The Hands that Rock the Cradle, also Crack the Code

Sumit Ganguli

On February 18, 2021, I was attending a video conference, with my laptop perched on my standing desk while I was furtively stealing a glance at the TV in my study. I was excitedly keeping up with the Perseverance Rover that was about to land at the Mars. I was mesmerized by space odyssey and was nervous about the ‘seven minutes of terror’ –  when the engineers overseeing the landing would not be able to guide or direct the Perseverance landing as it would take a while to establish or send any communication from Earth to Mars. Hence, the rover would have to perform a landing by itself, with no human guidance involved.

During this time, I thought I saw a masked lady with a ‘bindi’ on her forehead at the NASA control room who was, in her well-modulated American accented voice, giving us a live update of the Rover.

And since that day, Swati Mohan has been all over the news. We have got to know that Mohan was born in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, and emigrated to the United States when she was one year old. She became interested in space upon seeing Star Trek at age 9. She studied Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, and did her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Swati Mohan is the lead for the Navigation and Controls (GN&C) Operations for the Mars project. She led the attitude control system of Mars 2020 during operations and was the lead systems engineer throughout development. She played a pivotal part in the landing which was rather tricky.

This led me to ruminate about women and how they have challenged stereotypes and status quo to blaze the trail, especially in STEM.

I have been fascinated from the time I got to know that the first programmer in the world was a woman, and daughter of the famed poet, Lord Byron, no less. The first Programmer in the World, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace nee Byron; was born in 1815 and was the only legitimate child of the poet laureate, Lord Byron, and his wife Annabella. 

As a teenager, Ada’s prodigious mathematical talents, led her to have British mathematician Charles Babbage, as her mentor. Babbage is known as ‘the father of computers’. Ada translated an article on the Analytical Engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes, simply called Notes. These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Six women—Francis “Betty” Snyder Holberton, Betty “Jean” Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, and Frances Bilas Spence were associated with the programming of the first computer ENIAC. They had no documentation and no schematics to work with. There was no language, no operating system, the women had to figure out what the computer was, and then break down a complicated mathematical problem into very small steps that the ENIAC could then perform.  They physically hand-wired the machine, using switches, cables, and digit trays to route data and program pulses. This might have been a very complicated and arduous task. So, these six women were the programmers for the world’s mainframe computers.

The story goes that on February 14, 1946 The ENIAC was announced as a modern marvel in the US. There was praise and publicity for the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, the inventors of ENIAC the first computer, Eckert and Mauchly were heralded as geniuses. However, none of the key programmers, all the women were not introduced in the event. Some of the women appeared in photographs later, but everyone assumed they were just models, perfunctorily placed to embellish the photograph.

One of the six programmers, Betty Holberton went on to invent the first sort routine and help design the first commercial computers, the UNIVAC and the BINAC, alongside Jean Jennings. These were the first commercial mainframe computers in the world.

It behooves us to walk down the pages of history and read about women who had during their time decided to #choosetochallenge and celebrate the likes of Swati Mohan who have grown tall on the shoulders of the first women programmers.

About the Author –

Sumit brings over 20 years of rich experience in the international IT and BPO sectors. Prior to GAVS, he served as a member of the Governing Council at a publicly-traded (NASDAQ) IT and BPO company for over six years, where he led strategic consulting, IP and M&A operations.

He has managed global sales and handled several strategic accounts for the company. He has an Advanced Professional Certificate (APC) in Finance from Stern School of Management, NYU, and is a Post Graduate in Management from IIM. He has attended the Owners President Management Program (OPM 52) at HBS and is pursuing a Doctorate in Business Administration at the LeBow School of Business, Drexel University.

He has served as an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers State University, New Jersey teaching International Business. He speaks at various industry forums and is involved in philanthropic initiatives like Artha Forum.

#EmpathyChallenge – 3 Simple Ways to Practice Empathy Consciously

Padma Ravichandran

A pertinent question for the post COVID workforce is, can empathy be learnt? Should it be practiced only by the leaders, or by everyone – can it be seamlessly woven into the fabric of the organization? We are seeing that dynamics at play for remote teams is little unpredictable, making each day uniquely challenging. Empathy is manifested through mindful behaviours, where one’s action is recognized as genuine, personal, and specific to the situation. A few people can be empathetic all the time, a few, practice it consciously, and a few are unaware of it.

Empathy is a natural human response that can be practiced by everyone at work for nurturing an environment of trust. We often confuse empathy for sympathy – while sympathy is feeling sorry for one’s situation, empathy is understanding one’s feelings and needs, and putting the effort to offer authentic support. It requires a shift in perspective, and building trust, respect, and compassion at a deeper level. As Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft says, “Empathy is a muscle that needs to be exercised.”

Here are three ways to consciously practice empathy at work –

  • Going beyond yourself

It takes a lot to forget how we feel that day, or what is priority for us. However, to be empathetic, one needs to be less judgemental. When one is consciously practicing empathy, one needs to be patient with yourself, your thoughts, and not compare yourself with the person you are empathizing with. If we get absorbed by our own needs, it gets difficult to be generous and compassionate. We need to remember empathy leads to influence and respect, and for that we should not get blind sighted by our perceptions.

  • Being a mindful and intentional listener

While practicing empathy, one has refrain from criticism, and be mindful of not talking about one’s problems. We may get sympathetic and give unsolicited advice. Sometimes it only takes to be an intentional listener, by avoiding distractions, and having a very positive body language, and demeanour. This will enable us to ask right questions and collaborate towards a solution.

  • Investing in the person

Very often, we support our colleagues and co-workers by responding to their email requests. However, by building positive workplace relationships, and knowing the person beyond his/her email id, makes it much easier to foster empathy. Compassion needs to be not just in words, but in action too, and that can happen only by knowing the person. Taking interest in a co-worker or a team member, beyond a professional capability, does not come out of thin air. It takes conscious continuous efforts to get to know the person, showing care and concern, which will help us to relate to the myriad challenges they go through – be it chronic illness, child care that correlates to his/her ability to engaged at work. It will enable us to personalize the experience, and see the person’s point of view, holistically.

