Women @ Pega: Shanthi Sundar

Women @ Pega
“We, as women, need to support each other, share our experiences, and cheer for each other."

Welcome to our Women @ Pega series, where we showcase our community’s diverse leadership and discuss the future of women in tech.

STEM industries, once overwhelmingly run by men, are steadily adding more forward-thinking female leaders to their teams. This global trend is evidenced by the rising numbers of women choosing to pursue degrees in areas like computer science and engineering, as well as the growing population of female tech professionals around the world.

India, which is home to two Pegaystems locations, is emerging as an epicenter of equalization within the international tech sphere. According to the Aspiring Minds National Employability Report (2014), the gap between men and women in STEM roles throughout India is quickly closing: The nation’s male-to-female ratio for engineering roles was 1.72 in 2014, while the United States’ stood at 4.43. The report also found that men and women were considered equally employable among Indian tech organizations.

Shanthi Sundar, Pegasystems India’s Senior Director and Head of Human Resources, is an example of how India’s tech workforce is increasing its gender diversity and opening its door to exceptional female leadership. As a woman in tech working to recruit other female professionals into the industry, she is on the front line of the global push for equality in STEM.

Carving out a tech-focused career

Shanthi has been with Pega since March 2015, when she was referred to the company by a friend who was working as Head of HR – the role Shanthi herself now inhabits. She was attracted to Pega not only because it seemed like a great fit for her professional background, but also because of the vibrant office culture.

“Once I walked through the door, what really attracted me to Pega was the genuine interest and warmth exhibited by people who interviewed me,” she said. “It made me think that this was a great opportunity to work in an organization that believes in its people!”

Other than a brief time working for a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, Shanthi’s entire career has been focused on human resources within the STEM sector. She says the tech industry is a unique animal from a HR perspective, as its employees are among the most innovative and forward-thinking professionals in the world.

“For an HR person, the difference between being in a manufacturing organization and a technology company is primarily the kind of people you are dealing with. What drives people in each of these sectors is very different,” she explained. “If you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you would find that in the technology world you are dealing with intelligent workers who constantly need to be challenged and told how what they do has a larger business purpose. They are gravitating to the top of the pyramid.”

One of Shanthi’s main goals within the HR department is to enhance Pega’s diversity by recruiting female professionals with this “top of the pyramid” mindset.

Encouraging gender equality in India’s STEM sphere

According to Shanthi, diversifying the tech industry requires significant effort on behalf of STEM organizations. Companies need to show total commitment from senior leadership and take distinct, targeted actions to attract female candidates. For these actions to be effective, she said, they must include the creation of separate recruitment channels that specifically connect with underrepresented groups.

“For instance, we have successfully conducted ‘Women’s Hackathon’ events. We will very soon be hosting an event to hire women who quit the workforce to take care of children,” she said.

Shanthi also recommended organizations “use the company communication machinery to communicate these efforts/differentiated policies to employees (who can then become ambassadors) as well as your talent pool in the external market.”

She noted that men play a crucial role in enhancing the diversification of India’s tech sector - both in the office and the home.

“They can start with not stereotyping jobs as ‘women friendly,’ and instead encourage their daughters, sisters and mothers to go seek out whichever area they want to work in. At the workplace, they would do a lot of good by removing the cognitive biases they may have and treat women as their equals.”

While the tech field has a ways to go before achieving gender equality across the board, Shanthi believes Pegasystems is headed in the right direction.

“The most valuable thing for women at Pega is that this is an inclusive, non-discriminatory organization in every way. That there are so many senior leaders who are women just goes to prove this. Pega India, for instance, has 24% women – very high for a technology Company like us in India,” she explained.

The importance of women helping women

While Shanthi may now be a leader in the fast-paced world of business and technology, her original source of inspiration came from far outside the corporate sphere.

“My role model is my mother. She is not educated beyond sixth grade, and got married early, as was the norm in India in those days,” she said. “She fostered a sense of gender equality at home when it was not so in many of my friends’ homes. My sister and I received the same opportunities as my brothers. She taught me to put my hand up for things I was sometimes uncomfortable about and gave me the confidence that I can do it! In a lot of ways, it is she who raised me to be the independent and competitive woman that I am today.”

In addition to her mother, Shanthi can point to a number of bosses and managers who encouraged her, challenged her, and pushed her to always do her best. Now, she tries to pay it forward through her recruitment and diversification efforts.

“We, as women, need to support each other, share our experiences, and cheer for each other,” she said.

In a recent Pegaworld session, Pega’s Susan Taylor advised, “You should never let someone else define you.” Shanthi’s addition to this inspiring statement?

“Don’t allow yourself to believe you are not good enough. Hang in there, put up your hand, and you can do anything you set out to achieve!”