Women’s Day: Thoughtworks’ Harinee Muralinath on Women in Tech in India

By Jayesh Shinde | Published 08 Mar 2023 17:03 IST
Women’s Day: Thoughtworks’ Harinee Muralinath on Women in Tech in India

I interviewed Harinee Muralinath, Head of Security, Thoughtworks India, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. She mentioned not just her own journey as a woman in tech, but also highlighted challenges and opportunities for women in tech in general. Edited excerpts below:

How was your journey through the tech industry? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

I began my career in tech as a Quality Analyst. I was always drawn to balancing technical and business goals. I worked on my skills by taking up various roles in business analysis, coding and development, delivery management etc. My obvious passion for Quality and Application Security worked to my advantage when I was asked to set up the Security practice at Thoughtworks.

Over the years, I moved through a few leadership roles, from Learning and Development to now being the Head of Security for Thoughtworks in India and the Global Security Community Lead at the company.

Similar to any tech leader, I have faced challenges in keeping up with rapidly evolving technology, the latest industry trends and best practices. I have also had to navigate hurdles when managing complex projects and domains or dealing with uncertainty and risk. However, the biggest challenge I did overcome is self-doubt, and I did it by trusting my mentors and allowing myself to bravely meet the odds.


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 emerged as a global hub for the tech industry. Some key factors that have contributed to this include an availability of a skilled workforce, a supportive regulatory environment, and a growing culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. 

One of the biggest opportunities for growth in the Indian tech industry is the continued expansion of the country's digital economy with new digital businesses being established and existing businesses undergoing digital transformation. We are also seeing the rapid development and adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in the country. Additionally, sectors like eCommerce, healthcare, and education, where technology can improve access and quality of services, will open up as well.

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?

Thoughtworks believes diversity, equity and inclusion have the power to create transformative social change. To effectively nurture diverse talent and create an ‘environment of belonging,’ we have assimilated DEI thinking into team practices while also actively helping more women forge successful careers as technologists. We recently crossed a DEI milestone by achieving our diversity goal of employing over 40% Women and Underrepresented Gender Minorities (WUGM).

We have also established an Equal Opportunity Policy, outlining all of the commitments being made to provide equal opportunities to women, regardless of age, ethnic orientation, gender, religion, disability, background or identity. The company launched Vapasi, an initiative designed to help experienced women developers, currently on a career break, re-enter the world of programming. The last 20 batches of Vapasi tailored for Developers and Quality Analysts saw more than 250+ women participate in the returnee program. The company has also launched a global women’s leadership program called WiLD (Women in Leadership Development) that brings together emerging women leaders from across the globe for an intense development journey. Many women who have been through the journey, today, hold key leadership roles in Thoughtworks India. A Thoughtworks program called N.O.W or Network of Women aims to grow an external community of women by creating a forum through which they can share learnings, experiences and network.

Thoughtworks runs regular gender pay parity checks on salary data to proactively make changes as needed. The company has also introduced inclusive initiatives such as Cod(H)er - a monthly meetup to promote sharing of technical knowledge and increase collaboration among women techies, and Women@Thoughtworks - an affinity group for women focusing on empowerment, capability building, spreading awareness and improving work-life balance.

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


The impact one can make ranges from supporting an individual to influencing an entire community. When dealing with individuals, it is important to understand the person you are mentoring or supporting and respond to their needs. It is also important to differentiate between the hats one might wear – as guide, mentor, coach or sponsor. Each has its own level of impact and manner of engagement.

But it’s difficult to engage with several on this deeper individual level. Technology grows faster than we can evolve into meaningful mentors. Therefore, associating with a community and providing thought leadership maximizes one’s scope of influence –  growing more leaders in the community. There is always going to be someone starting their journey and possibly mirroring the path you have tread. My guidance is to share as much as possible - through talks, journals, open source contributions, sponsorship and more. Investing in growing others has helped me evolve as a professional and a human.

What are some of the biggest myths and stereotypes about women in tech that you've encountered or heard of?


One of the most common myths is how women are not naturally interested in technology. Women do not have an ‘aversion’ to technology, they have an aversion to sociocultural barriers. Also, people are misled into thinking there are specific jobs for every gender – another myth. Women are thought to not understand tech and or be as skilled as men in technology. Women’s strengths are considered to be ‘soft skills’ not technical stuff. However, the women tech leaders across industries stand testament to the fact that this is but a myth.

What do most people don't understand, get wrong or underestimate about women's impact and influence in India's digital workforce?