When we take that genuine interest in how we make others feel and experience, we start mindfully practicing empathy. Empathy fosters respect. Empathy helps resolves conflicts better, empathy builds stronger teams, empathy inspires one another to work towards collective goals, and empathy breaks authority. Does it take that extra bit of time to consciously practice it? Yes, but it is all worth it.

References

About the Author –

Padma is intrigued by Organization Culture and Behavior at workplace that impact employee experience. She is also passionate about driving meaningful initiatives for enabling women to Lean In, along with her fellow Sheroes. She enjoys reading books, journaling, yoga and learning more about life through the eyes of her 8-year-old son.

Balancing Management Styles for a Remote Workforce

Ashish Joseph

Operational Paradigm Shift

The pandemic has indeed impelled organizations to rethink the way they approach traditional business operations. The market realigned businesses to adapt to the changing environment and optimize their costs. For the past couple of months, nearly every organization implemented work for home as a mandate. This shift in operations had both highs and lows in terms of productivity. Almost a year into the pandemic, the impacts are yet to be fully understood. The productivity realized from the remote workers, month on month, shaped the policies and led to investments in different tools that aided collaboration between teams. 

Impact on Delivery Centers

Technology companies have been leading the charge towards remote working as many have adopted permanent work from home options for their employees. While identifying cost avenues for optimization, office space allocation and commuting costs are places where redundant operational cash flow can be invested to other areas for scaling.

The availability and speed of internet connections across geographies have aided the transformation of office spaces for better utilization of the budget. Considering the current economy, office spaces are becoming expensive and inefficient. The Annual Survey by JLL Enterprises in 2020 reveals that organizations spend close to $10,000 on global office real estate cost per employee per year on an average. As offices have adopted social distancing policies, the need for more space per employee would result in even higher costs during these pandemic operations. To optimize their budgets, companies have reduced their allocation spaces and introduced regional contractual sub-offices to reduce the commute expenses of their employees in the big cities. 

With this, the notion of a 9-5 job is slowly being depleted and people have been paid based on their function rather than the time they spend at work. The flexibility of working hours while linking their performance to their delivery has seen momentum in terms of productivity per resource. An interesting fact that arose out of this pandemic economy is that the number of remote workers in a country is proportional to the country’s GDP. A work from home survey undertaken by The Economist in 2020 finds that only 11% of work from home jobs can be done in Cambodia, 37% in America, and 45% in Switzerland. 

The fact of the matter is that a privileged minority has been enjoying work from home for the past couple of months. While a vast majority of the semi-urban and rural population don’t have the infrastructure to support their functional roles. For better optimization and resource utilization, India would need to invest heavily in these resources to catch up on the deficit GDP from the past couple of quarters.

Long-term work from home options challenges the foundational fabric of our industrial operations. It can alter the shape and purpose of cities, change workplace gender distribution and equality. Above all, it can change how we perceive time, especially while estimating delivery. 

Overall Pulse Analysis

Many employees prefer to work from home as they can devote extra time to their family. While this option has been found to have a detrimental impact on organizational culture, creativity, and networking. Making decisions based on skewed information would have an adverse effect on the culture, productivity, and attrition. 

To gather sufficient input for decisions, PWC conducted a remote work survey in 2020 called “When everyone can work from home, what’s the office for“. Here are some insights from the report

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Many businesses have aligned themselves to accommodate both on-premise and remote working model. Organizations need to figure out how to better collaborate and network with employees in ways to elevate the organization culture. 

As offices are slowly transitioning to a hybrid model, organizations have decentralized how they operate. They have shifted from working in a common centralized office to contractual office spaces as per employee role and function, to better allocate their operational budget. The survey found that 72% of the workers would like to work remotely at least 2 days a week. This showcases the need for a hybrid workspace in the long run. 

Maintaining & Sustaining Productivity

During the transition, keeping a check on the efficiency of remote workers was prime. The absence of these checks would jeopardize the delivery, resulting in a severe impact on customer satisfaction and retention.

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This number however, could be far less if the scale of the survey was higher. This in turn signifies that productivity is not uniform and requires course corrective action to maintain the delivery. An initial approach from an employee’s standpoint would result in higher results. The measures to help remote workers be more productive were found to be as follows.

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Many employees point out that greater flexibility of working hours and better equipment would help increase work productivity.

Most of the productivity hindrances can be solved by effective employee management. How a particular manager supervises their team members has a direct correlation towards their productivity and satisfaction to the project delivery. 

Theory X & Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y were introduced by Douglas McGregor in his book, “The Human Side of Enterprise”. He talks about two styles of management in his research – Authoritarian (Theory X) and Participative (Theory Y). The theory heavily believes that Employee Beliefs directly influence their behavior in the organization. The approach that is taken by the organization will have a significant impact on the ability to manage team members. 

For theory X, McGregor speculates that “Without active intervention by management, people would be passive, even resistant to organizational needs. They must therefore be persuaded, rewarded, punished, controlled and their activities must be directed”

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Work under this style of management tends to be repetitive and motivation is done based on a carrot and stick approach. Performance Appraisals and remuneration are directly correlated to tangible results and are often used to control staff and keep tabs on them. Organizations with several tiers of managers and supervisors tend to use this style. Here authority is rarely delegated, and control remains firmly centralized. 

Even though this style of management may seem outdated, big organizations find it unavoidable to adopt due to the sheer number of employees on the payroll and tight delivery deadlines.

When it comes to Theory Y, McGregor firmly believes that objectives should be arranged so that individuals can achieve their own goals and happily accomplish the organization’s goal at the same time.

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Organizations that follow this style of management would have an optimistic and positive approach to people and problems. Here the team management is decentralized and participative.

Working under such organizational styles bestow greater responsibilities on employees and managers encourage them to develop skills and suggest areas of improvement. Appraisals in Theory Y organizations encourage open communication rather than to exercise control. This style of management has been popular these days as it results in employees wanting to have a meaningful career and looking forward to things beyond money.

