essential, it isn’t enough. You must demonstrate empathy through action. You have to show people that what you heard them say is changing what you do. For example, I have led discussions with people who are frustrated about the changes they must make in their jobs as a result of an important business technology project. Getting them to accept (and even embrace) such changes requires showing you can amend a process. Even if you can’t address every concern, just meeting with them will lead to a more successful outcome.
While it can take significant time, showing sensitivity can pay big dividends. Demonstrating emotional intelligence when it may not be expected can build relationships and be good for business. Showing you care about clients’ feelings of discomfort, for example, can disarm their concerns and make them feel better about themselves — and about you.
The Value of Diversity
The value of diverse teams goes beyond any one SAP implementation, of course. Balaji Ganapathy, head of workforce effectiveness for TCS America, has noted that employment policies that promote diversity and inclusion drive innovation and business growth. They also bolster an organization’s ability to attract and retain talented people. “Employing people from different backgrounds and who have various skills, ideas, viewpoints, beliefs and personalities will help companies spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions before competitors do,” he says.
Today at TCS, close to one in three employees are women. Globally, TCS has set a goal to double its number of women employees by 2020 and to have 1,000 women in leadership roles by then. In North America, TCS is a partner of the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Clinton Global Initiative to educate 10,000 middle school girls about computing concepts and other outreach efforts. We hope these efforts will attract even more women to careers in the consulting and IT services industry.
My career is representative of the opportunities that women have today in this business. As a leader in the TCS Enterprise Solutions SAP Practice, I started 15 years ago as a business system analyst and developer. I have both seized opportunities where situations demanded leadership, and benefited from the chances my superiors have given me to take on new responsibilities.
And I am not unusual at TCS. We have many women leaders in the firm. The situation for women in IT is improving, even as we have more progress to make.