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Facebook India head asks young women to dream big

Staff Reporter
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Tech conference focuses on women in computing

Woman Power:Kirthiga Reddy: ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, I don’t think you are looking at realising on your full potential.’— Photo: K. Gopinathan
Woman Power:Kirthiga Reddy: ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, I don’t think you are looking at realising on your full potential.’— Photo: K. Gopinathan

It’s a common refrain that there aren’t many women in coding or hardcore software jobs. So, over a thousand women working in the technology sector gathered here on Thursday at the third edition Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing to talk, share and discuss the role and presence of women in the world of computing.

Delivering the keynote address was a woman who is known as the face of Facebook in India and leads the social networking giant’s operations here. Kirthiga Reddy, head and director of online operations, finds herself in the list of power women in India.

“Dream big,” Ms. Reddy told her audience full of young women. She told them about how she was the first person in her family to go abroad for an MBA after completing engineering in a small college, and how she decided to climb till the Everest Base Camp. “Some people told me that it’s part of my midlife crisis: that’s true to an extent. But I believe in dreaming big and setting real challenges. I believe we should all pick our dreams, and if your dreams don’t scare you, I don’t think you are looking at realising on your full potential.”

The glass ceiling

Reflecting on the glass ceiling, Ms. Reddy pointed to a global research report that indicated that women in top positions are around 10 to 20 per cent.

In India, the numbers are much more dismal at three to six per cent, she said. Ms. Reddy pointed out that while there is an increasing number of girls in engineering courses, the numbers at the top were disappointing.

“I want to acknowledge that every single woman in the technical world has pushed boundaries. But we need to do more — set ourselves goals, and focus on making an impact.” She said that India is at the very bottom when it comes to the share of women in the labour workforce. “This needs to change. I recognise that things have changed, today we have many women icons across fields.”

Straddling both worlds

Ms. Reddy spoke about the tough decisions she had to make as a woman and as a mother, and said career women must be brave, work through their dilemmas and make the right choice. “What we need to realise is that we can do both. I’ve seen other successful women do this very well. I’m not saying it’s easy: I’ve made decisions about closing and opening businesses, hiring or firing people, but the toughest decision I made is choosing a day-care centre.”

In an interactive session, she took questions on working styles and attitudes, and on the role employers and families can play in supporting career women. To a query on what role organisations played in enabling her to work and raise her family without a break in her career, she said: “I was at a start-up when I had my second child, and we didn’t have a mothers’ room, so we created one. Organisations, I have seen, have responded if we ask.”

Women’s hackathon

On Wednesday, 41 software developers participated in the Grace Hopper Hackathon and and contributed code on projects ranging from open source projects such as Open MRS to Ruby On Rails web applications on Android platforms. 

The two-day conference has leading researchers present their work and special sessions on women in tech fields including computer science, information technology and engineering. Young women who attended the event termed it a “positive experience”.

Shantha S., a young software professional from Bangalore, said that it was interesting to listen to senior women in the industry “shed light on how they managed their work and family lives”.

Her friend, who works in a networking firm, agreed: “If you see in our companies there are many women at the entry level. The presence keeps thinning as you go up the ladder.”

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