Balancing X over Y

Even though McGregor suggests that Theory Y is better than Theory X. There are instances where managers would need to balance the styles depending upon how the team function even post the implementation of certain management strategies. This is very important from a remote working context as the time for intervention would be too late before it impacts the delivery. Even though Theory Y comprises creativity and discussion in its DNA, it has its limitations in terms of consistency and uniformity. An environment with varying rules and practices could be detrimental to the quality and operational standards of an organization. Hence maintaining a balance is important.

When we look at a typical cycle of Theory X, we can find that the foundational beliefs result in controlling practices, appearing in employee resistance which in turn delivers poor results. The results again cause the entire cycle to repeat, making the work monotonous and pointless. 

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Upon the identification of resources that require course correction and supervision, understanding the root cause and subsequently adjusting your management style to solve the problem would be more beneficial in the long run. Theory X must only be used in dire circumstances requiring a course correction. The balance where we need to maintain is on how far we can establish control to not result in resistance which in turn wouldn’t impact the end goal.

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Theory X and Theory Y can be directly correlated to Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs. The reason why Theory Y is superior to Theory X is that it focuses on the higher needs of the employee than their foundational needs. The theory Y managers gravitate towards making a connection with their team members on a personal level by creating a healthier atmosphere in the workplace. Theory Y brings in a pseudo-democratic environment, where employees can design, construct and publish their work in accordance with their personal and organizational goals.

When it comes to Theory X and Theory Y, striking a balance will not be perfect. The American Psychologist Bruce J Avolio, in his paper titled “Promoting more integrative strategies for leadership theory-building” speculates, “Managers who choose the Theory Y approach have a hands-off style of management. An organization with this style of management encourages participation and values an individual’s thoughts and goals. However, because there is no optimal way for a manager to choose between adopting either Theory X or Theory Y, it is likely that a manager will need to adopt both approaches depending on the evolving circumstances and levels of internal and external locus of control throughout the workplace”.

The New Normal 3.0

As circumstances keep changing by the day, organizations need to adapt to the rate at which the market is changing to envision new working models that take human interactions into account as well. The crises of 2020 made organizations build up their workforce capabilities that are critical for growth. Organizations must relook at their workforce by reskilling them in different areas of digital expertise as well as emotional, cognitive, and adaptive skills to push forward in our changing world.

About the Author –

Ashish Joseph is a Lead Consultant at GAVS working for a healthcare client in the Product Management space. His areas of expertise lie in branding and outbound product management.

He runs two independent series called BizPective & The Inside World, focusing on breaking down contemporary business trends and Growth strategies for independent artists on his website www.ashishjoseph.biz

Outside work, he is very passionate about basketball, music, and food.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Pandemic to Kickstart your Technology Career in 2021

Jane Aboyoun, CIO, SCO Family of Services

Life is not without its ironies. While the pandemic turbo-charged our dependence on technology for day-to-day activities like never before, it also clarified the importance as a leader to be thoughtful and strategic – to take a step back before leaping into the fray.  Here are 5 lessons that helped me navigate the COVID crises that I believe we can all benefit from carrying forward into 2021 and beyond.

  1.  Slow Down to Speed Up

The necessity of responding effectively to COVID-19 as a Tech Chief compelled me to use my expertise to quickly identify technology solutions that would have an impact for my clients.  While responsiveness in an uncertain climate is essential, it’s actually a strong technology foundation that allows agility and creates ballast for organizations looking to gain competitive advantage in uncertain times.  

Lesson #1 is therefore that while it may not be as inspiring as the latest app, focusing on the “blocking and tackling” and building a strong technology foundation enables agility and re-invention.  As a CIO, I constantly balance possible change opportunities with the readiness of my clients to accept that change. Knowing how far to push my clients is a key part of my role. Just because a technology is available, doesn’t always mean it’s right for them.  Always consider how a new technology fits within the foundation.

  1. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

My role as the CTO of the New York Public Library proved to be a great training ground in how to manage the complexity of upgrading infrastructure, moving applications to the cloud, and building a digital repository. I devised a three-part strategy for the transformation. First, I had to upgrade the aging infrastructure. Second, I had to move the infrastructure and the applications into the cloud, to improve our resiliency, security, and functionality. The third was to figure out how to preserve the library’s physical assets which were expiring from age. We decided to digitize the assets to permanently preserve them. Within 5 years, the repository had over a Petabyte of assets in it and was continuing to grow. These resulted in a world-class computing environment, moving a beloved, trusted, public city library into the digital 21st century that can be accessed by future generations.  Lesson # 2 – the secret to our success at NYPL was that the technology platforms and applications we used were all developed by best-of-breed providers.  We recognized that we were in the data business rather than the R&D business, and as such, didn’t build anything ourselves.  Instead, we took pride in working with and learning from industry leaders.

  1. Future-Proof Your Thinking

The pace of change is so much more rapid than it was even five years ago. Being able to recognize that the landscape is evolving, pivot at speed, and adopt new technology within the organization is now an essential skillset for technology leaders.  I am personally excited about the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) and the data that is being collected at the edge which will be enhanced by 5G capabilities. Also, AI and ML are on the cusp of making a ‘next level’ leap. I think there are lots of good applications of it, we just need to figure out how to use them responsibly.  Lesson # 3 is that as a technology leader, we need to be constantly looking around corners and to remain open-minded and curious about what’s next.  It is important for all leaders and aspiring leaders to ask questions; to challenge the status quo. 

  1. The Human Factor Remains a Top Priority

New technology comes with its own set of challenges. I believe the issue of privacy and security to be the most pressing. Data is being collected everywhere and often has proved to be more valuable that the platform it sits on. Hence, it is paramount to understand evolving data and privacy standards, as well as how to secure it and identify breaches. Then there are also moral and ethical issues around AI. While the opportunities are limitless, it is of utmost importance that we maintain our moral and democratic compass and that we apply technology in a way that benefits society. Lesson # 4 is that while it’s challenging to get the balance between innovation, opportunity, and ethics right, it’s a battle worth fighting.

