The IAMCP celebrates International Women’s Day by honoring the success of one of its own:
IAMCP D&I committee chair, Sarika Malhotra
By Aileen Provan
Despite the need for much more work and greater awareness, over the last decades, we have come a long way towards establishing balance in gender equality. This would have never been achieved without leading examples of bold women who dared to take new initiatives and chart new territory typically "reserved" for men.
On International Women's Day, we celebrated the achievements of those women who have helped pave the way towards an equal world and whose courage, determination, and success inspired others to follow their lead.
We didn't have to look far for inspiring role models; we found them in our IAMCP community. Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair, Sarika Malhotra, is one of those fearless women who dared to be different.
20 years ago, women as technology leaders or female entrepreneurs were a rare breed in India. Sarika started her first tech company in 1996, then five years later, co-founded another one, becoming its director and CTO. She continues to be at the helm of that company, Pune (India) based C3IT Software Solutions, as its CEO. Anyone who has had the opportunity to work with, or for, Sarika Malhotra, knows that she a formidable force who leads her team with compassion and embraces diversity as a strength.
Unfulfilled army career
Her tenacity and determination have empowered Sarika to overcome challenges throughout her career and now to lead a staff of over one hundred technology employees. Of course, her leadership was developed and shaped over many years, and it all started with her idea of joining – the army!
Sarika greatly admired her father, an engineer in India's army, and desperately wanted to follow in his footsteps. That passion escalated after his death during her high school years, but India's military rules back then forbade women to enlist other than in a medical capacity. Sarika preferred active service and was deeply disappointed that she was denied the chance to fulfill her dream. Despite pressure from family, she decided to pursue an engineering career, albeit outside the military.
A girl in STEM
The India of the '80s saw very few women entering the engineering field. At her university, Sarika was one of only 6 female peers in a group of 250 students. This gender imbalance meant fewer opportunities and also prevented female students from comfortably speaking up in a male-dominated classroom.
Sarika persisted through these challenges, went on to complete her Master's Degree on a full scholarship, and eventually won a Gold Medal from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, India. She was then hired from campus by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a large multinational Indian organization. Here she worked on mainframes and Cobol, then moved on to build a banking software solution, which is one of TCS's flagship offerings in the BFSI domain even today.
The working Mum and tech entrepreneur
In 1995, Sarika's husband was transferred to Pune, which meant an end to her role with TCS in Delhi. While TCS offered Sarika an opportunity in Pune, she found the work was not challenging enough, and coupled with the challenges of raising a 3-year-old daughter, no childcare support and a long distance to travel to work; she left TCS. Not one to sit idle, Sarika started teaching courses, eventually freelance consulting when her daughter started school. As her assignments increased, she started designing and selling software and, before she knew it, had 10 customers!
She formed a small company that caught the attention of a large ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) company with which she merged. Sarika was invited to join their management team, but the distance to their office was quite prohibitive for the mother of 2 young children. Eventually, despite tasting some success, a difference in leadership mindset led Sarika to start afresh and partner with a professional friend to begin C3IT Software Solutions – now in its 18th year.
Reflecting on her greatest challenges through this transition, Sarika said,
"Again, I found myself in a man's world, with no clue about corporate finance, or how to read P&L statement. Networking was tough, being the only woman trying to break into a group of men standing around a bar with a drink in their hands. It was the toughest thing I had to learn, and when I did it, I felt victorious! Of course, as for all women with a young family, work/life balance was difficult, even with a supportive spouse. We worked mostly with U.S.-based companies, so the time difference was hard on my family. My children became very independent at an early age, doing things by themselves that their peers could not".
Leader, Committee Chair and D&I advocate
Today, Sarika is the CEO of C3IT Software Solutions, an MS Gold Partner and a provider of IT solutions in the areas of Business Intelligence, Content and Collaboration, and enterprise-level custom solutions. The company's focus is on helping customers utilize data effectively for collaboration, compliance, and insights.
Sarika is also the Chair of the IAMCP International D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) Committee, serves as President of the IAMCP Pune Chapter, which she founded in 2016 and is a member of WIT India.
C3IT and D&I
At C3IT, Sarika sets the D&I tone, leading by example and demonstrating that the model works.
"We have very successfully integrated a diverse community within our organization. Our hiring decisions are based on skills and ability, not biases. A few years ago, we realised that we had very few female applicants and recognised that women only apply if they meet 100% of the job criteria, whereas men apply even if the fit is only 50%. So, we tweaked our job descriptions to segregate "mandatory" skills and "preferred" skills, and the female application rate increased."
In one instance, the company hired a woman in her late 40s who had graduated but had been a full-time stay-at-home mother all her adult life. Having recently lost her husband, she found herself in financial distress and had two sons to educate. She started her career at C3IT at a late age, and the company has also subsequently hired one of her sons who recently graduated in Engineering.
This model was again reflected when the company was called upon to consider hiring a young girl, Shikha, a mechanical engineer who was recovering from depression and life-threatening illness. While she was responding to treatment, she needed to be financially independent and get her life back on track. When she started looking for work, she realized that all potential employers were located in industrial zones far outside the city, and she was not yet physically able to make the long commute. Although C3IT usually hires people with education in IT-related streams, the company devised a creative solution and hired Shikha as an intern to do QA (Quality Assurance) testing, training her from the ground up on quality standards.
And the outcome? After just 6 months, C3IT was able to hire Shikha as a full-time employee.
Said Sarika, "We were very happy that Shikha recovered well and has grown to become a valuable part of our team! By breaking down barriers we connect with people better, hear different perspectives and learn more from one another. It is empowering for individuals and makes companies stronger and more successful."