education trends

What happened to the women who graduated from IITs in the '90s?

The maternal wall is as unyielding as the glass ceiling.

Last year, India passed a landmark legislation to fix the abysmal sex ratio in corporate boardrooms ‒ all publicly traded companies needed to put at least one woman on their board. It was a radical law, given that about two-thirds of listed companies in the country had no woman on their boards in June 2014.

The result was chaos. Even a year after the law was passed, one-third of the firms scrambled in the final two weeks before the deadline to find woman directors. Some high-profile firms ‒ including Reliance Industries ‒ simply added the wives of chairmen to the boardrooms. More than 12% failed to find a woman at all. The whole exercise was another grim reminder of how thoroughly men dominate the senior leadership in Asia’s third largest economy.

But it’s not as if there aren’t enough women in India with the education and career experience to hold these positions.

Consider, for instance, the women graduates from the country’s finest engineering schools. Since its inception in 1958, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay alone graduated some 3,000 women with degrees ranging from computer engineering to civil engineering, an official told Quartz requesting anonymity. Several hundreds of women have presumably enrolled at India’s other IITs in the past 20 years, although none of these schools keep records of the gender of their students.

Where did all these women go ‒ and why aren’t they leaders in Indian industry today?

Quartz spoke to more than a dozen women who graduated from the IITs and other top engineering colleges in the 1990s about their career trajectories to try and answer that question.

The 1990s were, of course, a period when the Indian economy had just opened up, and the country’s technology sector finally found its feet. Hundreds of young women who might have never considered joining India Inc. a few decade earlier were getting high-level degrees, and then choosing corporate careers and quickly rising up the ranks.

Yet, often after a few years on the job, they pulled back, completely changed their personal career paths, thereby stripping corporate India of a female presence.

Again and again, women gave Quartz the same underlying reason: They were unable to scale the maternal wall.

Here are their stories:

Work much harder than the boys

This generation of women opted for engineering at a time when it was not considered a suitable career option for females. Many of them aced the IIT entrance examination ‒ one of the toughest in the world ‒ in order to gain entry to this rarefied world.

Technology in India ‒ and most other parts of the world ‒ remains a close-knit old boy’s club. But two decades ago, the bias against women was much more blatant and institutional.

When Pooja Goyal, 41, was in high school in the early 1990s, her elite all girls’ convent school in Jaipur did not even have a mathematics teacher. And therefore, it did not even offer the subject to its students.

“Now that I think about it, I am like ‘What discrimination.’ It was cruel,” she told Quartz.

Goyal ultimately studied mathematics for the IIT entrance exam with the help of her brother-in-law, who used to work with the Reserve Bank of India. She cleared the entrance exam in 1992, with an all-India rank of 484. She opted for chemical engineering, and was one of 13 women out of a student body of 300 at IIT Delhi.

But studying at an IIT was anything but welcoming.

“The boys did not know how to interact with girls. There were ten hostels for boys on one side of the IIT Delhi campus, and there was one hostel for girls on the other end. And all the cultural activities took place on the boys’ end,” she said.

Other women IIT students from the same era had similar experiences.

“It was a completely male-dominated institution. I felt like a complete outlier,” said Parul Mittal, class of 1995 at IIT Delhi. Studying at an IIT was Mittal’s goal from her childhood as she was great in mathematics and a “very competitive student.”

“There was no same-sex company to discuss your college life with and it was not a very friendly scenario, because there were very few friendships between boys and girls,” said Mittal, who studied electrical engineering. “If I did not understand something in class, there was nobody I could ask for help. In a way, we girls had to work much harder than the boys.”

After graduation, most of the women Quartz spoke to moved abroad for higher studies and then took up consulting or technology jobs. For almost all of them, marriage was a minor blip in their careers. But having a child was something different.

Post-pregnancy pause

India’s IIT grads of the 1990s who Quartz spoke to kept working through marriages, and even when they got pregnant. Many of them took the minimal maternity leave, devoting as much attention as they could to their careers.

“Your career starts seeing an upward trajectory around your 30s, and this coincides with the time a woman has her babies,” explained Goyal.

She was working in the US with software company Adobe when she first got pregnant, and took nine weeks off after her first daughter was born. She continued her steady rise up the corporate ladder even after her second child was born. But when she made the decision to move back to India in 2007, Goyal found that she had to drastically rethink her career goals.

“When I moved back to India, I did not find good childcare at all,” she said. “I was ready to compromise on anything from cooking to cleaning, but with childcare, you have to be 100% sure.”

Even though domestic help is much more affordable in India than in the US, Goyal said she struggled to find a trained and reliable nanny. On top of that, there were hardly any decent daycare centres near her home. While a section of corporate India has now started opening creches for working mothers, the trend is still in its nascent stages.

At Adobe’s India office, she found the work environment way less flexible and accommodating of working mothers than it had been in the US.

“The boundary between work and personal life is not well-defined in India,” said Goyal, who often had to take work home and put in long hours. Just one year after moving to India, she quit her job and started her own company instead. “When I had a full-time job here, and a young child, I was sleeping just four hours a day.”

Options such as work-from-home are still not common in India. Bosses prefer to see their employees in office everyday and believe that logging in from home will decrease their productivity.

“In India, face time is still so much more important. And it is still impossible to tell your boss that you have to leave early to pick up your kids from school,” said Shruti Kahlon, who graduated from IIT Delhi in 1998 and worked as a consultant with Deloitte in the US for several years.

