Women in STEM, Vijayashree Natarajan, SVP and Head of Technology - Omega Healthcare

Women in STEM, Vijayashree Natarajan, SVP and Head of Technology

Vijayashree Natarajan has more than 20 years of experience in the Technology space with a career built primarily in the Healthcare, Life Sciences, Banking, Financial, and Insurance domains. She heads the Technology team at Omega, accelerating the adoption of technology and automation in the organization. She has worked with several global leaders in the IT space including Cognizant Technology Solutions and BNY Mellon (formerly Inautix Technologies).

Vijayashree has headed the automation, analytics, and cloud divisions in her previous roles, achieving significant milestones for her clients. She has to her credit an Executive Program in Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business strategy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, and double graduation. While being passionate about technology, Vijayashree identifies herself to be a people-friendly leader who loves to collaborate and succeed along with her team. “Right, from my younger days I have been passionate about Science and Mathematics,” she says.

“It was in fact a dream to become an astrophysicist when I was doing my B.Sc. Physics. But then I was excited when I got the opportunity to pursue my B.Tech. Electronics from Madras Institute of Technology – an institute that has been the alma mater of several renowned scientists including Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. From there on I started my career as a Software engineer in the IT/ITeS industry. My first job was that of a Java Developer in the BFSI domain. From there on it has been a wonderful progressive journey in this industry,” she adds.

What got you interested in technology?

Having spent more than two decades in the field of technology and am still amazed at the wonders that technology has to offer. I have always been a tech.-an inclined person being fascinated about the power it has to transform our lives for the better. There is always something new to learn. A strong believer in continuous learning, this factor has fueled my interest, even to this day. I consciously switch roles so that I can have good learning in my career. Recalling my role a decade back as a Product Owner for Cognizant under the Smart Technology Social Mobility, Analytics, and Cloud, it was an exciting journey. I had the opportunity to build several mobile apps be it Android, Windows, or iPhone platforms. 5 years into that domain.

Later, I moved into Robotic Process Automation and it has been no turning back from the BOT world since then. My world is all about RPA, AI, ML, and everything automation. It’s a total pleasure trying to develop programs that can mimic the human brain and am in admiration of the advances we make with these facets of technology. A person who is inclined to science and technology, these motivate me to innovate more and bring in more transformations.

What are your roles now?

In the Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management space, the benefits of automation and technology are significant and can boost the revenues tremendously apart from capitalizing on other resources. Presently as the Head of Technology for Omega Healthcare, my primary role is to help the organization as well as our clients with their digital transformation journey. Improving the top-line as well as bottom-line using the various automation technologies, building in automated platforms and workflow solutions, partner with clients as they embark on their transformation journey and as their consulting partner, help them leverage the benefits from this various automation be it AI, ML, RPA and more.

Has the inclusion of Women in STEM changed over the years? How can the change be snowballed?

Tremendous improvement in the field of STEM is in the corporate and academic world. More Women Leaders coming in. We have women architects across the different facets of technology and I can see that population gradually growing. Even in the academic arena, I see a lot of my women friends scaling their careers completing their MPhils and Doctorates. A lot of them have taken up research, professors, and much more. As with other fields, we can definitely see women’s participation improve in STEM helping women in this area, more work-life balance.

Technology allows one to work remotely sans a physical office presence, an era where entire technology and product development is shifting to the remote work mode of management. More and more remote-managed work will only help women coming into these roles because they don’t have to really take a break if it really requires. As a woman leader myself, I truly believe that the field of  STEM has helped me scale my career to be where I am right now and I can beautifully balance both my personal and professional life.

In the new normal, how are the roles of Women in Tech changing? What are the new challenges for women in tech?

That the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology is clearly evident. There has been a tandem rise in job opportunities and leadership roles.  For any working professional, it is very easy to stagnate at a certain level. In the field of technology, one needs to understand how to transition across roles and accordingly equip themselves to become a leader.  In the new normal, especially with the pandemic, every corporate has moved to remote work which is indeed helping women. When I look at my own team, colleagues, and friends, I see how they are leveraging this new work mode to their advantage. With remote management and work from home/anywhere gaining popularity, technology is certainly favoring the advancement of women across industries in this new normal. Women are getting more opportunities to progress in their roles with the amplified adoption of technology and the remote work mode.

With the rapid advancement of technology, women need to be even more conscious about staying updated with these advancements and they shouldn’t stop learning after a certain age. They need to come out of this shell and consciously inculcate a habit of continuous learning. Exploring the future-ready technologies and getting certified is a necessity for all tech. professionals and not just women. The responsibilities in both personal and professional life are only going to increase as we progress. While balancing those responsibilities one should also stay current by learning continuously.  The new normal will give more time to upskill/reskill which one should take advantage of.

The impact of women in technology is undeniable. What do you think should be the ways to keep women engaged and appreciated in the workforce?

Give women more opportunities, even if they are challenging and testing their capabilities to excel in their scope of work. Don’t create boundaries for their performance and limit their growth. Within my teams, I have seen how women willingly accept such opportunities and achieve new levels of excellence with their dedication to the complete the task at hand. Women may be back from their back owing to multiple reasons due to which the tendency may be to treat them differently from the rest of the team. Empathy shouldn’t let the managers create boundaries that can limit their growth.

Leaders should, in fact, support and motivate them to do their best in difficult situations. It is not just about engagement but believing in them and pushing them to achieve beyond those boundaries. Women would feel more appreciated when they are given work to utilize their skills than to be kept away from opportunities that can test their capabilities.

What should organizations do to further advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the new hybrid workplace?

In a normal world, organizations have been making great strides with diversity, equity, and inclusion. The pandemic has certainly pressed fast forward on the hybrid workplace. While this work format gains traction it can be very easy to lose sight of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leaders should be conscious to eliminate biases that may arise differentiating the remote workers and those that work out of the office. Common myths exist that employees are more productive while working at the office than from home apart from attaching other traits to them. Organizations should be conscious to not attach such labels and ensure equal treatment to all employees. At the same time, remote employees need to be given their flexibility without over-controlling supervision and micromanagement. The balance would have to be achieved in offering both the set of employees the same opportunities in terms of work, development, and career progression.

How can India Inc attract more women to STEM careers?

STEM has a lot of opportunities for passionate achievers. There are many women achievers in the field of STEM, but a simple Google search would throw up very limited results. More visibility is required for such achievers. This would be one way to motivate a lot more women to enter the field of STEM. Forums that highlight the achievement of women in this field are yet another way to encourage their participation.

At the corporate level dedicated recruitment drives for women, dedicated rewards, and recognitions at the academic and corporate levels, are other ways that can also help increase the awareness levels of STEM. I feel that otherwise, STEM has become a routine and common subject, which people take for granted. The scope for innovation and creation is very high in this field and when pursued with true passion, the rewards are highly fulfilling. STEM is certainly a field where women can become great leaders and achievers.

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By : Laxitha Mundhra |July 26, 2021

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