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What India-trained women could do to succeed in Australia’s tech sector

Women of Indian descent impress with their skills and commitment, but must learn to align to Australian values and behaviours

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Australia is seen as a favoured destination for professionals trained in STEM / digital technologies from Indian universities. Many of those who come here are women with young families. A substantial portion of them land corporate jobs – as can be seen by the number of people from the subcontinent in the CBD during weekdays. A wonderful start, you might think, to a satisfying career for Indian women in tech after moving countries.

But the picture might not be all that rosy.

One particular challenge is now coming to the forefront of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives being rolled out across a number of organisations. It is one which, in all probability, comes down to socialisation – ie, the process of learning expected norms and customs of society, through social interaction.

Generally speaking, women from the subcontinent are conditioned to remain in the background, not brag about their achievements, or be loud in public. They are discouraged from challenging their elders, or superiors. Even if a girl is given the same experiences as her brothers in the home, stepping out into the wider community means she must conform to societal expectations of how women are to behave.

Once these women commence jobs in the Australian corporate world, they are expected to align to Australian values and behaviours – from talking about their achievements, to speaking up in meetings, demonstrating confidence and openly challenging their superiors (in a respectful and professional manner). However, for many women, making this leap is a hurdle that is quite challenging to achieve. There is a cognitive dissonance that needs to be overcome – and unless the women are taught how, this remains a fundamental problem at an individual level.

While the women are seen as smart, talented and hard-working, a lack of confidence is often cited as the reason for the women missing out on leadership opportunities. Further, addressing cultural concerns in the workplace is seen as fraught with hidden dangers – where the majority do not want to risk being seen as prejudiced, or worse, racist. This double-edged sword then means that not only are women not told of limiting behaviours and mindsets, they are also not taught how to overcome some of these constraints.

So how can this be addressed in the Australian workplace?  By having leadership programs aimed at uplifting the confidence and behaviours of all women, not just Indian women in tech.

Here are 5 ways that all women could uplift their leadership behaviours.

  1. Speak up in meetings, and be visible, with your camera on. Even if you are an introvert, it’s important to have your voice heard. This means in meetings, challenge yourself to speak up with a question, or comments, at least once. If that is a stretch, try to at least say hello to the host when joining a meeting.
  2. Polish your verbal and presentation communication skills. From your emails, to your presentation documents – every artefact reflects your brand. Make sure all your communication is polished and professional.
  3. Understand your brand. What are you known for? Find out by asking your colleagues, then work on the behaviours and practices that need to be addressed. We all have blind spots – seek to know what these are, and address them.
  4. Always be the first to express gratitude, and shine a light on the achievements of others. You are not doing this to be transactional, but because when others succeed, you do, too.
  5. Learn to talk about your achievements. Understand the difference between bragging and talking about your achievements in a factual manner. You might think you’re bragging, but there is a significant difference between boasting, and talking about the facts of your accomplishments.

If you are a people leader, here are two things you can do to support women.

  1. Take the time to listen to them – and invite them to speak up in meetings. Always make a point of inviting the quietest team member to contribute to the discussion.
  2. When a woman discusses an idea, acknowledge this – do not continue the conversation as though the woman never even spoke up.

Having coaching and mentoring offered as a leadership uplift program – for all women – means that women of Indian descent will also benefit. Lack of confidence and reluctance to speak in the workplace applies to all women – and addressing this head on means that everyone benefits.

Indian women in tech have the necessary skills to do well in Australia. They might however lack the confidence to showcase the best of their talent. Luckily, this is something that can be addressed – and with the right leadership program as part of an organisation’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, Australian technology companies should be able to have female leaders running them – the same way that Indian males are running Silicon Valley companies.

The writer is an Indian origin leader at a well-known Australian organisation  

SALMA SHAH
SALMA SHAH
Salma is an Indian-origin leader at a well-known Australian organisation

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