“Girl Geek Dinner” in Bangalore
by Vartika Agarwal
What was the best part about this Girl Geek Dinner? One girl geek wrote in the feedback form, “There were no men.” Laughs aside, Yahoo!’s first Girl Geek Dinner in India generated a huge buzz for all the right reasons. From new entrants to industry veterans, girl geeks of every hue and standing came to this event, making it an unparalleled opportunity to network.
Over 275 women technologists from organizations like Cisco, NetApp, Google, Microsoft and IBM braved the rush-hour traffic to connect over dinner at The Leela Palace in Bangalore on June 9. Though the number of women in the tech industry in India has continued to climb since the dramatic growth of the IT industry in the mid ’90s, and is now around 25 per cent, networking events for women are not that common. For some attendees, Girl Geek Dinner was nothing short of inspirational. “It led me to realize that women can do more,” said one girl geek, referring to the real-life stories of women technologists achieving against all odds, shared that evening.
A networking version of Bingo served as an icebreaker and spurred interaction. But besides forging connections for the long term, there was one more reason to play. The grand prize for the competition was an iPad! (There was a collective gasp when a girl geek from Cisco walked away with it.)
Just before dinner, a discussion on a hot topic offered food for thought. Three accomplished women panelists, (including one Director from Yahoo!, a tech entrepreneur in India and a former VP of Engineering from Novell), debated the question, Are women considered geeky enough to climb the corporate ladder? The audience, a microcosm of the workforce, was the guest panelist in this discussion, revealing the diverse challenges they navigate everyday, during the Q&A that followed. Some came from conservative homes (“What do you do if your family does not support your decision to work?”) others were contemplating starting a family, or were rejoining the workforce (“Do you bribe your children with presents when you travel or work late?”)
While the consensus was that women technologists did not lack the capability, drive or passion to succeed, there were other factors, many of them personal, which slowed career growth. In India, while women are well represented in entry-level roles in the tech industry, they drop out of the workforce as they progress up the ladder. Global trade body NASSCOM puts the percentage of women in leadership roles in the Indian tech industry at around 6 per cent.
Aparna Ballakur, VP – HR for Yahoo in India, made a telling statement in her welcome note, “I’m the executive sponsor for WIT in India not because I am the HR head, but because I’m the only woman in the leadership team at Yahoo in India. I would have preferred a woman technologist to be here in my place today,” she said. Aparna shared how WIT Bangalore plays an important role in inspiring and supporting technical women across the talent pipeline, both within and outside Yahoo in India. At Yahoo Bangalore, the charter includes building an inclusive workforce, mentoring women and supporting them as they rejoin the mainstream after a break. Outside Yahoo!, it’s been about giving back to women in the tech community. As part of its outreach program in India, WIT helps women on campuses successfully enter the IT workforce. It also connects and empowers women in tech through networking events.
The networking at this Girl Geek Dinner continued over dinner - a fabulous Indian and continental spread. The event ended like it began, high on energy. One guest had just three words to describe it, “Insightful, informative, helpful.” That said it all.