Us computer scientist Anita Borg believed women were crucial to building technology the world needs. She began a digital mission of connecting women in computing and technology around the world and founded the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) in 1997.
Today, ABI is connected to women technologists, academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies in 54 countries. As a social enterprise, ABI recognises women who are making positive contributions and advises organisations on how to improve their performances by building more inclusive teams. ABI partners include CISCO, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, among others.
ABI Bangalore has been addressing the gender issue in technology in India in its own way, right from the grassroot level for the past five years. The India operations are helmed by Geetha Kannan, who is the India Managing Director and Kritika Murugesan, who is the Accounts Director.
The Bangalore-based institute has touched the lives of thousands of women involved in computing and technology. Disturbed by the fact that most girls studying in engineering colleges do not take up jobs, the ABI has been engaging with and supporting the next generation of women computer scientists and engineers and encouraging them to pursue a life-long career in the technology field by taking their motivational programme to tier-2 and -3 cities.
Geeta Kannan says, “The entry numbers to engineering colleges in India are more compared to the US, but we are losing them at two stages: either they don’t pursue a career after graduating or they quit after 4-5 years of working. We are losing a heavy talent pool of women in technology especially when they become busy with motherhood. Lot more sensitisation is needed to bring them back to the workplace.”
Speaking of her own professional journey, Kannan, who spent the first few years of her career in sales and marketing at Infosys, says, “In the 16 years with Infosys, I was fortunate to witness the phenomenal growth and historic milestones of the company. This also gave me the opportunity to work in several roles and functions,” she says. “From leading the E-commerce business to holding key responsibilities under the Corporate HR function, I made my transition into HR and began the close association with workplace diversity. The growing technology sector in India was also a compelling factor and ABI needed someone to represent and drive their presence in India,” says Kannan, who started working for ABI India in August 2013.
ABI works through annual conferences, workshops, scholarships, awards and get-togethers. The institute has been working to bring the research and career interests of women in technology to the forefront. By providing aspiring women engineers and computer scientists with role models, helping them connect, the institute motivates these women. It also works with organisations to help change their workplace culture and be more inclusive.
Talking about her experience with ABI, Shalini Pillai Banerjee from BrandIdea says, “ABI not just enables, supports and nurtures the rare breed of woman entrepreneur but also makes it possible for hundreds of woman to believe in themselves and take the leap.” Mausmi Ambastha from Intellocut, who won the ABI’s annual Women Entrepreneurship Quest award last year, agrees. “Start-ups are tough and it means a lot when you get national recognition for your product. WEQ provides a huge cash prize and an amazing networking opportunity, the most important fuel in a business start-up. We are now in seven geographies in the world. They have been an important part of my start-up journey,” says Ambastha.
One of the ways in which ABI supports their community is through the Grace Hopper Celebration Conference which is the largest gathering of women (corporate professionals, entrepreneurs and students)in computing and technology in India.
The preparation for the Grace Hopper’s conference is a huge democratic process and it starts six months in advance. There is no membership fee and since its inception, the participation has increased from 500 to 1,600. Kritika Murugesan, who has worked in Nasscom as well as in public relations for 8 years, says, “Last year, the participation was encouraging with 60 people from Chennai, 240 from Bangalore and 987 from Hyderabad. Women had come from places such as Warangal and Tirupati.”
ABI works across platforms with mentors teaching women, guiding them about technology issues and product aspects. “Women in technology are on par with men in every sphere. Women tend to lose out on the personal front and we help them by initiating the best practices through our technology executive forums. We give them a platform to interact with other leaders and get strength from the community—300 women leaders at mid to top level management positions. Companies are comfortable working with us, it is a journey of intent and bringing together of skill on a single platform,” says Murugesan.