Information technology in India is one of the fastest-growing sectors, estimated to reach $225 billion by 2020 according to the IBEF (India Brand Equity Foundation). Technology evolves rapidly and women have always played an integral part in this story. With their intelligence, creativity and value orientation, women engineers bring to this discipline differential perspectives that enhance it in unimaginable ways. In fact, Amar Nagaram, Vice President – Engineering at Flipkart, is first to upend the stereotype that ties prowess at technology with masculinity. “Women engineers definitely bring in more dynamism to the workplace. Innovations at Flipkart are mostly driven from the bottom to the top, and many of these ideas come from our women engineers,” he says.
That said, women in the technology industry, globally, face unique challenges. A joint study by NASSCOM and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP reported that there is a far lower percentage of women than men in senior management roles. The flip side, however, is that rate of women employees who resign for reasons of maternity or post-maternity has seen a decline in the last few years as more firms adopt friendlier employee policies. “At Flipkart, we strive to create a work environment built on meritocracy. The challenge of fostering such a culture is as much about celebrating equality, talent and diversity, as it is about empowering women with a level playing field at work.” says Ravi Garikipati, Chief Technology Officer at Flipkart.
Women engineers today account for a more substantial proportion of the workforce in India than they did in decades past. With more sensitive workplaces and inclusive benefits, their tribe shall doubtless increase in years to come. This positive change will have far-reaching effects — engendering more role models to inspire and embolden legions of future women who take up engineering as a career.
Today’s women engineers, who are in every way as qualified and competent as their male counterparts, want more from a sector that has traditionally been favorable for men. They want equal pay, equal opportunities, and bigger responsibilities. However, rather than demand sops or reservations on account of their gender, they want to be seen as equals in the workplace, at home, and everywhere — all of which makes their endeavor a subset of a much larger struggle.
Women engineers at Flipkart stand their ground
For Shikha Agrawal, Engineering Manager at Flipkart, fascination for engineering stemmed from a desire to be an engineer — just like her father. “What also made engineering an obvious career choice was that I loved physics and solving puzzles,” she says. The youngest of six sisters, she pursued her B Tech from Aligarh Muslim University and became the first woman engineer in her family. She says, “Hopefully I will also inspire my nieces to pursue a career of their choice.”
At Flipkart, Shikha is part of the cloud platform team that builds cloud services that helps engineering teams to be more efficient and build at scale. Speaking about her experience at Flipkart, she says, “Here, it is all about your work and impact that translates into reward and recognition. At Flipkart, my work is the only factor that can impact my growth. While I am the only woman engineering manager in my group, this is the first time I have come to realize it. Clearly shows Flipkart’s gender neutrality at work.”
Equal pay is not a myth at Flipkart
Software development engineer Bhavana K also avers that the gender pay gap is absent at Flipkart. She says, “Flipkart has always encouraged talent irrespective of gender. I witnessed the company conducting special recruitment drives to hire women employees, and offering Flipsters additional incentives to bring in more women staff.”
For Bhavana, working at Flipkart means getting to interact with some of the best talent. “Despite having spent five years in this sector, there is still so much I can learn and explore, and Flipkart is enabling me to do just that.”
It is not just the support at work that keeps her going. Bhavana’s family has been a constant source of support, too. “Mine is a close-knit family of five,” she says. “My elder sister is also an engineer, so perhaps they are used to the field and its challenges. My family has supported me every step of the way.” But were there obstacles to overcome? Plenty. After all, when Bhavana was studying engineering, the ratio of boys to girls was 15:1. What about bias? “Sure, but all it did was encourage me to work harder and climb up the ladder quicker.”
Pooja Ambekar, Engineering Manager at Flipkart, has had her tryst with bias too. “While I have experienced gender bias outside, it has never been so at Flipkart. I consider being an engineer at Flipkart special, but being a ‘woman engineer’ does not matter. I believe that Flipkart as an organization has a tremendous responsibility to encourage the rest of the society to take up gender-neutral policies too.”
As a part of the retail engineering team, Pooja bridges the gaps among suppliers and brands, sellers and Flipkart. She and her team have developed software that connects these entities to enable seamless interaction in the virtual marketplace. She also loves the fact that at Flipkart, she gets to work with “some of the smartest people in the country towards bringing groundbreaking innovations on the e-commerce scene,” as she puts it.
Perhaps her passion is informed by her childhood and upbringing. “My parents brought me up in a very gender-agnostic environment. They’ve always supported my decisions. While I have witnessed patriarchal attitudes from the society at large, I have never experienced it while growing up or at work.” Pooja studied engineering at a women’s-only engineering college — Cummins College of Engineering for Women in Pune — and completed her MS in Computer Science from Arizona State University.
