India is a hot destination for skilled labour; yet, amid the burgeoning workforce there remains ample opportunity to build pipelines of talent and leadership among women and people with disabilities (PwD). In such an environment, IBM India has been making its mark as an employer of choice for these diverse groups. In fact, IBM India won the NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies) Corporate Award for Excellence in Gender Inclusivity in 2008.
At IBM, inclusivity is a long-term commitment that began in 1935 with the company’s equal pay policy for men and women. Following the global heritage of many firsts in diversity, IBM India has developed many initiatives that drive inclusivity in the workplace, and also lay a strong foundation for career success for women and people with disabilities.
For example, IBMer Suparna Bhattacharya was the first person in India to become a Senior Technical Staff Member, a huge achievement for any technologist at IBM. Suparna, the first woman executive in India, hails from the IBM India Software Labs. Hari Raghavan, Solution Manager, Banking, visually challenged, won the Helen Keller award in 2008, for being, “a disabled person who has been an active ambassador for the cause of employment for disabled people, and is a positive role model for others." He also says that at IBM, demonstrating diversity is a company value, and not simply a charitable act or event.
Empowering women at IBM
Consider Kalpana Margabandhu, IBM Director for WebSphere Development. With over 25 years of industry experience, Kalpana leads the WebSphere mission in IBM India's Software Lab. She also leads Adapters, WPG (WebSphere Partner Gateway), WDI (WebSphere Data Interchange) and AIM (Application Integration Management) development in India. She was chairperson of the IBM Indian Women’s Leadership Council (IWLC) from its inception until 2009, driving various initiatives to enhance the technical, professional and personal development of women employees at IBM India.
Hard work, focus on excellence and a positive attitude are Kalpana's motto for success. Kalpana identifies being accepted as the single largest challenge to leadership in a predominantly male work environment. "Though it may take some time, if a woman has the required competence, and the will to stand up for it, she will be accepted as the leader," she adds.
When asked for her advice to other women employees, Kalpana states, “IBM provides employees with an excellent support system and invests strongly in individual career development. It is in our interest to use it to help ourselves grow. The best advice I have is—you can do it. The confidence my managers and extended teams had in me has helped me grow.”
Mangala Gowri, IBM Research staff member from India Research Laboratory says, “IBM is one of the few organizations that has a technical ladder. I really enjoy research and developing innovative tools and solutions to real problems.” Challenging the notion of the "glass ceiling ", Mangala adds, “Competence is the most important factor in breaking the glass ceiling, and getting ahead, especially for women. Anyone who is good at his/her job is unstoppable.”
Enabling IBMers with disabilities
Murali C. Sharma is a young, high achieving IT professional who is also an enthusiastic volunteer with On Demand Community, IBM’s worldwide volunteer program. He works with visually challenged people, and is also a NCPEDP (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People) Helen Keller Award winner. Murali is also part of the IBM Corporate Service Corp (US) team, engaged in socio-economic projects in Vietnam.
Visually challenged himself, Murali has not only overcome his physical challenge to make his mark in life, but is a source of encouragement and support for those around him who are challenged. Summing up his career at IBM, Murali says, “I never felt that I am a disabled employee. In fact at IBM, none of my colleagues or managers has ever made me feel different. When they don’t see any weakness in me, there is no question of sympathy. They always see abilities in me, as I do see positives in whoever I meet.”
Murali is happy to see more PwDs (People with disabilities) being accommodated across IBM India. He worked on the RESO (Real Estate Site Operations) accessibility study with a team of "EnABLErs" (a networking group of PwDs at IBM India) and proposed several ideas for making all IBM buildings completely accessible. Murali adds: “It gives me immense pleasure to know that I am a valuable employee.”
Moving ahead, IBM India will continue to provide employees with a level playing field so that excellence and achievement are the only criteria for success.