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Women In Tech: Shilpa Hiran, Senior Manager, Internal Audit, NetApp

NetApp, a leader in cloud data services, empowera global organisations to change their world with data. Their Women in Technology (WIT) division works towards fostering a culture of inclusiveness within and beyond NetApp

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It feels quite exciting and optimistic to write and hear about how leading corporations have been promulgating and addressing the issue of gender equality. One such organisation is NetApp, that has been really pro-active in providing equal opportunities to both genders. Our spokesperson for today’s section is Shilpa Hiran, Senior Manager, Internal Audit, NetApp, and NetApp India Women in Technology (WIT) Lead. Shilpa gives us a download of her stint at NetApp and also why she feels that the reliance on technology is ably justified.

Knowing that gender biases exist, how difficult is it to be a woman and thrive in your specific field?

The difficulties may differ based on the different stages of a woman’s career and is often dependent on how challenging the stakeholders are. Conscious and unconscious biases towards a woman’s ambitions are issues confronted in any male-dominated setting and the technology sector is no exception. The apprehension of speaking up in a room full of men, of showing your vulnerabilities, of being labelled as an emotional decision-maker are some factors that act as impediments to women’s progress in the workspace. When it comes to academics, studies show that almost 50% of toppers are women students. But this ratio does not translate into an equal, if not more, participation of women in the workforce. What’s even more concerning is this number reduces significantly as we reach the leadership levels. 

I also feel upbringing plays a major role in deciding what factors make it difficult for a woman to thrive. For instance, from a young age girls are taught to listen to others, not to be seen or heard. These can act as roadblocks later in life when we are required to build contacts or network strategically, two attributes crucial for professional success.

In my career, there have been times where people felt I did not add value because of my gender, age, or experience. How I’ve dealt with this is by relying on and backing myself up with data.  Surrounding myself with positive allies who help build my confidence and support me in my growth has been very effective too. 

What role do you think technology plays in contemporary times?

At NetApp, we have moved to digital and social selling wherein we are trying to build relationships not just with our existing customers but potential customers as well. As an industry and as a company, we are changing the way we conduct business by reaching out to our customers digitally, engaging them in our exchanges, and innovating together. All of this would have happened eventually, but has no doubt been accelerated by the current pandemic. 

In today’s world, we breathe, eat, and live technology. I can hardly think of any activity in my daily life that is independent of technology. It is definitely a boon. It helps us stay connected, both personally and professionally. It has made our work smarter, more efficient and location agnostic. A prime example of this is in the banking and finance sector, where we have applications on our phone that meet all our end-to-end banking requirements. Moving forward, technology will continue to enhance our lives, be it through voice-assisted home systems or commercial flights to outer space. 

Can we rely on technology solely to be the panacea for all problems? If so, how?

As I spoke about earlier, technology has no doubt enhanced our lives in multiple, life-changing ways. While technology is a great solution, it is not THE solution. I believe it is a means to innovate and find solutions, wherein some issues might require the innovation of new technologies, but others might not. 

For example, during these trying times, technology has helped us connect with others, and is aiding us in how we as a world are trying to fight this pandemic. However, it is up to us humans to make something meaningful out of that connection.

Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Machine Learning have helped us work faster and better by automating routine, mundane tasks, thus allowing us to focus more on other aspects such as customer connect and business partnering.

A majority of our functions like finance, procurement, HR, customer support, and IT are led by technology. Everything is online now, and technology has paved the way for these functions to be more than what they used to be. Hence technology, in many ways, helps us find solutions but their execution has to come from us. 

What are the immediate and long-term milestones for your company like?

NetApp has undergone a phenomenal transformation from storage hardware to SAAS to cloud data services. Our IT team has embraced DevOps to help with digital transformation, our product development team is focusing on the next generation software-defined storage, infrastructure, and application lifestyle management. Technology is our connective fiber and has aided our transformation such that we are no longer a hardware-only company. 

Our immediate milestones are helping combat the ongoing pandemic. Our teams are supporting the healthcare sector to deliver better information and care. We are also helping retail organizations manage their demand and shifting customer experiences. All of these organizations are vital and are turning to the cloud in order to scale their operations. 

Due to the pandemic, the pace of digital transformation is accelerating and many organizations today and, in the future, will look at DevOps to build agility and speed. NetApp plays a pivotal role here, as our entire portfolio of products- right from storage to services to cloud solutions- are designed around DevOps and cloud. Our recent initiative Project Astra, a vision for a software-defined platform that is currently in development with the Kubernetes community, is the icing on the cake, paving the way for a whole new vision of data management. 

Challenges are an inevitable part of the business. Could you highlight on some you had encountered?

Biases exist across industries and sectors, and many of us face it. These can be conscious and unconscious and based on various factors including gender, age, experiences, and backgrounds. It can be challenging to be a different voice especially for a woman in a room full of men. Women tend to be more empathetic and weave that into their working and leadership style. This female trait is sometimes thought to lead to poor decision making in business. Overcoming these biases and proving the value I bring to the table has been a constant challenge for me, but I have succeeded in overcoming them to a large extent.  

Being a risk professional, I mapped this as the biggest risk of my career and worked towards mitigating it. I realized that along with being good at the work your do, it is also imperative to have confidence in yourself and your capabilities, and to voice your thoughts with conviction even if they are different from what the majority thinks. I believe in the power of data in helping fight such issues. Before every meeting, I consciously process data, give a thought to what biases might exist in the room, and arm myself with the right facts and figures to prove my point. It takes time to attune yourself to this, but once you get into the rhythm it becomes easier to train yourself. 

How can we have more women joining the bandwagon?

I believe there are multiple ways and multiple stages in which this can be done. The first step must start at home. Parents have a responsibility to make their girls self-reliant and confident. 

When it comes to corporates, there are several things that can be done to support, encourage and empower women in their professional journeys. One great way to do this is to have initiatives in place that encourage young women to take up STEM. As a part of our Women in Tech chapter in NetApp, we provide sponsorships to young girls to pursue engineering degree. We also organize sessions where we equip them with the skills they need to enter and thrive in the corporate world.

Prioritizing mentoring and sponsorship of women employees is another great way to for professional development and can be used to create a pool of potential leaders within the organization. Such initiatives are critical in helping mentees learn the ropes, make crucial connections, gain rich perspectives, and move forward in their careers. I have had some great mentors who have turned out to be the biggest positive force in shaping my career. Today, more and more organizations are embracing such programs, which tells me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Lastly, forums or networking opportunities are helpful in making women open up, support each other, and build a vibrant community to lead the change. I like to think that this will offer the same change that we hope to bring about with the vaccine for the pandemic. First, we build our own immunity and then collectively create a herd immunity as well.

Such efforts can help bring in a shift in our mindsets through an increased representation of women – in forums, leadership roles and boardrooms – who can be positive role models and inspire future generations. 

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