“Can’t be better than this,” are the words that Chandana Pavuluru, Senior Engineering Manager, uses to sum up her experience of working at Flipkart. “It is a level playing field as long as I am playing as good as any other Flipster.” A typical workday for her is all about mentoring her team of engineers and working on the delivery of technical solutions based on business needs. “As an engineering manager, I am responsible for the technology stack [the operating system and related programs necessary to support and run applications] that manages the catalog data.”
Finding camaraderie and a lot more
Her desire to join Flipkart took root when she bought hardbound notebooks from Flipkart — her first purchase. “The experience was seamless enough to make me visit the site again and scroll down to ‘Careers’. In fact, I regularly did follow-ups with the recruiting team there to make sure I got hired at whichever position was available.” It has been a roller-coaster ride for Chandana since then, working in a culture that is demanding, to say the least. Three years down, she has worked with gusto on three Big Billion Days at Flipkart, met wonderful people, and made great friends.
Just like Chandana, the exhaustive range of opportunities to grow has motivated Deepti Agrawal, Senior Engineering Manager, to be on her toes from the time she joined Flipkart five years ago. An M Tech graduate from IIT-Bombay, Deepti is part of the core services team that provides backend support to Flipkart’s desktop and app. And she loves the fast-paced action of her job.
“When it comes to engineering at Flipkart, there is always some feature or application update going live,” she says with a grin. The exhilarating rush to perform is what keeps her going, and she shares her love for engineering with her father and brother, who are both mechanical engineers. A typical day for her involves making the most of every task and creating an impact with each keystroke of code. Is there room for anything else?
“Gender does not come into the picture. And the kind of roles you are assigned is purely on merit,” she says.
Where rewards are about more than wages
The first engineer in her family, Manisha Sangwan, Software Development Engineer at Flipkart, is no stranger to standing out. She says, “At Flipkart… gender does not affect ambition!”
But has she experienced that feeling of being the ‘other’?
“Most male professors in my college believed that women are essentially not technology-savvy, which meant they couldn’t make a great career for themselves in the technology sector.” Despite the bias, she believed that succeeding at a tech job was a matter of talent. And that’s exactly what she finds at Flipkart. A team player, she gets along well with her team, and socializes with them outside the office. “No boys-only club here!” she says with a smile.
Suvadra Tripathy, UI Engineer at Flipkart, agrees with Manisha. Her journey on the less-trodden path started when a faculty member at school encouraged her to take up a C++ course. “I was in the 11th grade back then and we had this excellent computer science teacher who encouraged me to take up a basic C++ course, which I really enjoyed doing.” She comes from a family of professionals — her father is an engineer and her mother is a doctor. “My father wanted me to do electronic engineering, but I prevailed and opted to study computer science.”
Suvadra joined Flipkart in mid-2014, and talks about the work allocation at the company setting the tone. “It is always a question of ‘Which developer wants to take this up?’ It has never been a question of ‘Who is the man who can do it?’ No gender disparity there.”
This was evident even before she was officially on board, Suvadra says, when Flipkart hired her right after she completed her Masters. “When I joined Flipkart, there were 20-odd students from other colleges, and all of us were offered the same salary package. Then a revision in the earnings took place, and all were given the same revised package. Post then, all increments have been made on the basis of performance.”
Flipkart values the talent and potential it sees within Flipsters. More so, it values people at a human level. This consideration has been central to designing employee benefits. They have been handcrafted to bring out the best in employees while reassuring them that they are well looked after. Priya Dharshini, who is part of Flipkart’s tech team, emphasizes this fact when she says that Flipkart’s maternity policy enabled her to choose the hospital she wanted for her baby’s delivery and have the expense reimbursed without worries.
According to Satheesh K V, Director – Total Rewards at Flipkart, what has created an impact are policies that have not only struck a chord with employees, but also built an emotional bond. “We strive to create an inclusive workplace and this is reflective in our people practices such as equal employment opportunity, no gender pay gap, inclusive employee policies, and other gender diversity initiatives. We have not only focused on extending the maternity leave period to six months, but also designed it in a manner to help them get back to work life smoothly by creating a proactive support system. We want to support women employees achieve work-life balance as they continue to focus on their careers,” says Satheesh.
Is the gender gap closing? It might be too early to say, as the proportion of women engineers to men in the workplace globally has still not struck a balance. Empowered by a truly equal-opportunity workplace and progressive policies, women engineers at Flipkart have put their best foot forward. In years to come, perhaps more organizations will take the cue and build workplaces founded on policies that are geared towards true equality, and not merely on paper.