Women’s Day: IBM’s Geetha Adinarayan on Women in Tech in India

By Jayesh Shinde | Published 07 Mar 2023 06:38 IST
Women’s Day: IBM’s Geetha Adinarayan on Women in Tech in India

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I interviewed Geetha Adinarayan, Distinguished Engineer & Director, IBM Client Engineering, India & South Asia over email to understand her journey to becoming a women leader in tech, and her views on the challenges and opportunities for women in tech in India

Edited excerpts below:

1. Can you describe your journey to becoming a tech industry leader? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced? Can you share an example of when you had to navigate a difficult situation or decision as a leader? How did you approach it?

It has been a fascinating journey for me spanning 24 years with IBM. While the train (company) has been the same, I have had the opportunity to move to three major compartments (Product development, Lab Services and Sales). Within these roles, I have gained experience in developing new products, solving complex performance critical problems and client engineering. I love driving innovation – and my key strength is bringing new innovations to life quickly and building energetic teams. Overall, purposefully experimenting and taking up new roles throughout my career has provided me with enriching and diverse experiences in technology, innovation, leadership and team building – which helped me grow and become a leader.

The biggest and continuous challenge, which is also an opportunity, is to align the team’s passion and energy with the organization’s strategy and changes, with the end goal of providing client value. It requires empathetic leadership which is a combination of listening, acting, coaching, reflecting and what I call ‘show and not tell leadership’.

Another challenge we often face is to continuously learn and upskill ourselves. The way I navigated that was to personally join my team in doing the learning exercises. In fact, I am very proud of the fact that as a team we completed about 80 hours of learning in 2022 on the IBM Portfolio. Another one was the delivery of a new product with a new team in a short period of time. I remember spending nights and days whiteboarding, designing and on technical architecture. Those hard-working days defined many historic moments for the team and for me.

2. How have you seen the tech industry in India evolve, and what do you see as some of the biggest opportunities for growth in the future?

India has come a long way from a technological perspective in the last few decades. I remember meeting some eminent global technical leaders visiting India at the beginning of my career two decades ago. Listening to their contributions and field of work left me awestruck. Today we have Indian technical leaders with similar contributions like IBM’s Distinguished Engineers and IBM Fellows who are inspiring people across the world. This shows the growth of the Indian tech industry not just for product development or services but also creating technology leaders. Having one of the largest startup ecosystems in the world and being a global technology talent hub, our country is at the heart of delivering innovative solutions to solve business and societal challenges.

As we move forward, there is immense opportunity in creating products and solutions that can make our world better. Adding value through innovations in areas like security, automation, AI infusion, sustainability and quantum computing are the biggest opportunities that we can leverage and grow.

3. How do you stay current with emerging technologies and industry trends, and what resources do you rely on?

Reading, relating, listening, asking and trying are my methods of staying current with industry trends. I make time to read books and blogs. I relate to them when I speak to clients and apply it to my work. I ask a lot of questions to get clarity. Finally, I try out and experiment with new tech to get a feel of it myself. I also rely on my team’s collective experience as there is always something new that they have tried out and are excited to share their knowledge.

4. What's your approach to mentorship and supporting the development of future leaders in the Indian tech ecosystem?

I believe in ‘what you get is what you give’. At IBM, I have been fortunate to be mentored by great leaders. Now, I see it as my duty in doing the same for young technologists to share them with future leaders. I work closely in mentoring interns, early professional hires and experienced professionals. This provided me with an opportunity to understand various perspectives and to nurture individuals with different roles and expectations.

5. What steps have you taken to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace, and what have been some of the outcomes of these efforts in terms of impact? Can you discuss a specific example of how a more diverse and inclusive workforce has helped drive innovation and business success within the company?

As a personal example, I had the opportunity to build a new team in 2022. Sticking to IBM's values of being equal and through conscious thinking, I was able to put together a team model where diversity came by design. We recruited data scientists, technology engineers, consultants, designers, early professionals and experienced architects. Diversity in gender, background, and age, among others, was the key to bringing multidimensional thinking and value to the team. 

A particular instance where this was very useful was a project where we had to think about creating the best customer experience for various personas like women bankers. The diversity in the team enabled us to understand those personas better and to provide an experience that would resonate best with that end user.

6. What are some of the biggest challenges that women (and underrepresented minorities) face in the tech industry, and how can senior leaders help address these challenges? What advice would you give to women who aspire to leadership roles in the tech industry, particularly in India?

Some of the top challenges that people face are not being intentional about their growth, being afraid of failure and trying to change themselves to be a perfect match for a job. We as leaders need to be supportive of individual needs and be transparent about our team’s growth, solving their work-life challenges and ensuring they have adequate resources and tools for continuous learning. 

A very important life lesson I learnt from simple activities like creating a Rangoli is that together we are strong and can achieve whatever we set our minds to. Having the right people in one’s life to talk to, share, take and give advice is essential. They can be family, friends, colleagues, mentors, well-wishers or coaches. For example, tea time with my husband, reading stories to my children, evening chats with my mother, and sharing a laugh with my team members, are all precious to me as it makes my day vibrant, help me learn and cope with daily challenges.

My advice to all aspiring women leaders would be to be intentional about your growth. Take up new opportunities and try without the fear of failure. Fill your surroundings with positivity and positive people. Be your own competition by setting lofty goals. But in doing all of that, remember to enjoy the journey and experiences that come along with it.

7. Can you discuss any initiatives or projects you have been involved in to give back to the community?

One of my most cherished projects to date is volunteering to build a chatbot to help IBM employees during the COVID-19 pandemic to help them with resources that could potentially save lives. In addition, I put my love for writing to use by designing and delivering “Joy of writing”, a weekly hand-writing program for children with the intention of spreading the joy of writing to more children. I am a strong believer in mentoring, I feel very happy in being a mentor for more than 30 technical professionals on careers, Professional certifications and on a social eminence.

Jayesh Shinde
Jayesh Shinde

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