[Women in Tech] A lot of people equate aggression with leadership; I prefer to show empathy, says Ritu Thareja of Fiserv

As Vice President, Software Development, Fiserv, Ritu Thareja heads delivery and operations for core banking, digital channels, and financial risk products for multiple clients across APAC, EMEA and LATAM markets.
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Ritu Thareja’s fascination for computers started while she was in school. She started writing BASIC codes and algorithms during her spare time, which led her to pursue a career in computer science.

But her road to her current position as Vice President, Software Development, Fiserv, did not start easy.

Her parents, who hail from small towns in Haryana and Rajasthan, had seen a life of financial hardships and faced societal prejudices for believing in her – a girl child.

Ritu Thareja - Vice President, Software Development, Fiserv

“Despite this, they believed in my capabilities and ensured I received a good education, even if that meant selling their ‘only’ asset to pay my engineering college admission fee. Driven by their faith in me, I was determined to seek financial independence and security,” she says.

As a mathematics geek, her interest was reflected through top academic scores in subjects that involved mental math, logical reasoning, and data interpretation. After completing her BE in electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Ritu joined Infosys as a mainframe programmer on banking projects and steadily managed technology teams to drive outcomes in the digital space.

After that, she joined Fiserv in 2007, and over time, her portfolio expanded to include a gamut of services like product engineering, professional services, and client support.

“I have grown as an individual and as a professional. I have grown vertically, and expanded the scope of the role. I lead the India delivery and operations mandate on product engineering, implementation, and support for markets within the APAC, EMEA, and LATAM regions. My key responsibilities include partnering with regional businesses and managing application portfolio teams to deliver best-in-class solutions, including production stability, risk profiling, and functional and technical enhancements for our clients,” she says.

In addition, she is also a core member of the Unity Employee Resource Group, which is focused on building awareness and driving inclusion of LGBTQ+ associates in the organisation.

Leading different teams

Over the last 15 years, Ritu has been managing teams – including all-male teams.

“Every project and team member gave me opportunities to learn different perspectives and has added depth to my experience. Currently, I oversee more than 200 associates and strongly believe in the power of teamwork and collaboration. Communication, respect, and trust are basic ingredients of any winning team,” she says.

Ritu believes that one of the reasons we don’t see many women leaders at the top of corporations is “prevailing biases” about leadership as a trait.

“A lot of people equate aggression with leadership, whereas I prefer to show empathy. It is not just enough to provide means or tools; what is more important is to support your team members in decision making,

moving things forward, and empowering them,” she says.

Retain women in tech

While attracting women to the tech workforce may have gotten easier in recent teams, Ritu believes retaining them is equally important.

“For a woman candidate to thrive in her career, an ecosystem of support needs to exist. It starts with employers providing equal opportunities sustained through a mindset shift from family and society at large. The business benefits from diversity and inclusion have been so visible that no organisation can afford to miss them. At Fiserv, employee resource groups such as WIL and WIN (Women in Leadership and Women’s Impact Network) support women and unity for the LGBTQ+ community. Forward For Her, our return-to-work programme, was launched to provide a platform for women to re-start their careers after a break,” she says.

She points out that the lack of women in leadership positions stems from several external factors that include unconscious bias, the absence of role models, and societal norms. In addition, fewer women in leadership roles are also a result of their inaccurate self-perceptions of their career progression.

“Self-rejection and criticism impact their confidence level as well as their comfort with self-promotion, which is critical to anyone's chances of getting hired, promoted, or getting a salary raise. The 'impostor syndrome' is also prevalent amongst high-achieving women. Positive reinforcements and regular coaching go a long way in overcoming this,” she adds.

For Ritu, the accurate measure of success lies in balancing all facets of life and she feels that success in one’s career and personal life are not mutually exclusive.

In this regard, her most significant success factors have been supporting her family, trust from her team, peers, and supervisors, and earning adequate compensation to achieve financial stability and give back to society.

In her spare time, Ritu enjoys having discussions and debates on technology with her 12-year-old son. “Other than taking me back down the memory lane, he has also taught me to keep alive my learning and inquisitive spirit,” she says.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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