  1. Facts Matter – Strive for Balance

Another issue for me is information overload.  Knowing what is real and what isn’t, has never been more important. This is where go-to trusted news and academic sources come into play. Two influencers I follow are Dan Fagella from EMERJ and Bernard Marr.  Both Dan and Bernard focus on AI and it’s motivating to hear and read what they have to say. I also read the technology review from MIT and listen to several technology podcasts.  Lesson # 5 is that it’s critical to continue to seek knowledge and to make a point of agnostically learning a lot from other technologists, business-people, and vendors.   Doing your own research and triangulation in the age of ‘alternative facts’ ensures that you stay informed, relevant and are able to separate fact from fiction.

In summary, as we enter the ‘Next Normal’, I anticipate that the pace of change will be faster than ever.  However, it’s important to remember that it’s not technology that leads the way, it’s people.  Staying in touch with technology trends and solutions is obviously important, but so is staying in touch with your values and humanity.  At the end of the day, technology is just an enabler and it’s the human values we apply to it that make the difference in how impactful it will be.

About the Author –

Jane Aboyoun is the Chief Information Officer at SCO Family of Services, a non-profit agency that helps New Yorkers build a strong foundation for the future. In this role, Jane is responsible for leading SCO’s technology strategy, and managing the agency’s technology services to support business applications, architecture, data, engineering, and computing infrastructure.

As an accomplished CIO / CTO, Jane has spent 20 years in the C-suite in a variety of senior technology leadership roles for global, world-class brands such as Nestlé Foods, KPMG, Estēe Lauder Companies, Walt Disney Company, and the New York Public Library.

Healthcare at GAVS

Kushboo Goel

GAVS is not new to Healthcare services, and yet a Healthcare vertical is new at GAVS. GAVS acquired its first Healthcare client BronxCare Health System over 10 years ago in 2010. For 10 years, GAVS has been the go-to technology partner at BronxCare. From managed infrastructure services, data migration, application support, security and storage, and most recently virtual desktop solution during the COVID-19 pandemic, GAVS has not only earned deals at BronxCare as a solution partner but earned a relationship that led to several other healthcare clients such as the Jewish Board Behaviour Health centre. In a span of 10 years, the number of healthcare clients at GAVS has grown significantly to today contributing over 55% to our overall revenue.

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The unintended focus on healthcare was further strengthened when we launched Long80, a joint venture with Premier Inc. that has a network of 4000+ hospitals in the US. While BronxCare lead us to the backwaters of the healthcare industry, Premier has led us to the ocean. At GAVS we are determined to maximize this opportunity, but that means we must trade our boat for a ship!

This process has been ongoing at GAVS for the last 4-6 months. These efforts have included bringing on healthcare domain experts, having multiple conversations with our existing healthcare clients to understand the key pain points they face, gaining an industry perspective through conversations with multiple healthcare analysts to name a few. Perhaps our commitment to building a healthcare vertical is most evident through the setting up of the GAVS Healthcare Technology Institute, with the prestigious IIT Madras as our teaching partner. Through the institute, GAVS will empower its workforce with deep knowledge in the Healthcare domain in areas like Population Health Management, Revenue Cycle Management, Health informatics to name a few. In addition, courses will cover AI/ML methodologies with a focus on application to healthcare use cases.

To start this journey, we began by refreshing our existing healthcare offerings. Previously we offered mostly horizontal solutions to our healthcare customers. These included infrastructure services, app development and management, cloud migration, offshore product development and most recently cybersecurity. While integral to the provider and payer operations, most of these services were not consumed by front-line workers and did not directly influence delivery of care. Now, with a revamp of our healthcare services, GAVS offers three news offerings directly influencing quality of care delivery and clinical outcomes.

The first is Business Process Automation. Healthcare, a highly regulated industry is plagued with multiple administrative processes. These processes are low-hanging fruits for automation and cost reduction. By partnering with automation partners GAVS has successfully automated processes for existing clients and is in the process of identifying additional use cases for process automation with our existing clients.

The second is Data Modernization. Any given healthcare provider has between 20-50 applications running in their hospital. This includes Electronic Health Records, Radiology Imaging Systems, Billing Systems, Payroll, Scheduling, etc. In addition to the data residing on these systems, patients now generate healthcare data on their mobile devices through fitness apps or wearable devices. This growth in IoT has led to data in healthcare doubling every 24 months. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for GAVS to help healthcare providers and payers to integrate and manage data effectively to create a single source to truth, and allow for interoperability, giving patients and providers a holistic view of their care. 

The third, is Advanced Analytics. The increased access to healthcare data combined with rising cost pressures has been the driver for healthcare organizations to focus on ‘wellness care’ instead of ‘sick care’. Through predictive analytics, AI/ML-driven solutions, providers and payers use historic data to predict future outcomes such as the risk of certain diseases.  GAVS currently leverages its data scientists and developers to offer these services to a handful of clients. The immediate focus moving forward is to find additional use cases in both the operational and the clinical space to further expand this capability.

Now, to deliver the new services at GAVS, we must build a pipeline of skilled technologists with knowledge of the healthcare domain. Enter GAVS Healthcare Technology Institute. The Technology Institute is designed to offer three levels healthcare courses introducing participants to the healthcare industry, AI/ML methodology, and application of these methodologies to their projects. The goal is for every employee at GAVS to have an introductory knowledge of healthcare and AI/ML concepts to align with GAVS’s healthcare focus. Our partnership with IIT Madras bring to the institute the best in class faculty and curriculum. The first level of certifications went live on March 22. We aim to create a proficient, domain-ready workforce and hope they enjoy the healthcare journey!

2020 was undoubtedly a challenging year for the healthcare industry, and we proudly supported our clients through these challenges. As we look forward, our goal is to further enable healthcare organizations in managing their strategic priorities and save lives!

About the Author –

Kushboo brings with her 9+ years of experience in Management Consulting and IT Consulting in Healthcare and Financial Services. Within healthcare, she has worked at University of Chicago Hospitals, Johns Hopkins, Advisory Board Company and Apollo Hospitals. She is especially experienced in managing and supporting large transformation programs. She has worked on several process optimization and cost optimization projects contributing to FTE and dollar savings for her clients.

