[Women in Tech] Women on boards lead a broader view in key decisions: Padmaja Kota, Salesforce

Padmaja Kota, Director - Software Engineering at Salesforce, believes more companies across sectors should implement women-friendly policies, which will improve overall performance and elevate India’s position on the global women workforce map.

After starting her career as a software engineer in Infosys, Padmaja Kota traversed the corporate domain in India and abroad, with stints at companies like Prokarma before joining Salesforce in 2014.

She started as an engineering manager and climbed the corporate leader to become Director – Software Engineering, the position she holds today.

As a woman leader in tech, Padmaja believes, “You are responsible for your team’s success first. Once they are successful, your own success follows.”

She is also a champion of equal opportunities and narrates an interesting experience to this effect.

“My colleagues and I realised the office was not conducive for women returning from maternity leave. We ensured there were designated rooms for new mothers so that they could return to work comfortably,” she says. Padmaja also believes mentorship plays a key role in forging a successful career.

In a conversation with HerStory, Padmaja touches upon different aspects of being a woman in tech — from networking, mentorship, and why every organisation should have an equal opportunity mindset.

HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about yourself. Were you always interested in STEM?

Padmaja Kota (PK): I was born and raised in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and come from a computer science engineering background. After the dotcom era, it was a dream to be an engineer for most of us. 

Growing up, I was always keen on science and technology — either in academics or as a profession — and wanted to become independent. This led me to pursue my bachelor’s in computer science and engineering from Rajiv Gandhi Technological University. 

HS: Tell us about your career journey until now?

PK: I started my career as a software engineer at Infosys and eventually migrated to New Zealand after my wedding. During this period, I learnt the difference between product development and service engineering. The exposure to building a product to scale and serving multiple customers with a global mindset further enhanced my skill set.

After my stint of working abroad, I moved back to India and joined Prokarma where I had the chance to experiment and apply my learnings and expertise in a service-based company in the transport and locomotive space. In subsequent roles hereafter, I gained practical knowledge behind all the steps involved in product development. 

In 2014, I joined Salesforce. In the past seven years, I have grown from an Engineering Manager to a Senior Manager and now Director - Software Engineering.

HS: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Salesforce. 

PK: At Salesforce, I currently focus on engineering excellence and delivering critical customer features which also bring in innovation.

As a leader, it is my responsibility to provide the right opportunities to the team, make the right business decisions, and manage multiple priorities while sticking to commitments.

When I joined Salesforce, there were very few women in my office. I was one of the first few members of the Salesforce Women’s Network in Hyderabad. I’m very proud to be part of this network, which does a lot of work with regards to improving diversity, enabling networks, as well as individual career development.

HS: Why are there very few women in leadership positions, especially in tech?

PK: A large number of women in India drop out of the corporate workforce to raise children or to care for elderly family members. If they want to return to work after being away for years, they often face rejection from recruiters who look down on their gap years.

Childcare is also one of the biggest challenge faced by women when returning to the workforce. While some organisations have made steady progress, the country requires more companies across sectors to implement women-friendly policies, which not only improves overall performance but also elevate India’s position on the global women workforce map.

HS: Why are mentorship and networking essential for women in tech? Do you mentor other women? 

PK: Mentoring is a very under-utilised concept primarily because individuals have this notion that you need to get mentored only when you’re in trouble, which is the biggest misconception.

A mentor can be anyone you can trust to give you unbiased and valuable advice. Raising your hand and saying, “I need help,” may not be comfortable always, but is essential.

Mentorships set within strong networks can provide access to knowledge, skills, contacts, and financial resources to support long, rewarding careers in tech for women.

At Salesforce, mentoring programmes are run every six months, where individuals are paired with leaders across teams and regions, and everyone has a chance to share their experiences and learn from each other, and grow together. 

HS: Do you think women in tech are a rare breed?

PK: There is an increasing need for women in tech to help achieve a truly balanced workforce across the technology industry. Female leaders and women on boards statistically help lead to greater creativity, and provide a broader view while making key decisions.

More importantly, perspectives from a diverse workforce, irrespective of their race or gender helps companies build unbiased frameworks into technologies while helping to understand the needs of the other stakeholders in a better way. 

HS: Why should every organisation have an equal opportunity mindset?

PK: Salesforce is dedicated to building gender equality in the workplace and beyond through empowering, supporting, and investing in our global community for women and their allies. Women currently make up 33.6 percent of our global workforce, up from 31.6 percent in 2018.

Representation of Women continues to grow — now at 36.1 percent in the US and 33.6 percent globally. Today, nearly 11,000 more women work at Salesforce than they did five years ago.

Creating a culture of equality isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing — empowering us to innovate, build deeper connections with our customers, and ultimately become a better company. 

At Salesforce, we have always been dedicated to promoting inclusivity at the workplace in all its forms — gender, sexuality, and race — by empowering, supporting, and investing in our global community.

The value of inclusivity is embodied in our Equality Groups, which are employee-led and employee-organised groups centred on common life experiences or backgrounds, and their allies.

Currently, we support nine separate diversity networks, the first of these was the Women’s Network which is a community which helps drive awareness around gender equality. Others include Outforce, organisers of many LGBTQIA+ community marches, and AbilityForce that focuses on ability inclusion for our employees, partners, customers, and communities.

We are also committed to Equal Pay for Equal Work and empowering our employees with Inclusive Business Practices through Trailhead and in-person training (i.e., Inclusive Hiring, Inclusive Leadership, Inclusive Marketing, and more.) 

HS: Who has been your biggest inspirations?

PK: My mother is my greatest source of inspiration. Even though she only studied till the tenth standard and was a proud housewife, she had a very clear goal and vision for me as her child. She did everything in her capacity to provide me the platform, opportunities, and freedom to pursue my goals.

She had never travelled internationally nor had any corporate industry exposure and was also from a small town, yet her ambition is what motivates me.

HS: What do you think will be the future of work post-COVID-19 and how will women fare?

PK: Even as COVID-19 eventually fades, it will not be business as usual. During the pandemic, we’ve had to reimagine aspects of our business — our products, events, customer engagements, and how we work.

Our customers have also learned how to sell, service, and market from anywhere. An all-digital, work-from-anywhere world is the new normal — we need to be able to work from anywhere and from any device, and be safe even when they do return to the office. 

The pandemic has also presented itself as an opportunity for the women workforce, serving as a catalyst in the creation of an unexpected work from home culture. While businesses across sectors are slowly but steadily welcoming this change, women on career breaks now have the option to rejoin the workforce. 

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta


Updates from around the world