[Women in Tech] Building an inclusive and adaptive workplace is critical to attract and retain women in tech roles, says Ushasri Tirumala of Manhattan Associates
Ushasri Tirumala says she may have been the only woman to graduate in engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad, more than 30 years ago.
“Years later, I am proud to see the number of women engineers from the same college now,” she says.
When Ushasri started her career, it was the early days of the IT industry in India. Completing some proficiency courses in operating systems from IISc Bangalore early in her career also helped her better understand the technology landscape. She also helped set up the Advanced Technology Group (ATG) that has incubated several technology practices, relevant even today.
Ushasri Tirumala is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Manhattan Associates in India and is responsible for Manhattan Associates’ strategic direction, growth and development in India.
Her career focus areas have been technology management, strategy, and enterprise applications and her expertise include building high performance teams, strategic alliances, and product development. Usha, a recognised thought leader in the industry, was named the Chief Executive Officer of the Year in 2011 by the Indian Institute of Materials Management (IIMM), a premier institution in India in the field of materials and supply chain management.
In a conversation with HerStory, Ushasri talks of her journey and the importance of a truly inclusive workplace.
HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about yourself, education, growing up years?
Ushasri Tirumala (UT): I grew up in Andhra Pradesh in my early years and shifted to Bengaluru for my MBA. I hold a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electrical Engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University and Post Graduate Diploma in Management from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. I am also a Certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Coach.
HS: Were you always interested in STEM?
UT: I was interested in STEM from the beginning and always wanted to be an engineer. I have always been fascinated with technology and its applications to solve business problems.
HS: Please take us through your career journey…
UT: My focus areas have always been technology management, strategy, and enterprise applications. I started my career as a System Engineer at Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL). Throughout my career, I have worked in multiple organisations in leadership roles, particularly enjoyed my role as CTO and setting up an advanced technology division. In 2009, I joined Manhattan Associates, a global leader in supply chain commerce solutions.
HS: Tell us about your role at Manhattan Associates?
UT: I joined Manhattan Associates in 2009 and currently serve as Senior Vice President and General Manager (India). With 1,500 associates, the Indian operations support R&D, Professional Services, Customer Support & Cloud Services for Global customers across America, EMEA and APAC regions. In my current role at Manhattan Associates, I am responsible for the company's strategic direction, growth, and development in India.
HS: How did you face the challenges of working in a pandemic?
UT: Though the initial days were challenging to adopt to the new normal, technology made things easier. Virtual collaboration tools helped us stay connected with our teams and continue the “business as usual” while online learning tools helped in learning new skills. Like everyone else, I have grown to use virtual collaboration tools and online learning platforms significantly.
HS: What more can be done to attract and retain women in the workforce?
UT: Building a truly inclusive and adaptive workplace culture is critical for retaining as well as attracting women in tech roles and also ramping on after ramping off. Women professionals always thrive to be in an environment where they feel encouraged, safe, and contribute to innovation. At Manhattan India office, we have a popular program WeCODE - Women who code where we conduct hackathons for women, technical mentoring / presentation by senior women leaders, networking events, etc. Such programmes and forums help immensely.
HS: What have been your biggest successes and challenges?
UT: Setting up new technology / services teams and building new capabilities is what I am proud of. I would be happy to see more women professionals in senior roles.
HS: Do you mentor women in tech?
UT: At MA, diversity and inclusion have always been an important focus area and as a result we have a high percentage of women employees. We have a dedicated programme exclusively for our women employees called WIN - Women Initiative Network. This programme focuses on developing and growing our women employees in their careers.
HS: Why is networking absolutely essential for women in tech?
UT: Networking is an integral part of career growth, including women in tech. Tech industry is very dynamic and women need mentors within and outside the organisation in their technical careers.
Women focused initiatives such as the NASSCOM Women Wizards Rule Tech program can help women technologists’ network and prosper. It gives them the confidence to share their views, exchange thoughts, and navigate their career paths. At Manhattan we encourage networking at organisational level and have programmes like WIN - Women Initiative Network and WeCODE - Women who code. Under these programmes, we organise leadership training sessions and informal meetings to support Manhattan’s talented women in achieving their professional goals.
HS: Why do you think there are very few women in leadership positions in tech?
UT: Ideally, it should not be different for a woman in a leading position than for a man. However, while women equally focus on both work and personal life during the initial stage, somewhere at a later stage they decide to prioritise family commitments over career. Further, we need more women leaders who can act as mentors for other women. To encourage more women in the workforce and in leadership roles, there needs to be a mindset and sponsorship in organisations, among peers and immediate family members.
HS: Why should every organisation have an equal opportunity mindset?
UT: With changing times, the definition of ideal workplace has evolved. I believe that embracing diversity, inclusion, and providing equal opportunities paves way for a coherent work culture that values talent. The future workforce will be benefited by diversity immensely.
HS: Who/what have been your biggest inspirations?
UT: There are quite a few people who have inspired me both personally and professionally at various stages. Business personalities like Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla inspire me for their business acumen and thinking. Another person who has inspired me is our CEO who has encouraged creating forums for women and has been a sponsor for D&I initiatives. Another person would be my first boss who helped me develop strategic thinking capability.
HS: What are your future plans?
UT: The Manhattan Associates India office plays an integral role as part of our global organisation. My focus will continue to be to expand the value contribution from our India office.