Introducing Rhonda Vetere

Rhonda Vetere

1. Tell us something about your childhood. What values had been instilled in you that helped you excel in multiple fields later in your life?

I’ve never really done things the easy way. It’s something my mother trained into me back when I was just a kid. If I wanted something, I had to work for it – nothing was handed to me.

2. When did you discover your passion for technology?

For me, the tech industry was something I fell into because a manager earlier in my career saw some attributes in me – I was granted an opportunity, and I took it. I often speak to girls and women, sharing my story and acknowledging that I did not come from a technology background. One of my many goals now is to continue with STEM and promote greater female representation by showcasing that technology is fun and cool. Female representation is a pressing issue in the technology sector. It’s a challenge, but I’m focused on thoughtful conversations that can bridge the gender divide. 

3. How did you get into running?

I have always been an athlete. At a young age, I started off in the pool as a swimmer and was touted heavily by my coaches as a future ‘Olympic Team hopeful.’ In my adult years, life got in the way, and turning back to swimming which I loved so much was not feasible, so I turned to running as a way to clear my head. I call it my active meditation time.

4. What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life and how that has shaped you?

As a leader, I overcame being one of the youngest, female Managing Directors in the Finance Sector in my career. I didn’t know it at the time but in hindsight, it prepared me to have grit in many industries that were historically male-dominated and to have empathy for all walks of life. That’s why it’s my life mission to be a competitive, team-focused leader, mentor a diverse group of executives from all lines of business and to continue to use my platform to inspire others (most importantly women).

5. Could you share with us some interesting lessons you’ve learned while traveling?

One of the most interesting lessons that I’ve learned while traveling was the result of a precarious situation in which I was almost kidnapped that I put myself in my twenties when I was young, naïve, and unprepared. Long story short, I was given a dream-come-true opportunity to live and work overseas in Mumbai and was almost abducted after I didn’t take the proper precautions to keep myself safe in an unfamiliar environment.

I find myself revisiting that situation often as a reminder that overpreparation is extremely important to success in all aspects of life; whether it’s going to live and work in a foreign land, logging onto your next client call on Zoom, or training for your next race.

6. Tell us something about the social causes that you support.

One of the most important causes that I support is the BRAVE-Singita Grumeti Fund for All-Women Run Across the Serengeti. There’s a beautiful backstory to why they are the closest to my heart. It started with a year-long of planning for a birthday trip to South Africa that fell right in the middle of my training for the Eagleman 70.3-mile Triathlon. As someone who hates the mundane constraints of a treadmill, I prefer to run outside and what better scenery than the 350K acre Singita Grumeti Reserve. Unbeknownst to me, the Serengeti can be extremely dangerous, and the resort was not going to take any chances, so they provided me with armed security guards in a Jeep to trail me as I ran through the savannah of the African Wild. In must have been a really strange sight – one white woman running through a wildlife reserve being escorted by a small convoy of armed soldiers.

What was most amazing is that all these men who worked at the resort were waiting for me when I came out of my hotel the next day for another run. They wanted to join me in my training along with local women and children. Born out of this girl trip to South Africa and my necessity to continue my training was a run that would later become a 5-day, 55-mile run that raises money for the Singita Grumeti Fund for Women’s empowerment. 

7. How would you define success?

I would define success as the completion of a task to a desired result, but there’s long-running list of these milestones that will continue in perpetuity. In business and in life, you have to be ready with the next thing, so when you meet a goal, don’t just stop and rest. You must continue on in the journey to the next goal, keep growing, learning, and finding more successes.

8. Looking back on your journey and knowing what you know now, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself along the way?

The best advice that I’ve ever received was “You will never be so smart, so accomplished, or so advanced that you won’t benefit from learning from someone ahead of you.” This is why I place such a big emphasis on person-to-person mentorship and mentor so many. I am blessed with the opportunity to have so many experiences in my lifetime so far and it’s my goal to help others learn from those experiences.

9. In your opinion, what is the ideal way to lead in a crisis?

The most important tip that I can give any leader managing in a time of crisis is to stop and ‘listen’. It is vital to your success as an effective leader to learn to ‘problem solve’ under complex and rapidly changing situations, especially when definitive information isn’t readily available. I’ve developed a 3 step process that not only makes others feel understood and validated, but also helps me to process and react wisely.

Step 1, get the facts. The first thing you must do is not act, but gather all the available information so you must put yourself in ‘listen’ mode in order to do so.

Step 2, process the information. This includes everything that you are being briefed on, but also includes very important contextual visual and audio cues as well as the setting and any background information. Most importantly in step 2 is that you must ask questions to clarify.

Step 3, react. When you react, handle the most urgent matter first, and then work your way down the list, listening to hear and understand, process and pivot/tackle as you go.

10. What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a career in STEM or management?

First, learn how to play golf. That has been huge for my career and something that I wish I learned earlier on. So many important conversations and negotiations happen on the golf course. Golf is a game of strategy, intelligence, tactical approach and is very humbling. You can learn a lot about a person and how they approach life/business from how they approach the game.

Second, know your elevator pitch. You may find yourself with the opportunity to connect with a senior executive in passing and having that information at the tip of your tongue is key to be able to impress.

Finally, know that STEM is cool and puts you at the cutting edge of all technology which is a huge advantage in the digital first world that we live in. It is a fast-paced industry that is forever changing which makes every day excited.  

11. How can more women shatter the glass ceiling at work?

I believe that the world is filled with distraction more than ever for aspiring leaders, and I suggest guarding against it. It is of utmost importance that the next generation of female leaders focus more on tangible business outcomes and value than getting tied into the social media/digital vortex. Instant gratification in one’s career does not happen overnight and it’s something that you have to work for day in and day out. For any professional, in order to succeed, the most important thing is to find a strong role model and a mentor who has a proven track record. Young leaders should have courage, speak up, take risks, take hard assignments outside of their homeland and find a mentor.

