In a sign of the times, the organization that speaks for and champions India’s $167 billion IT services industry will soon get its first female head.
Intel Corp. veteran Debjani Ghosh takes over as president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies in April — three decades after its formation. After a two-decade career at the U.S. chipmaker, most recently as managing director for South Asia, Ghosh will lead the trade body that represents global leaders in software outsourcing from Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. to Infosys Ltd.
Ghosh promises to advocate for women in a workplace that remains male-dominated. Her appointment underscores how the local industry is waking up to a gender imbalance that plagues the global technology sector, starting with its epicenter of Silicon Valley, and has resulted in harassment and discrimination at all levels.
Ghosh, also an angel investor in a number of startups, argued that changes in the executive suite and mindsets are needed for a level playing field. India’s IT services sector employs about four million skilled workers and nearly a third of those are women. But that imbalance becomes starker the higher up the rungs one goes: none of India’s largest IT services companies have ever been headed by a female. Part of the problem is talent drain, she said in an interview.
“Things have to change. We have to check talented, capable women dropping out,” said Ghosh, who featured prominently during Nasscom’s annual conference, which is wrapping up Wednesday in Hyderabad. “Leakages are the challenge and I want to focus on how to fix that.”
According to a 2017 Nasscom study called “Women and IT – Scorecard,” technology companies face the significant problem of retaining women after maternity leave. For men and women starting their careers at the same age, women progress slower and men in senior positions are often younger than women at a similar level, the study found after surveying 55 companies.
“The pipeline is clearly not the problem since engineering colleges have seen gender parity in enrollments for years,” Ghosh said during the three-day conference.
Ghosh takes up her role at a critical time for a sector that contributes about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. She’ll represent an industry transforming itself from low-paid legacy work such as maintaining computer systems, and getting into newer technologies from the cloud to artificial intelligence. She’ll help Nasscom’s 2,400-plus members grapple with controversial issues such as hiring, which is flattening due to the onset of automation, and the likelihood of more layoffs. India’s IT sector is also grappling with the challenge of immigration barriers in its largest market, the U.S.
But in some ways, her very appointment is already regarded as a victory.
“The industry needs more role models,” said Sangeeta Gupta, a senior vice president at Nasscom. “Debjani is a signal that the tide is turning.”