The Women in ICT session was filled with a great number of people still buzzing from the APNIC 42 opening ceremony.
Duncan Macintosh, APNIC Development Director and the facilitator of the session, introduced the five leaders from the ICT industry, and asked them to share their inspirational stories.
First we heard from Sagarika Wickramasekera, Assistant Network Manager at the Sri Palee Campus University of Colombo and President of ISOC’s Sri Lanka Chapter, who spoke on several projects that are helping in breaking down barriers on gender and disability.
“ISOC Chapter is working on closing the gender gap in the ICT sector in Sri Lanka, doing training for veterans, helping blind people in addition to promoting the Safe Internet campaign – a project that targets women and children in schools,” Sagarika said.
The second speaker, Prof. Dileeka Dias, Professor of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering, enlightened us on how mobile phones and new technologies are presently contributing to Sri Lanka’s economic development.
“The number of mobile phones has increased in Sri Lanka and penetration is almost like electricity with a variety of data packages and value added services. Nowadays operators are encouraging students to work with them. Sri Lanka is connected country-wide with fibre networks and more and more mobile operators are developing applications in local languages,” Prof. Dileeka said.
Thirdly we heard from Prof. Mahesha Kapurubandara, Dean International, Professor at the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT). Prof. Mahesha started as an Analyst Programmer and became the first woman in Sri Lanka to receive a Professorship for ICT. She shared her experience as a PhD student who struggled to balance family and work.
“I encourage women who study IT to have a plan beforehand. If I had planned better I would have done things differently, I could have had more time dedicated to academia but I have no regrets,” Prof. Mahesha said.
Prof. Mahesha Kapurubandara added: “30 per cent of students who are enrolled in IT courses are girls.”
The fourth speaker was Chitranganie Mubarak, chairperson of ICTA Sri Lanka. She shared the inspirational, real-life story of the president of PepsiCo., Indra Nooyi, that grabbed everyone’s attention immediately. I myself was truly inspired and would like to share the story here:
“There was a woman who used to work very hard in her office; she often worked till midnight. One day she was told she has been promoted as president on the Board of Directors of PepsiCo. She was overwhelmed. She ran to her home to share this good news with her mother,” Chitranganie said.
“‘Mom I have a good news to share with you’. Her mom said ‘your good news can wait outside, please get some milk for home’. She noticed her husband was already home and she asked her mom ‘why didn’t you tell him to get some milk’. Her mom replied ‘because he was tired’.
“Her heart-bursting happiness wasn’t noticed. Her mom said ‘You should leave your crown in the garage when you are home. At home you are just a daughter, a wife and a mother.”’
Everyone couldn’t get over this real life story.
The final panelist was Dilrukshi Gamage, Director/ICT consultant at ISaC Pvt Ltd, Information Manager in IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Sri Lanka, and member of the executive committee of the IEEE Sri Lanka. She mentioned women need to have the courage to lead and face challenges to excel in the ICT industry. She argued women’s participation needs to be increased in international conferences, hackathons and other competitions, and for women to be supportive of each other. Moreover, she was happy to say that many companies are including day care centres to make it easier for women to remain in the workforce.
After hearing from the panel, the floor was opened to the audience. A Sri Lankan fellow mentioned something unexpected she faced in a job interview: she was asked to promise she will not have children within two years of starting the role. The entire ballroom was surprised. Chitranganie Mubarak responded with huge shock, and mentioned she was not aware that women in ICT faced these kind of employer demands.
I asked the panel members a question regarding challenges women face in their family lives. As a reply, I think a wonderful suggestion came up: they suggested that women have to create the environment and keep that balance so the situation goes in our favour, and emphasized that giving up on our dreams is not the solution.
As this was the fifth year the Women in ICT session was held at an APNIC meeting, the audience were asked for their feedback about improving the session. Useful suggestions included:
- not conducting the session during lunch, because while having lunch it’s hard to concentrate on speakers
- introducing at least one male in the panel member who can share their story of helping women excel
- conducting the session as BoF
As the session drew to a close, the respected panel members were kind enough to mingle with the audience and exchanged their contacts. These generous ladies achieved so much, fighting against all odds. I would like to thank all the men and women who stretched their supportive hands towards these fighters.
I really don’t know about others but the story of PepsiCo.’s Indra Nooyi shook me up; I am still considering it. There is a saying that success tastes better with hardship. I believe that success tastes best with family support. Those harsh words from her mom could have put a full stop to her career. Rather, she used it as a force that drove her further, and that inspired me a lot. I feel guilty being ambitious at times but that one story changed my mind.
Big thanks to APNIC for arranging the Women in ICT session. Now I know a woman’s good news should not wait outside just to buy some milk. A woman should not leave her crown in the garage while coming home from work. Whenever I think of this session it leaves a smile on my face and reminds me of wearing my invisible crown always.
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