About Rhonda Vetere –

Recognized as one of the Most Powerful Women in Technology and a two-time author, Rhonda is an active leader — whether she’s spearheading corporate initiatives around the world, competing in another IRONMAN 70.3 mile triathlon, or mentoring students & athletes globally in STEM through sports.



Introducing Jane Aboyoun, CIO, SCO Family of Services

Jane Aboyoun

1. Tell us something about your childhood. What values had been instilled in you that helped you excel later in your life?

My parents are first generation Americans – both their parents were born elsewhere and emigrated to the US.  My mother is in her 80s now and she was amongst the first of her generation to go to college and work full time while raising a family. My mom loved her job as an elementary school teacher, and she taught me that helping others is the key to finding joy in a career.  My father grew up poor and in a foster home, but he managed to earn a full academic scholarship to college.  He went on to have a successful career in sales management.  In my family, education was highly prized and through my parents’ example, I learned that life-long learning and hard work was a way to advance oneself.  I was raised to be independent, to rely on myself, to value being able to support myself, to work hard, to focus, to be proactive and to always say “yes, we can”.  

2. When did you discover your passion for technology?

I found my passion for technology in my first job as a production planner at Nestle Foods.  Production planning is all about efficiency and process.  Computers are essential in delivering that and it was impossible to do my job without them. While studying engineering in college, I had to take a programming class.  Of all the courses that I took, that one was the most challenging for me and I barely passed the course. I vowed to never go near a computer and that stood until I was faced with tracking millions of dollars in WIP (work-in-process) inventory in one of Nestle’s production facilities. To do that, I developed a barcode data collection system to track inventory as it moved around the production floor.  The system was so successful that Corporate noticed and asked me to join their Information Systems team.  I started writing code for an MRP system and all at once, with practical application in real life, it suddenly made sense. My career in IT was launched.

3. What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life and how that has shaped you?

I always wanted to have both a career and have a family, and that is a tough balancing act.  Early in my career, I found working in a global C-suite job and raising young children at the same time to be extremely challenging. I’ve had to create boundaries in order to give 100% to each.  It is much easier now that my children are older, and as a result of my experience, I have huge respect for working parents who are trying to make it all happen. It’s not easy!

4. Tell us something about the social causes that you support.

I am passionate about fighting for equality and equity, protecting the environment, and animal welfare. We have so many challenges at this time in human history and how we navigate the next ten years together will be critical in so many ways.  

5. How would you define success?

What I have learned through my life experience is that success is a journey, rather than an end game, as the world is of course a dynamic place and the bar is always being raised.  Good ideas can come from anywhere and it’s critical to stay flexible and open-minded.  As a leader success is measured by the impact one has on others, and it’s often found in tiny actions that multiply across a team to impact an organization – the butterfly effect at work.  

6. How would you describe your leadership style?

I would liken it to a conductor of an orchestra…having a vision for what could be, selecting the players, empowering the musicians, directing the various piece parts so that together, we achieve an incredible outcome.  The fun part though, is that we are playing jazz music rather than the classics and sometimes the players just need to jam, and trust that we’ve got this, as there isn’t always a playbook for what’s next.

7. Looking back on your journey and knowing what you know now, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself along the way?

To not lose sight of the big picture. In the rough and tumble of the day-to-day work, it is easy to get distracted and buried in the details.  It takes discipline to stay focused on the end game and keep your eyes above the tree-line.  This is where I feel I provide most value to the team, as in my role, I have the opportunity to see many pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together. I can help bring that insight back to the team, so that we can recalibrate if necessary and link those day-to-day tasks to achieving business objectives.

8. What advice would you give those who want to pursue a career in STEM?

There has never been a better time to pursue a career in STEM.  As I mentioned, the next few decades are critical to the future of the planet.  There are numerous exciting new fields emerging that can help address the issues in the world today.  These solutions are no doubt rooted in science, technology, engineering, and math.  I would encourage those interested to move forward earnestly. I believe the reward would be a satisfying and worthy career that might just change the world!

About Jane Aboyoun –

Jane Aboyoun is the Chief Information Officer at SCO Family of Services, a non-profit agency that helps New Yorkers build a strong foundation for the future. In this role, Jane is responsible for leading SCO’s technology strategy, and managing the agency’s technology services to support business applications, architecture, data, engineering, and computing infrastructure.

As an accomplished CIO / CTO, Jane has spent 20 years in the C-suite in a variety of senior technology leadership roles for global, world-class brands such as Nestlé Foods, KPMG, Estēe Lauder Companies, Walt Disney Company, and the New York Public Library.

Celebrating Inspirational Women

Rajeswari S

“Each of us has that right, that possibility, to invent ourselves daily. If a person does not invent herself, she will be invented. So, to be bodacious enough to invent ourselves is wise.”  – Maya Angelou

Yet another International Women’s Day is around the corner! Every year, our strength, perseverance, and glory reach newer heights. I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate some inspirational women.

The Prestigious Firsts!

All-women crew

Captain Zoya Aggarwal, Captain Papagari Thanmai, Captain Akansha Sonaware and Captain Shivani Manhas of the all-female pilot crew of Air India made history by completing the longest non-stop commercial flight ever. They covered more than 8,600 miles and flew over the North Pole.

Kamala Harris

She is the United States’ first female vice president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, the first African American vice president, and the first Asian American vice president. Kamala Harris became the Vice President upon inauguration in 2021 alongside President Joe Biden in the 2020 US election.

Women with Amazing Minds and Hearts

Shalini Saraswathi

  • A modern-day woman, balancing her corporate job, blogging, and fitness.
  • A blade marathon runner and an adventure enthusiast.
  • Lost both her arms and legs to a rare form of bacterial infection. Hard work, focus, and perseverance became a pole of strength. She soon completed a 10k marathon with an outstanding record of 1 hour and 35 minutes!
  • Awarded several times with the ‘Iconic Woman Award’. 

