A Long Way to the Top
Neharika Vohra September 3, 2018
Are you a woman in the field of technology, feeling stuck or pressured and contemplating to give up? A male manager asked to diversify the workforce or one with many women on your team or the mentor of a bright woman who will be just another statistic in a leaky pipeline? A parent of a young girl and wondering if you should tell your daughter to take the beaten path because so few women are doing what your daughter wants to do? A husband who is unable to understand why your wife needs to work so hard? Well, here is a book that will motivate you and help you find some relevant answers.
Pratima Rao Gluckman has explored the unique journeys of 19 women from different parts of the world, all working in technology companies and many of them in leadership roles. In their interviews, all of them appreciated the early head start they had, thanks to a parent or a teacher, which got them to believe in themselves, and how the career interventions and the encouragement kept them challenging themselves. All of them related how they invested in themselves to learn the right skills and remain at the cutting edge. Better still, none felt discouraged for long when hit by a roadblock - there was always a way around it for moving ahead.
The women in this book, as in many books of this genre, speak about the importance of cultivating a network and negotiating with bosses, peers and family members about what they want and what they are willing to give in return. The enabling role of special institutions such as the Anita Borg Institute or the Women Who Code is also evident from their stories. The absence of role models in this space could make one want to give up, but that is why the importance of being a role model to the younger generation becomes a crucial responsibility.
Leadership also requires purposeful action that aligns with one's values and the collective good. The struggle people (both men and women) face when they step up from being producers/individual contributors is etched in many of these stories. The change in role requires new skills, including negotiating for the team, building emotional resilience, taking charge of others' careers and more. So, high-quality leadership training to deal with the well-known producer-versus-leader dilemma is necessary for the leap.
A theme that resonates and is most heartening in the stories is that these women are reflective and consciously trying to help other women. The takeaway: Women owe it to themselves and all those who invested in them and the future generations to make the best of their opportunities and contribute to their chosen fields. In India, where the percentage of working women is declining contrary to the global trend, the need for an enabling system is as critical as women's perseverance. We need more role models and more stories of real women who have managed to crack the proverbial glass ceiling.
Nevertheless... would have been more fulfilling if the stories were tighter and the author put in fewer comments. Allowing readers to make their inferences is always better than telling them what to look for. Some phrases stick, though, telling the truth succinctly. Years ago, when I first read Birute Regine's Iron Butterflies, the metaphor emerging from the stories of successful women just stuck and did so much of explaining. Here, too, it is a good attempt by a writer who is also a woman in tech. It is as much a personal journey for her as it has been for others featured in her book.