To effectively support women at work, leaders should spend time listening to them, discovering their potential and providing more opportunities for them to take risks. This is sometimes misunderstood as a ‘privilege’ specially for women at work. On the contrary, it is the balance needed to reactively deal with the inequitable norms of society. Unfortunately, society came to be structured in a way where women are still left 'fighting for rights.’ More often than not, women have to explain themselves when they deserve a leadership position and when they seek more opportunities.

Women who are leaders in technical fields face a lot of resistance and bias. They are claimed to be weak and emotional. Being emotional is a part of being human and should be viewed as a powerful skill or characteristic. Being professional should not mean being a robot. 

Furthermore, there is a critical underestimation of the impact women are having on India's digital footprint and growth. In reality, women bring diverse, unique and valuable perspectives, and insights to the table that can help drive innovation and create more inclusive and effective digital solutions. By recognizing and supporting the contributions of women in tech, we create a successful digital workforce that efficiently serves the multi-faceted society we live in.

What are some of the biggest challenges that women (and underrepresented minorities) face in the tech industry, and how can they be addressed?

Women and underrepresented minorities face various challenges in the tech industry, including a lack of representation, which can make it difficult for them to feel included and to find role models and mentors who share their background and experiences. Bias and discrimination can create a hostile work environment for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech industry. This can include everything from subtle biases and microaggressions to outright discrimination and harassment. Women and underrepresented minorities often face barriers to career advancement in the tech industry, including limited access to networking opportunities, mentorship, and leadership development programs. The tech industry can be demanding, with long hours and high levels of stress. This can be particularly challenging for women and underrepresented minorities who may face additional pressures and responsibilities outside of work.

To address these challenges, senior leaders can take steps such as promoting diversity and inclusion by making it a priority in their hiring and promotion decisions, and by creating a culture that values and supports employees from all backgrounds. Leaders can train employees on unconscious gender bias, and make equality a strategic objective of the company. They should also offer opportunities for skill building, capacity development, and network growth opportunities to enable women to transition to higher-skilled roles. Creating an open and transparent line of communication also help women employees feel like they are a part of the organisation. Additionally, leaders also need to highlight the need for clear policies and procedures for addressing discrimination and harassment.

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

With the intent of making a positive impact, I have contributed to multiple open-source projects, including Talisman, a tool used to scan for sensitive data in code repositories. I really enjoy working with the open-source community and making software development accessible to everyone. When time permits, I also help with bug fixing, feature enhancement, and documentation improvements.

I have been actively involved in mentoring and coaching individuals through various programs. I'm a mentor with the Women's Web Network, where I help women build their skills and confidence to thrive in their careers. As a Diversity and Inclusion SME, I've also coached and mentored individuals in internal tech programs, promoting diversity and inclusion at Thoughtworks. I am a judge and mentor for the Technovation Families and Technovation Girls competitions – that encourage young girls to develop their coding and entrepreneurship skills. Apart from this, I have sponsored various women in leadership programs and strive in supporting the advancement of women in the workplace.

How did you navigate gender-related challenges and other forms of bias at work, and what advice would you give to others facing similar challenges? 


Common belief is gender inequality at the workplace predominantly has to do with unequal pay. However, gender inequality also manifests itself in the form of fewer opportunities for leadership positions, insensitive comments, and employer prejudices (subconscious and not). My advice would be to not let biases or stereotypes hold a person back, focus on strengths and work to develop your skills and abilities. For those experiencing bias or discrimination in the workplace, seek support and voice your concerns. Connecting with a strong network of people who understand what you are going through makes a huge difference. One could also try educating themselves on types of biases and discriminations – even before an incident happens. Stand up for yourself and others to create the inclusive and equitable workplace culture you want.

Not dealing with biases – subconscious and conscious, only leads to a continued lack of education and a prevailing hostile society, respectively. 

What advice would you give to women who aspire to leadership roles in the tech industry, particularly in India?

I would say, think strategically and be proactive. Cultivate the ability to balance detailed cross checking with big picture thinking as you progress in your career. Statistically speaking, women tend to be more careful with their decisions. I'd ask women to be more confident and take more risks at work. Build a network of mentors and peers who can help you navigate challenges in the tech industry. Focus on building skills and expertise, and advocate for yourself and your achievements at the workplace. This includes speaking up in meetings, sharing ideas and opinions, and taking credit for your work. Women should also actively challenge biases and stereotypes in the workplace by speaking up when they witness or experience bias or discrimination. I’d also suggest taking colleagues along with you in your journey/growth and provide support to the larger tech community. This is possible by persevering through business obstacles, networking at industry events, and generally being visible.

Jayesh Shinde
Jayesh Shinde

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