Vandana Shah

  • At 28, abused by in-laws and thrown out of her marital home at 2 am; had little money, nowhere to go, and no one to turn to.
  • Today, a leading divorce lawyer and the founder of India’s first non-judgemental divorce support group that provides a positive perspective and focuses on rebuilding life even while going through a divorce.
  • Author of 360 Degrees Back to Life – a Litigant’s Humorous Perspective on Divorce.
  • Launched the world’s and India’s first legal app, DivorceKart, which aims to answer all legal queries regarding divorce instantly.

Daniela Rus

  • Romanian-American roboticist, an MIT professor and the first female head of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), one of the largest and most prestigious AI research labs in the world.
  • Rus’ ground-breaking research has contributed immensely to networked collaborative robots (robots that can work together and communicate with one another), self-reconfigurable robots (robots that can autonomously change their structure to adapt to their environment), and soft robots (robots without rigid bodies).

Leila Jana

  • A social entrepreneur and a great young Indian origin humanitarian.
  • Pioneer in the field of impact sourcing.
  • Leila founded Samasource in 2008 with the mission of giving work, not aid, by hiring workers in impoverished areas, training them in AI data annotation, and providing the technology to plug their skills into the global digital economy where they could earn living wages. 

Pappammal

  • 105-year-old Pappamal, a centenarian from Tamil Nadu, India, was conferred the Padma Shri (fourth-highest civilian award in India) for her work in organic farming for the past 70 years!
  • Does organic farming in about 2.5 acres of her land; cultivates a variety of crops including millets, bananas, and okra.
  • A part of the TN Agricultural University’s advisory committee, and keeps abreast of the latest developments in organic farming by taking part in conferences.

Why Women make Great Leaders

While we see men and women leaders run several successful businesses, does the word “leadership” mean the same to them? A survey conducted by a US talent management solutions company says, 65% of women (versus 56% of men) said they view leaders as those who share their knowledge and connect with their colleagues to help the team and business. When women bring this attitude into managerial roles, it makes them more effective as leaders.

Emily He, Oracle’s Sr. VP of the Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group says “In contrast to men, who tend to be career-centric and want to maximize their financial return from work, women view work more holistically, as a component of their overall life plan. They’re more likely to approach their careers in a self-reflective way and value factors such as meaning, purpose, connection with co-workers and work-life integration.”

Hear it from other women leaders too.

On being nurturing

“One of the key aspects of leadership is the ability to help your team members develop their own skills and strengths. Women are naturally nurturing, which in the best scenarios can translate to helping those around you succeed.” – Marilyn Heywood Paige, VP Marketing, FiG Advertising

On valuing work-life balance“We are able to balance professional and personal leadership skills. It’s easier to approach a women leader with a personal request, or a sensitive question. I care about my team and their well-being. I also find women more proactive in becoming mentors, and sometimes it’s already such an open and communicative relationship that the transition to mentor is easy.” – Amy Killoran, Creative Manager, I Love Travel

On wearing many hats

“They often balance careers, households and even aging parents, among other things. Women pivot, adjust and focus on solutions. Resting in the doom and gloom can be time-consuming, so many shift to find positive solutions to life and work problems.” – Gretchen Halpin, Chief Strategy Officer, Hewins Financial Advisors

We’re Tough, We’re Ambitious, We’re Different!

References:

About the Author –

Rajeswari is part of the IP team at GAVS. She has been involved in technical and creative content development for the past 13 years. She is passionate about music and writing and spends her free time watching movies or going for a highway drive.

Gender Microaggressions: Invisible Discrimination at Workplace

Priyanka Pandey

A 2020 headline read, ‘The number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 hits an all-time record’. It sounds like a great news until you start reading further. Only 37 of the 500 companies on the list were led by female CEOs which is just 7.4%. But it also marks a considerable jump from its preceding years’ rates which were 6.6% in 2019 and just 4.8% in 2018, i.e., 33 and 24 companies respectively. Another report by McKinsey & Co. on the advancing of women’s equality in the Asia-Pacific region, tells us that just around 25% of India’s workforce is female, and only 5% of them make it to the top. This decline in percentage is due to many women dropping out of their jobs. One of the major factors for women to take this decision is ‘sexism at the workplace’.

It has made its way into the ‘work-from-home’ world as well. Imagine this scenario: In a discussion about hiring employees for a new project, a male committee member says, “I think we should hire more men as this project requires spending extra time and effort“. In this case, it is not very difficult to identify the prejudice. But let’s consider another scenario- there is a need to move some machines for which a person asks for help saying, “I need a few strong men to help me lift this“. Most of the time people will not realize how problematic this statement is. This is an example of ‘gender microaggression’. But what exactly is a microaggression? Microaggression is verbal or nonverbal behavior that, intentionally or unintentionally, can communicate denigratory behavior towards the members of a minority/oppressed group which often goes unnoticed and unreported. In simple words, it is a form of discrimination that is subtle yet harmful. There are mainly 3 forms of Microaggressions: microassaults (purposeful discriminatory actions), microinsults (communicate a covert insulting message), and microinvalidations (dismiss the thoughts of certain groups). Different kinds of gender microaggressions are sexual objectification, second-class citizenship, use of sexist language, assumption of inferiority, restrictive gender roles, invisibility, sexist humor/jokes. According to Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, people typically don’t raise their voice against everyday sexism because it can be seen as too small to make a fuss about, but it matters. As the Women in the Workplace report also reflects, “Microaggressions can seem small when dealt with one by one. But when repeated over time, they can have a major impact.”

Let’s go back to the above example for people who could not identify what was wrong in that statement. When people use phrases like ‘strong men’, it tells that only men are strong and conversely, that women are weak. This statement does not have to be focused on gender at all. It can be rephrased as “I need a few strong people to help me lift this“, and people around can determine for themselves who the strong helpers will be. Few other examples of common gender-related microaggressions are:

  • Mansplaining – Explaining a subject to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often oversimplified manner with a presumption that she wouldn’t know about it.
  • Manterrupting – Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man whenever she is trying to convey her ideas or thoughts.
  • Bropropriating – A man taking a woman’s idea and showing it as his own hence, taking all the credit for it.
  •  ‘Boys will be boys’ – A phrase used to dismiss any traditionally masculine behavior and not holding men accountable for their wrong deeds.
  • Using differentiated words when describing women and men, such as ‘Bossy’ versus ‘Leader’, ‘Annoying’ versus ‘Passionate’.

