Focus on equity over equality has encouraged more women in STEM: NetApp’s Madhurima Agarwal

Following the launch of Elevate, a community of emerging women leaders at TechSparks 2021, Madhurima Agarwal, Director, Engineering Programs and Leader at NetApp, delved into the inherent biases that keep women from climbing the professional ladder.

Lack of confidence is a key factor holding women back in their professional journey. Madhurima Agarwal, Director, Engineering Programs and Leader at NetApp, remarked during a fireside chat at the 13th edition of TechSparks, India’s most influential startup-tech conference.

"We (women) are our biggest roadblock. It is a function of us having grown up with certain limitations that every time someone offers an opportunity, we are our first critic and are unsure if we are up to the task. In contrast, a man would jump in and say, 'I don't know if I am skilled at it, but I am sure I'll be able to do it," she said.

Madhurima, an adviser to several startups, remarked that having a solid role model and support systems can be a powerful vehicle of change. 

“Not everything can be achieved alone, and women need the support from their family members, partners, and children to shoulder some of the responsibilities, especially during the pandemic,” Madhurima said. 

Focus on equity over equality has yielded promising results to bring more women into the STEM workforce. She believes this will result in more role models at senior levels and "enough hands to pull women through the ranks" those men currently dominate. 

As far as organisations are concerned, sensitisation to all genders could be the first step. She said that, at times, women are also capable of internalised bias.

“At NetApp, we had an ‘Unconscious Bias’ training, which helped us discover our biases. I used to take a lot of pride in being a diversity champion, and only after the training, learn I have my own inherent biases. Realising this has helped me move forward towards overcoming them consciously,” she explained.

Championing women entrepreneurship

As an adviser at NetApp AcceleratHer, she says the selection to build a pipeline of solid women entrepreneurs is rigorous. Having walked the difficult and lonely path of entrepreneurship, Madhurima believes she brings empathy to the founders she mentors.

When asked what it would take to encourage and enable women’s entrepreneurship, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities, Madhurima said that the Indian startup ecosystem we see today is different from a few years ago.

"People - investors, government, and customers, came together and developed the ecosystem and consciously decided to take the risk. We should do the same," she said.

She is confident there is no lack of drive or ambition in women if the startup ecosystem is willing to come together and enable them.

“Somewhere in the Indian DNA, we are all entrepreneurs. Women in Tier II and III cities have been able to do wonderfully well despite the limited resources they have access to, and they are very ambitious,” she added. 

At TechSparks 2021, Madhurima had one clear message: "To the young women, I say, believe in yourself and find someone who believes in you more than you do because that person will help you when the going gets tough."

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Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan


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