The reality in Silicon Valley is that when a man applies for a senior-level position, he’s considered a qualified candidate based solely on potential. But if the applicant is a woman, she has to demonstrate that she has already accomplished something in the course of holding a similar position.
That’s the assessment of Syamla Bandla, vice president of global cloud operations at Qualys, a cloud platform service provider in Redwood City, California. Bandla joined Qualys just a couple of months ago, following a four-year stint at RMS, a catastrophe risk management services provider in Newark, California. In a recent interview, Bandla, who is from India, spoke about her experience as a female tech executive in Silicon Valley, beginning with her recent move from RMS:
I was definitely looking for opportunities where I was given the responsibility of transforming an organization — a company that was going through another growth spurt. I wanted to work on a large scale to apply my experience and background, not just from a technology perspective, but in terms of transforming processes. I did feel, in talking to the folks at Qualys, that I was going to be given that opportunity. When I joined RMS, I had the same passion — it was an opportunity to transform a large-scale, high-performing organization.
I found it interesting that Bandla’s title at Qualys is almost identical to the title she held at RMS, which was vice president of global cloud platform services. That suggests that her move might have been a lateral one, which made me wonder if there’s some sort of glass ceiling for women at that level. I mentioned to Bandla my own observation over the years that often, when men in the technology industry change companies, they move into a higher-level position, whereas when women change companies, it’s often more of a lateral move. I asked Bandla for her thoughts on that, and she indicated that she was an exception:
You might be right with that observation — yes, I have observed that. I don’t feel my move is a lateral move, just because of the sheer complexity and scale involved, and the need to ensure that the organization can execute a multi-cloud strategy. I think the Qualys opportunity definitely puts me in a different bracket — I see it as a stepping stone in my career growth. … But I have repeatedly seen that for women to progress in their careers, they have to really have accomplished something, or proven themselves, whereas that’s not necessarily the case with their male counterparts. You talked about lateral moves — when going for interviews for the next level, men are more easily given that position, based on their potential. But what I’ve observed, and heard from my peers, women have to either be in that role, or have been in that role. That’s the reality in Silicon Valley.
As for how her Indian heritage has affected her career and the opportunities she’s had, Bandla said she’s really never thought about it:
I feel I’ve been blessed to have really good colleagues, and really good management, to support me. I don’t know that my Indian heritage had anything to do with either hindering my career path, or actually helping me. I think it’s all about the work, and all about the impact I was trying to make. You just need to be consistent in what you are doing.
On the other hand, Bandla said obstacles confront women from other countries that don’t stand in the way of women from this country:
For me, the U.S. was the first experience I had in a foreign country. The biggest challenge is the balance between work life and commitment on the personal front. Women coming from a foreign background aren’t as exposed to the way the corporate world works here. For me that was foreign, and learning that on my own initially was a challenge. But once I started making an impact, and chose my career moves cautiously, I felt like I’ve had a fantastic ride with my career.
I pointed out that a lot of women in the tech industry end up starting their own companies because they’ve found that their opportunities are otherwise limited due to the male dominance of the industry. Bandla said she hasn’t considered that path:
I have a very clear vision of where I see myself in three to five years — a CIO or CTO role is my passion. Again, it’s all about the impact, and it’s all about the responsibility and my ability to help organizations transform both IT and cloud operations. I’ve done that naturally, whether it was at Dell, where I helped five acquisitions integrate into the company, or at RMS, where it was basically transforming the entire business model, which had never done hosting or cloud. In a CIO or CTO role, I think I would have an even bigger impact in making that transformation for the organization.
Bandla was recently honored by CloudNOW, an organization for women in cloud computing, as a “Top Woman in Cloud Innovations.” That reminded me of my recent interview with Anna Schlegel, a senior globalization executive at NetApp, who co-founded the organization, Women in Localization. There are, of course, a number of industry-wide organizations for women in technology, including the Anita Borg Institute, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and Women in Technology International. So I wrapped up the conversation by asking Bandla for her views on the importance of having distinct women’s organizations in the various disciplines within the technology industry, and whether that should be weighed against any concern that the sheer number of women’s organizations might be diluting the effectiveness of what these organizations aspire to achieve. Her response:
I think until we start seeing equality in the senior posts, which is still far away, what these organizations are trying to do is bring diversity and equality, especially in the top positions. Throughout my journey, at Dell, Fidelity, RMS and now here [at Qualys], it’s been very much male-dominated. I think equality will come when women are recognized in their own sub-groups, through organizations that are helping to build that confidence, and build the brand for women and what they are trying to achieve in their careers. I would say it will take at least a decade — that’s my personal opinion — for these organizations to converge and determine that they have achieved the equality they were trying to bring about at the senior levels. I’m not talking about the mid-manager tier — I’m talking about SVPs and the C-level. I think there is still a long way to go.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.