Challenging biases and stereotypes, how Hema Sharma of Wells Fargo reached the top of her career

In our Women in Tech series this week, we feature Hema Sharma, Technology Director – Enterprise Product Transformation Lead, India & Philippines. She takes us through her journey of 23+ years and different experiences, while explaining the biases that hold women back.

Challenging biases and stereotypes, how Hema Sharma of Wells Fargo reached the top of her career

Wednesday October 18, 2023,

5 min Read

When Hema Sharma enrolled for an engineering degree in electronics and communication in the early 1990s in a college in Delhi, she was one among eight girls in a class of 42 students. She recalls that the girls had to face casual sexism and misogyny on campus every day.

There would be stray comments that they had taken away the boys’ seats, with the implication that they would get married, have children, and leave their engineering careers behind.

Hema Sharma

“Our ragging session started off with a joke on how beautiful women were non-existent on campus. There were remarks on our appearance and what we wore,” Sharma tells HerStory.

Over a career spanning more than 23 years, she has worked in important roles at Trisoft, Sapient, Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers, and others. She is currently the Technology Director – Enterprise Product Transformation Lead, India & Philippines at Wells Fargo and also Co-Chair, Women in Technology (WiT), India and Philippines Chapter.

Facing biases and stereotypes

The biases and stereotypes continued as the women appeared for interviews on campus.

“There were many companies that outright refused to take women for roles on the shop floor. I faced it when I cleared two written rounds for a company, and when I was called for the next, the HR personnel told me I was an exception because the second round was based on machine experience. She wanted to see what kind of an oddity I was. She openly told me that they didn’t take girls for floor jobs,” Sharma says.

Her first job turned out to be a marketing role that didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to be. Here, she did not face any differentiation but just stuck on for a few months, impatient to move on to another that offered her the opportunity to grow.

After four years at Influence, a trading house, she decided to be part of the IT boom that was entering India in a big way in the early 2000s. She joined as a developer in an IT company as part of a young group working on diverse solutions.

By now, she had almost five years of experience behind her. But the biases continued.

Sharma recalls an instance when she and a colleague were working on a release, with him doing the backend and she the frontend, but it failed.

“Everyone assumed I had done it wrong, including the guy doing the frontend. I spent the next three hours trying to debug the code but couldn’t find anything wrong. I went back to him and told him nothing was wrong with my code. He went back, checked and fixed his code. I spent three hours fixing my code because I also accepted I was wrong,” she says.

Her next stint was with the Institute of Electronics and Telecom Engineers, a government agency, after which she joined Trisoft as a project manager. She spent a large part of her career, over a decade, at Publicis Sapient, and she speaks very highly of its employee-friendly policies, especially the option to work from home in any role.

“As long as you were working for eight hours, no matter where you were working from, and your manager approved your timecard, you were good,” she says.

The Agile experience

At Publicis Sapient, Sharma began her journey with Agile (a type of software development methodology), becoming a project management specialist, a role that took her to London for a few years to work with clients like Lloyds and HSBC.

In 2019, Sharma joined Wells Fargo and now leads the Agile transformation for the company in India and the Philippines.

“In my previous role, I was like a third-party contractor to the banks. Here I was with the bank itself. The scale Wells Fargo provides is unique, and when I started it was to set up the Agile transformation in India, and make sure that we were in step with the global organisation when it came to Agile adoption, agile maturity, enabling the organisations to become agile, through coaching, through training, and global interventions,” she explains.

Sharma is also the co-chair of the WiT (Women in Technology) chapter at Wells Fargo. WiT is an advocacy group for the women that works across Wells Fargo Technology and the allies who support them.

“Our purpose is work towards improving the representation of women at Wells Fargo, and support both lateral and upward mobility of women, and create a culture of inclusion where women feel an equal part of the organisation. We have the Glide programme, which welcomes women back into work after a break, the Bold programme to help senior people, both men and women, become leaders and an allyship programme,” she says.

On why women find it difficult to sustain themselves in tech careers, Sharma says they often drop out because they don’t get the right support at their workplaces or homes, or they can’t be as aggressive about their work.

“In my experience, we don’t ask for things, and are not assertive enough. If someone says we are not up to the mark, we accept that feedback. We don’t challenge it by asking what are the data points confirming this? We don’t ask for promotions or raises,” she elaborates.

Sharma also points out that the biases start long before we join the workspace. It starts from our families and societies, and these are taken to the workspace.

“I think a workplace that can draw boundaries to understand we have a personal life while following workplace norms helps women succeed. I am happy to note that many of them are doing that,” she adds.

About the future, Sharma says she’s not hung up on any particular role or title.

“What’s more important is the type of work I do; I need to get a kick out of it. I see myself growing in the transformational field,” she says.

Edited by Megha Reddy