Indian-American Women in Tech: Their Inspirations, and Inspiring Others

Preetam Kaushik

With job opportunities in the tech industry set to grow exponentially in the imminent future, it is essential that women make their presence felt in the sector. According to a poll jointly conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, 49 percent of American women are their family’s primary breadwinners, and the lack of women in the tech arena means these families are losing out big. This underscores the urgent need to set in motion initiatives that can improve gender equality and diversity in the tech sector. While there are outstanding women achievers who are playing influential roles in shaping the future of tech, there is still a long way to go to ensure that the young girls of today turn into confident tech leaders of tomorrow. Here are the stories of three successful women in tech who have gone against the tide every step of the way and scaled new heights to serve as role models for the next generation.

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan: Storming the Male Tech Bastion

Heading an organization named by the Inc. 5000 conference as the fastest-growing woman-led company, a PhD from Stanford, coming up with an algorithm for NASA’s space shuttle to Pluto, being featured on Forbes’ list of Top 50 women in tech—it is the stuff that dreams are made of. But the path to the top was not easy for Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, founder of Drawbridge, a company that uses a complex algorithm to understand how people interact with ads online and across various interfaces. Born in a typical South Indian family, albeit settled in Mumbai, the emphasis at home was on high-quality education with special focus on science and mathematics. Thus, quite early on, Sivaramakrishnan was on her way to stirring up a storm in the male-dominated techie world. An uphill task all the way, and the lack of women role models did not help!

In an interview to Yourstory.com, she speaks of her experience when she first joined AdMob. “When I first joined, I was the only woman on the team. Startups typically attract people who are very ambitious, somewhat of a misfit in other companies, who want to create an impact, be creative and entrepreneurial. This profile typically belongs to the old boys of the game,” says Sivaramakrishnan. Her advice to women wishing to make a mark in the tech world is to “be comfortable with the uncomfortable”.

Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran: Recognizing the Need for a Strong Support System

Having been brought up in India before moving to the United States for higher education, Anjali "Ann" Ramakumaran knows what it takes to climb the ladder of success bit by bit. Founder and CEO of Ampcus, which has been nominated among the 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies for eight consecutive years, Ramakumaran has been involved in designing, creating, and delivering leading-edge technology solutions and human capital management all over the world. In her Q&A with WBENC, she stresses the importance of role models and mentorship, citing her own example. Ramakumaran names her parents as pillars of support and role models who did not set any limits on what she could achieve. She credits them, her first boss Gitanjali, and her husband for enabling her to reach for her goals. Being the mother of a young daughter and three sons, Ramakumaran knows well the challenges before the next generation.

Thus, her advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs is not surprising. “It is important to stay focused, remain patient, and be persistent. You need to remain confident about your vision, even in the face of adversity, as your passion will lead to success. Also, be prepared to work hard and surround yourself with like-minded people who support your vision. Finally, always believe in yourself, your people and your business. By investing back into your people, processes and infrastructure, you will continue to lay the groundwork for success.” One of few women and minority-owned companies, Ampcus has been expanding at a rate of 40 percent, with employee retention at a whopping 94 percent. Besides providing internship opportunities, Ampcus is involved with mentoring and guiding young girls in science, tech, engineering, art, and math Astra Women’s Business Alliance S.T.E.A.M initiative.

Komal Mangtani: Pursuing Your Passion

From paying by the hour for computer time to running the business intelligence division at Uber, Komal Mangtani has had an eventful journey. Hailing from a socially conservative family, Mangtani took to coding as a means of escaping social norms and gaining her independence. Soon, though, coding became second nature and a mentally stimulating challenge for the young Mangtani. No surprise then that she is now on the advisory board of Women Who Code! She was also instrumental in facilitating Uber’s $1.2 million donation and partnership with Girls Who Code to widen the reach of computer science. An estimated 60,000 girls from across the country will benefit from learning these technical skills right from an early age. Uber employees will also be roped in to host coding workshops as well as numerous other mentoring programs for young girls. All this has ensured that Mangtani is firmly ensconced on the Forbes’ list of top 50 women in tech.

In an interview to Girls Who Code, asked about why she thought women need to have a greater presence in tech, this is what Mangtani had to say, “Women bring a diversity of mindset, of thought. They bring a unique perspective to problems which emerges from their own unique experiences. For any company, having an equal number of women in their workforce broadens the cognitive ability of their employees and becomes a competitive advantage for their business.” Urging young coders to not see coding as a separate segment but rather as a foundation for auxiliary growth in any field, Mangtani suggests aligning personal interests (even if it is in arts, fashion or something similar) with technology.

With women holding only about 25 percent of computing jobs and a miniscule 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley, it is imperative that immediate steps be taken to bridge this gender gap. A shortfall of women in the tech industry acts as a deterrent to young women who might be aspiring to join the sector primarily due to the absence of a support system and role models. This is where individuals like Shivaramakrishnan, Ramakumaran, and Mangtani and their success stories assume significance. Getting girls off to an early start, mentoring them, and letting them know that there is nothing to fear in using tech to create a better future is a huge leap towards bringing about gender equality in the sector.