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What it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated industry

Sophie Nicolas

By Sophie Nicolas

Studies show that there are too few women in leadership positions across the EU and it's more difficult for women to gain a higher-ranking position. So today, we’re going to delve into why that is and what it was like for Neha Karthik to pursue a manager position in a male-dominated industry.

Studies show that there are too few women in leadership positions across the EU and it’s no secret that it’s more difficult for women to gain a higher-ranking position in the corporate world. So today, we’re going to delve into why that is, if the industry as a whole is changing and what it was like for Neha Karthik to pursue a manager position in a male-dominated industry.

So tell us about what you do here at Bitpanda.
At Bitpanda, I’m one of the agile project managers. I work together with the mobile application teams to manage the projects for delivering new features and updates that we release for the Android and iOS Apps.

How did you come to be in this field?
I started working in IT & development for a company in India (where I’m from) immediately after my graduation, over nine & half years ago. I moved through different clients in this company and acquired different roles.

To sum it up, I started as a junior developer and I went on to become a senior developer, then a team leader and later on I became a project manager (my current role). And then, when I moved to Austria looking for a fresh start - I got a job here at Bitpanda!

So how did the work environment in India differ compared to Austria?
The main difference was in Austria, there is a work hour flexibility, that gives you an opportunity to balance your professional and personal life. That wasn't present so much in India, it’s changing now with the multi-national company culture and international clientele, but it is still a problem.

Were there a lot of females in your line of work?
Not enough really, and I think this is the global scenario. It is still alright at entry level positions but when we move higher in the career levels, the ratio reduces significantly.

In regards to IT and engineering for example, it’s very male-dominated when you move up the career ladder. Though I believe now, companies are changing their approach and are actively seeking women for diversity in the workplace.

Were there any particular challenges you faced when entering the workforce?
There is a very peculiar incident - my first interview. I was selected in the top five from over 100 candidates by a telecom company back in India (I was an Electronics and Telecommunication graduate - fresh off the boat!). We were two girls and three guys (I remember vividly), and the interviewer asked only me and the other girl, “Do you think you have enough physical strength to climb a reception tower to fix it, if needed?”. To this day, I still wonder if this was actually their requirement or if they were just trying to get rid of us girls. But anyways, I am just glad I didn't join that company!

Studies show that most men will apply for a promotion if they tick 60% of the criteria, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria needed. Why do you think that is? Can you give some insight?
The reason for this is your mindset. For a female, everything always has to be perfect. So if she matches the job perfectly, she feels comfortable to apply. Generally guys are less fearful of rejection than women.

I think it's the upbringing, thought process and cultural values that we’ve grown up with. When it comes to asking for promotions and applying for jobs, women are usually more timid than men. In general, men are more confident. Now I'm not saying women are not confident! I myself am a very confident person, I might even fall into the overconfident category! (laughs)

But I always fear that I will never be enough for this job, whether I will be able to do it and live up to expectations or not. I think it’s because women, especially in male-dominated industries, have more to prove.

What advice would you give women wishing to apply to tech companies, but fearing they don’t meet the full criteria?
There is this 80/20 principle where if you match 70-80% of the criteria, that should be enough. Sometimes, for most of the things written in the job description that don’t fit your skill set, your personality can help you get the job. But for that, the person has to see you in the interview, so the first thing you have to do is apply! The worst that can happen is you don’t get it, but you will never know if you don’t try. What do you have to lose?

Do you think the industry is changing in tech? What can people do to help?
I think it's definitely changing because now you see more women in leadership positions which is a good sign. But there are still some setbacks. For example, things seem to become difficult for a woman after childbirth because we still have this issue in our society where women are responsible for the household. So that mindset needs to be changed in every industry.

This comes down to the company and their values and I would really love to see a change in this globally. Fixing the problem cannot start just when the women starts working at the company - no. It must start from childhood, giving equal responsibility to both girl and boy counterparts to uphold the housework. And that way, when the boys grow up, they have this mentality of understanding that the woman is not the only person who is responsible for keeping the household and looking after the children. So for me, it’s also a question of upbringing and family values along with company values.

You are a mother yourself. When you became pregnant, were you worried about what would happen to your job?
I was worried. There was this promotion in front of me which got postponed because of my maternity leave. But luckily for me, I was able to come back from maternity earlier because I had help from my parents. I think it’s important for women in the workforce (and in general) to always have a good support system around them. So as soon as I came back, I got the promotion. I think not many women are as lucky as I am. Also, it slowed down my career a bit, but I really don’t regret it.

Compared to other companies you’ve worked for, what are some perks at Bitpanda that you enjoy?
I have a lot of flexibility in terms of working strategically. We have space to think on our own and design the best processes together. And everyone is always so approachable and so open to new ideas.

This flexibility also works great with my kids. If there is some situation with the kindergarten, everyone just understands and I can leave to pick my kid up or something, it’s never an issue.

But the biggest emphasis is on the fact that there is great visibility and a lot of room for professional growth which is my driving factor.

How do you maintain your work life balance?
I am always running somewhere! (laughs) My husband also does a lot. He never thinks he is “helping” me. He knows it's his responsibility too as a parent, which is so important for balancing the household.

I also rely on the awesome kindergarten system we have here in Austria. There is a kindergarten across our office which is an amazing perk for any parent who wants to join us.

Lastly, do you have any advice for women hoping to work in a management or leadership position?
Be yourself. There's no need to change yourself to fit better into a position. You are good as you are. Learn new things, face new challenges, work hard for it but never lose your individuality. And eventually, you will be where you deserve to be.

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Sophie Nicolas

Sophie Nicolas