Meeta Sharma Gupta, another IIT Delhi alumna who is three years Goyal’s junior, also decided to distance herself from her first career after her kids were born.

With a master’s from University of South California and a PhD from Harvard University, Gupta worked at Bell Laboratories and IBM Research in both India and the US. But after spending more than a decade in research, Gupta decided to start her own venture last year.

“I think the major deviation in career trajectory comes after having kids… I could spend the day at work but not put in additional evenings and nights or weekend hours to continue a steep growth trajectory that some of the men who chose to could do,” said the 37-year-old mother of two sons.

Indian husbands are part of the problem

Indian fathers still leave most of the childcare to their wives, these women also told Quartz.

“Some fathers can completely dissociate (from home) while the mother has to stay more connected whether it is events at school or sick leaves for the child,” Gupta said.

“Our culture does not see fathers going to schools to pick up children. That burden always falls on the woman,” said Mittal, who married her senior from IIT Delhi.

Most IIT women interviewed by Quartz are married to men who are not only IIT graduates but also hold high-ranking positions in the finance or technology sector, and the presence of a financially-successful spouse often gave them the flexibility to step back in their own careers.

“An Indian man’s self-identity is determined by his career. They feel insecure about digressing,” said Goyal, who is married to a venture capitalist. Indian society still does not accept stay-at-home fathers, and men who have been brave enough to choose that option in life often have to face uncomfortable questions and sometimes disdain.

“Some of my women friends have had to make compromises such as staying single or staying abroad in order to advance in their careers. These are compromises a man would not have to make,” Goyal said.

India’s corporate women are falling behind

In India’s technology sector, high-potential men and women start out at an equal footing, with equal pay, according to Catalyst, a not-for-profit research organisation that promotes gender equality in business.

Over time, however, a significant pay gap emerges. Women also get fewer international assignments or other career-enhancement opportunities in the middle level.

“Women [in their 30s] reported earning Rs 379,570 less than men in their current jobs,” the report said. “Women’s aspirations and overall career advancement are affected by the pressure they face to fulfil multiple (and often competing) commitments at home and at work.”

Sangita Singh, the chief executive of healthcare life sciences and services at Wipro, is one of the most senior women in Indian IT industry. After years of hiring and nurturing countless young women, she agrees with this assessment.

There are three crossroads in a working woman’s life: When she joins an organisation, when she has kids and when she wants to transition to a senior leadership role, Singh told Quartz. Firms will continue to lose talented women, if they do not support, mentor and motivate them during these stages, she said.

Choosing another path, with no regrets

Some of these IIT-educated women simply do not want to measure success in terms of professional life alone.

Kahlon, 39, had ample help from her parents and in-laws in raising children. But working at Deloitte meant she was always on the move.

“For me, work was being away from home three days a week,” Kahlon said, who also holds an MBA degree from the Wharton School. “I chose to step away from consulting because being with my children was far more important to me than professional success.”

She now works with Firmenich, a fragrance and flavour company, in Princeton. “Now, my office is ten minutes from my home.”

While Kahlon found a senior role in a mid-sized company, some IIT women decided to drastically change their careers, and remain completely unapologetic about their decisions.

Mittal, for instance, left her IT career after 12 years and two children, and found success as a writer of love stories.

“I took a year off to look for flexible work options and that is when I decided to write my first book,” said Mittal, whose first novel is a fictional account of women at IIT. “Chetan Bhagat is my batch mate from IIT, but his first book [Five Point Someone] did not have a single IIT girl. And I thought the world has to know about us.” Bhagat—a former investment banker who has now become the biggest-selling English-language novelist in India’s history—began his writing career with a novel on three male IIT students.

Goyal and Gupta, on the other hand, founded startups that were inspired by their early years as a mother.

“When I moved back to India, I realised there are no good pre-schools. So I decided to get into this field,” said Goyal, who now runs a daycare centre in Gurgaon. “My new field has given me a flexible lifestyle and fulfilled my entrepreneurial dream.”

Gupta started a wooden toy business in Bengaluru, and does not regret leaving research.

“I don’t feel bitter about it (leaving research). I think given a woman’s emotional attachment to kids and vice-versa, I feel that the balancing act is required and desired from a woman,” she said. “ Of course, an equally qualified man would not have had the same trajectory.”

“As a woman,” Gupta concluded, “you either make a conscious choice not to have a family, or take your career slowly.”

Younger women make different choices

While Goyal and Gupta took more than a decade to quit their high-profile jobs, Sirisha Gadepalli, 34, did so with much more ease.

After graduation in 2002 from IIT, Gadepalli moved to the US. Incidentally, her batch at IIT Delhi had 40 women students ‒ the highest number ever for the college. Gadepalli later did an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and worked as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. After two years at the consultancy, she joined an India startup, Freecharge, in 2014.

“Salary has never been an important criterion in my life. I want satisfaction from what I do,” said Gadepalli, who has also worked for the Akansha Foundation, an education non-profit, for two years. “I could have risen in BCG, but growth comes from doing the kind of work you want to do.” Gadepalli is married to another IIT graduate who now works for a private equity firm.

Even though she is going to have a baby this month, Gadepalli said she does not imagine motherhood being a major impediment in her career. “My startup gives me the flexibility to work from home, as long as I deliver.”

This article was originally published on qz.com.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.

Play

As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.

Play

So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.

Play

As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”

Play

By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.