Shalini Kapoor, Distinguished Engineer, Director & CTO – Watson IoT, IBM speaks to Dilin Anand from EFY.
Q. What’s the impact that you believe women technologists can have if they put their minds to participating at events?
A. Participating in events and conferences has not only helped me grow professionally but also network and collaborate with more people. It also broadened my knowledge on various technologies that other organisations were working on. Such events provide a platform for women technologists to voice their diverse thoughts and approaches, which are sometimes the starting point for setting market/industry norms.
Q. What observation led to the realisation that women were hurting their prospects by not participating at these events?
A. When I started stepping out to speak at conferences, seminars and panel discussions, I realized that both the speakers and audience were predominantly men. Occasionally, I felt lonely as there were very few women at these events. However, when I later started participating in events like Grace Hopper, I saw a considerable number of women participating and speaking at those events.
There is definitely no paucity of skilled women or opportunities and over time the approach has changed for the better. More women are stepping out to speak at conferences. However, there is still scope for improvement.
Q. What are your views on mandatory maternity leave, reportedly causing startups and small firms to reduce hiring women, and the suggested longer paternity leave to balance this out?
A. Sometimes you should not have a solution chasing a problem. All women need maternity leave, so it is something that is provided because it has to be respected by the system. I took maternity leave for both my kids. At that time, it was three months, but it wasn’t enough, so I ended up taking seven months of leave in both the situations. Six months leave is a need; it gives the mother just enough time to settle things at home and come back to her workplace with a tension-free mind. I believe the system will evolve and start-ups that ignore the female talent pool will fail because it is contradictory to their very nature and the main reason for their success – which is embracing diverse thought culture in designing and launching the product. The benefit of diversity is so high that they cannot avoid the talent pool.
Q. How do you personally enlighten the women around you, such that they understand their potential and also go around to empower other women? So that an organic effect happens and grows.
A. I feel the best way to do it is when you are leading by example and sharing your own stories. I have many women in my team, and I ensure that I am sharing not just the things that I do but also the things that I am not able to do. For example, since I go to many conferences, I get invitations to attend as a speaker at other events too. So, I share these opportunities with my colleagues so that they too can grow and get similar opportunities and build their eminence. I believe, the opportunity that you get should not be limited to just you; it has to be shared with others so that other people too can grow. So, it is a culture which breeds, and it trickles down creating opportunities for everybody around.