The pandemic has given way to a new surge of microaggressions for working women. A law firm Slater and Gordon conducted a poll of 2,000 remote workers and found that 35% of women reported experiencing at least one sexist demand from their employer since the lockdown started. For video conferences, some women were asked to wear more make-up or do something to their hair, while others were asked to dress more provocatively. Their bosses also tried to justify this by saying it could ‘help win business’, or it was important to ‘look nice for the team’. Nearly 40% said these demands were targeted at women, rather than equally with their male peers. Also, a lot of women are being micromanaged by their managers while their male colleagues are not. This sends a message of distrust towards them. Researches have indicated that experiences with these microaggressions, and many others not mentioned above, are related to a negative impact on the standard of living, physical health as well as psychological health, such as unequal wages, migraines, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and body image dissatisfaction. As a result, women who experience such insidious, everyday forms of sexist discrimination, are three times more likely to regularly think about leaving the organization. Hence, sexism can not only impact the individual but also the overall performance and working culture of the organization. Eliminating such behavior at the physical and virtual workplace is extremely important and will enable the organization to break down the barriers for equal access to different career opportunities for leadership for women and will help include diverse thinking, perspectives, and experiences in the workplace at every level. As an individual, the most basic yet effective thing to do would be to develop an honest awareness of our own biases and stereotypes.

Unless we tackle everyday sexism, the most innovative policies and initiatives designed to advance gender equality and inclusive and effective organisations will not deliver the change we need.” – Kate Jenkins

Here’s a small story of grace and grit which might inspire some, to take a stand against such gender-related microaggressions. Back in the 1970s, when feminism was a word unheard of, an incident took place. A woman saw a job advertisement by a telecom company, which said it required only male engineers. On seeing this requirement, she wrote back a postcard to the company’s Chairman questioning the gender biases. She was then called for a special interview, where they told her their side of the story – “We haven’t hired any women so far”. To which she replied, “You must start from somewhere.” Her name was Sudha Murty, who is now Chairperson of Infosys Foundation.

So, the next time when conversing with a colleague, consider all of this and be kind!

About the Author –

Priyanka is an ardent feminist and a dog-lover. She spends her free time cooking, reading poetry, and exploring new ways to conserve the environment.

Challenges Enable Change and Success

Vijayalakshmi Rajesh

In this hyper-connected digital age, one may misconceive a ‘challenge’ to be a deadlock and associate it with negativity. To me a challenge always implies an opportunity. Opportunity to explore newer ways of reaching success. I strongly believe that without challenges life would be mundane. The rapid improvements and progress we see today were challenges overcome by someone.

To solve any problem, we need to accept its existence and understand its dynamics. Only then can we come up with solutions. When I started my career as a marketing professional, I was the only lady in my team and a fresher too. I had to overcome many challenges. I always had the attitude to keep fighting. At times, I had no support as I was the only one swimming against the tide. But I never gave up!

I salute my mother for raising me to never shy away from challenges. I would like to share my memories of the wonderful days I spent with her. My mother had a charming personality. I admired her patience. She was a multitasker. To me, no one could match her skills at embroidery and knitting. Her zeal and enthusiasm towards life inspire me even today. I remember during my school days, I often found her immersed in her handiwork, which she also taught many women who subsequently started their businesses. After school, I would look at the work she had done that day. While she was busy in the kitchen, I would hold the cloth in my hand and closely examine the artwork. While the front side was beautiful, the backside attracted me more because it would reveal the effort put in to create the masterpiece. For my wedding, my mother gifted me a beautifully embroidered handkerchief. I immediately flipped it to look at the techniques used to keep the backside neat. My mother said something beautiful then. She said, “I noticed how you always check the work behind before looking at the actual finished product on the front. This goes on to show that you are a person who will view challenges first and learn through them. Never give up your attitude to fight and your eye for detail.”

My mother’s values have led me onto a successful path in CSR. I get immense satisfaction whenever I complete projects. I remember a child, about 6 years old, from the school where I built a library. She came to me with a flower in her hand which she had picked on her way to school and told me, “Ma’am we are grateful for all these books. I am going to read all the books and become a doctor one day.” I could feel my mother patting me on my back and my eyes welling up because only I knew the challenges I had to face in delivering the project. But these little things mean a lot to me.

I have recently noticed an interesting paradigm, especially among the younger generation. Some are not only fighting their own problems, but they are also trying to resolve the problems faced by others.

To quote an example. I read about Jayalakshmi from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India, in a leading daily. She was selected to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in the US after winning a competition. Through her plea for financial support, she secured excess funding. She then channelized the surplus funds to build public toilets in her village. She also convinced her fellow villagers who were hesitant about the idea to build toilets. To me, this is extraordinary because she has challenged the status quo and won the battle for many!

To everyone out there I would say – Challenges are just as difficult as we perceive them to be. We can overcome them if we view them as opportunities. Explore the world of endless possibilities with a fighting spirit. Today we have a vaccine for COVID, created in the shortest span of time by scientists. No vaccine has been readied from scratch in less than a year. The days of “It has always been done this way” are long gone!

About the Author –

Vijayalakshmi comes with 20 years of Marketing and Academic experience. She is the Founder and Managing Trustee at ZRII TRUST. ZRII was formed as a platform to deliver high-impact social projects through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds.

Her work includes raising awareness about modern-day issues that women and children face. She is actively involved in ensuring safer and improved workspaces for women. Some of her trophy programs are under women empowerment which includes a year-long training program for women of southern Tamil Nadu, a driver training program for women to drive app-based cabs, and placement of women in factories.

Vijayalakshmi is an ombudsperson at GAVS and guides GAVS in our endeavor to be a gender-balanced and respectful workplace.