Managing Gender Diversity for a Thriving Tech Workplace

By: Kavitha Shankar, Director, Compute & Custom Business Unit, Marvell India Pvt. Ltd

Kavitha Shankar has a wealth of experience in the field of Design for Test (DFT). With over 20 years in the industry, she has demonstrated expertise in managing, defining, implementing, and executing DFT activities for custom ASICS and SoCs ranging from 45nm to 5nm technodes. Currently serving as a Director at Marvell Semiconductors, Kavitha is deeply passionate about leadership, mindful management, diversity, and inclusion.

In the conversation with Women Entrepreneur Magazine. Kavitha Shankar, Director, Compute & Custom Business Unit, Marvell India Pvt. Ltd shares her views on how to create the right culture for effective leadership development and she also shares about What proactive measures should taken to build a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

How does gender diversity benefit large technology product development firms? How do you manage gender diversity in the workplace?

I think the appropriate question to ask is not how gender diversity benefits a large tech firm, but why we single out gender diversity as a point of contention. Is it to market ourselves as a forward-thinking society? Or is it a genuine attempt to increase the number of female workers in the workplace?

Creating a gender diverse team helps enrich workplace exposing workforce to different ways of working, problem solving skills, varied perspectives, and culture. In my experience, people who were unconsciously biased and stereotyped one gender changed their perspective when they worked side by side with and competed with people from the other gender. This is a positive change in the society.

Going out of our way to hire female employees is not necessarily a good idea. The problem only arises when the list is segregated by gender and one is favored over the other. We ensure we have a fair representation of gender in the pre-interview phase, so we have a fair chance at selecting the right candidates for the job as well as keep the workforce diverse.

Upon hiring qualified women, we should focus on empowering and mentoring them. No single employee must feel like a “token” hire, be that for their ethnicity or gender. However, being a female employee comes with its own set of challenges due to the historical & societal biases.

How do you approach building and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace? What proactive measures have you taken to build a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Building a truly diverse workplace should be done by addressing the stigma attached to difficult conversations pertaining to diversity. It is only once we de-stigmatize open and honest conversation, that the workplace can take a step toward true inclusion. We must implement processes to check and stop active biases, educate the employees on passive biases and its effects, and finally, address any failures to uphold the said diversity. Implementing appropriate disciplinary procedures to those who violate these guidelines will go a long way too. An added benefit of this would be providing the men at workplace a perspective to support their spouses. In an industry like ours where the demands on our time, attention and skill enhancement are relentless, integrating life with work has helped me..For example, when I knew my childcare support had to be changed, I reached out to my manager and asked for flexible hours and time off. So when the actual effects of change – child falling sick repeatedly, needing more of my time to get both of us accustomed to the change etc.. – I had expectations at work set. No one expected me to respond immediately to an instant message, for example, but at the same time, knew I would get to it as soon as I was able to. Keeping an open communication channel with my stakeholders enabled me to make priority calls as and when needed. All these strategies work when we invest in building trust and being consistent with the quality of deliverables and commitment. Carefully building and consciously investing in solid support system at home and at work is also a strategy that has worked for me.

How do you create the right culture for effective leadership development? What leadership qualities and skills did you use to become successful and reach your current position?

Leadership skills only go as far as the leader that wields them. Effective leadership skills are those that even the leaders must adhere to. Having a multi-tier management system is a bonus to the true implementation of skills. If a leader is not held accountable for their lapses in judgment their subordinates would far from adhere to the same guidelines. However, theconsequences of a mistake must not instill fear in employees, but rather a sense of caution. Thiscan exist when leaders are held accountable for mistakes, not shamed. This leads to thecultivation of a culture where leaders learn from mistakes, as do their subordinates. The ability to move on from a mistake is as important as having the ability to not make them or fix them.My journey up the corporate ladder was aided by my commitment to open conversation. Whilebeing assertive is often confused with being rude and insensitive, being respectful in all interactions helps avoiding that viewpoint. Hard work can only get you so far if you cannot appropriately express yourself to the vendor/customer. Admitting to one’s mistakes and putting in the group effort of resolving it is often easier than harboring feelings of guilt and angst. I found that taking responsibility for a positive increased morale, and similarly taking responsibility for the negatives increases productivity, if dealt with objectively. Passing the blame, playing politics, and avoiding work only led to crummy deadlines and lowered quality of work.

According to you, what strategies can be employed to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of leadership development in business?

For our industry, the truest measure of success is reflected fiscally. Effective leaders practice what they preach. Some of the tenets include encouraging employees to leave their comfort zone, executing tasks and making good on deliverables. The truest form of measuring leadership is to find out how many leaders these programs installed in the organization and how many of them could succeed. The transition from technical work to that of management and vice versa, based on business needs, is by far the biggest measure of a leader’s success.

What inspired you to develop your idea? How do you define success and how long did it take you to find it?

My concept of leadership and the ideologies that go with it, is an amalgamation of various leaders I have interacted with through the years. Some have instilled a fear of failure while some dispel my own limiting beliefs. Some challenged me to color within the lines, while some encouraged me to forget about lines altogether. Mentors have taught me to give the same attention to a trivial task that I would to a super critical project. My leaders have encouraged me to “go for it”, “try it even you fail,” and had my back through and through. All this, however, came with the pre-existing understanding of my skills/strengths and unwavering trust in my commitment to the task. Success is a moving target. It grows and shrinks to the limit of only our own ambitions. My journey toward success has been a long and continuous one, and the only thing that kept me going was my goal and the knowledge of what it takes to achieve it.