Apex sat down with Varsha Waishampayan, CEO and Founder of WINGS for Growth who has tremendous experience on Wall Street building global teams from the ground up, problem solving and whose passion to promote women leaders led her here. She shares her experience along with ways that we can all move the needle through mentorship and support.
Q: Is the lack of women in tech really a pipeline problem or is it that companies are not providing the culture to cultivate and promote their women talent?
A: Lack of women in tech is a similar issue as lack of women leaders rising to the top in any industry. I do not believe in blaming companies, society or the world alone in general. Times have changed. Many opportunities have opened up for women to do what they want to do. Yes, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to promote gender equality but we are heading in the right direction. Now the question is, are women ready when the opportunities arise? Do they have the right support system to rise? I do think companies have to do more work in creating an upward mobility path for all employees wanting to pursue a career in Tech regardless of their gender. In my view, CIOs still don’t have an important seat at the table. WHY?
Q: Does the current conversation about women in tech single women out and leave men out of the solution in your organization?
A: No conversation should ever single women out. We always need men as our allies and partners in every growth conversation. No questions. Organizations need to create an inclusive culture not just by talking about it, but by doing it.
Q: What can organizations do to get more women into senior-level and executive positions? Where do you see gaps?
A: This is a longer conversation, but this is how I will summarize:
- First, women have to be ready and willing
- Structured Mentoring and coaching program should be offered to high potential women feeling stuck in the middle
- Women must create a better support system at home so that they can have work and life balance (Work and life Integration does not work in my opinion). Organization must support flexible work environment even for senior women. They should not have to pick promotion vs. family.
- Women have to lift each other to reach the top
- The organizations need to create opportunities for women and women need to learn how to spot, seize and grab the opportunity when they see it
Q: What can companies do to address unconscious bias at all levels of the organization?
A: Train them well and test them over and over again. Create a culture where employees feel empowered, respected and they are not afraid to own their actions.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?
A: If tech is your passion, go at it with full force. Doors will open if you want them opened. Perseverance and focus will clear the path. Don’t be afraid to chase opportunities where they exist. The biggest challenge with Technology is continuous education and innovation. Women have a lot more demands on their time. So, I found it challenging to keep up with new technologies while fulfilling my duties as a mom and wife at home. Prioritization and support system at home is key.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the next generation of women and how can we be stronger role models for them?
A: Millennials have everything boomers often lacked – confidence, focus, passion and a great sense of entitlement. They MUST NOT undervalue experiential guidance. We need to be open-minded and flexible. Make room for the next generation to grow. Engage them in the decision-making process. Companies should fire their managers if they do not have a succession plan.
Q: How is your organization creating programs and training for men to be better advocates for women specifically around support and sponsorship?
A: WINGS for Growth is a nonprofit, we deliver a formal mentoring and coaching program to women with high potential. Many of our mentors are men and they are senior executives. We coach them and train them to become great mentors while they are in our program for 10 months. We also have female mentors. Often, they learn from each other’s experience.
Q: How can women better support other women in technology?
A: Women need to lift other women in any industry not just in Technology. There are plenty to go around, no need to be insecure. Just because we struggled does not mean others should. Progress will be very slow if we keep blaming companies, society, and businesses for gender equality, and we do not do our part. I am doing mine.
Q: It is no secret that many women in the tech industry felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated in their role. Have you come across a situation that made you feel that way?
A: I have not, mostly because I focus on what I can control and find a way to navigate through challenges. But I know gender plays a role. If you equip yourself with knowledge, passion and strong drive nothing is impossible. It may take longer but you will feel the progress.
This is the reason I left corporate America to focus on the solution rather than complaining about the problem. I started a nonprofit called WINGS for Growth. We prepare women for upward mobility through formal mentoring and coaching. We also prepare senior executives to be better mentors. This is a ground level work we must do before we can have any meaningful conversation about Diversity and Inclusion and gender gap.
Varsha Waishampayan, CEO and Founder, WINGS for Growth
Varsha has decades of management experience on Wall Street. During her career, Varsha has built large global teams from the grounds up, led complex problem-solving opportunities, and developed meaningful relationships in fortune 500 companies as well as in large nonprofit organizations. Varsha has worked with several C-level executives in her management-consulting career at PwC. She knows knowledge, authenticity, and insight is what matters in almost every business and she has learned and practiced that all her life. Her strong operational background helps her to stay focused on execution and delivery.
Varsha is passionate about creating and promoting women leaders. She has worked and led nonprofits that focus on girls’ education. She is a teacher at heart and has seen her father changing people’s life from good to great by being a teacher all his life. Before stepping into financial services, Varsha was a professor of Chemistry in her previous life. She taught graduate level courses.
Her fascination with leadership development in women was kindled by being a participant of the corporate run “Developing talent program” focused on women’s development. Varsha had a chance to observe, participate and understand the dynamics of what worked and what could be made better in workplace mentoring. At this point, she recognized she was drawn to constantly mentoring women around her and she could make a difference with her approach.
This led to a discovery and then new beginning of her purposeful journey. Varsha left her long successful career in corporate America and founded WINGS for Growth to pursue her father’s vision in a purposeful journey. WINGS for Growth is a non-profit organization, which empowers women to unleash their inner leader and accelerate their personal and professional growth.
Music is Varsha’s muse. She is rejuvenated by music and equally loves being energized by a day at the spa. Nature in its selfless giving inspires her every day. She is ever grateful to have a wonderful family and thankful that she followed her father’s best advice “There is never a bad time to do good, it is a matter of priorities”. She lives in Bridgewater, NJ with her husband and enjoys the natural bounty of her surroundings.