Channel sales is considered as one of the most male dominated fields in the business arena. However, Anita Kukreja has found a place of honour within this “Big Boys Club”. Primarily, she has worked within the IT industry, which too, is perceived as not being a gender balanced industry. 

In her outing with NetMagic (now NTT Communications), she was instrumental in introducing the channel sales mindset into the company which was previously only depending on direct sales. Along with building the right internal policies for this, she also had to work hard to create trust and confidence with the channel community to get associated with the company. She is now working as the Head of Marketing and Channel Sales at multinational email communication solutions provider IceWarp‘s India team. 

Channel Sales Challenge

Kukreja looked up to women like Sudha Murthy and Indira Nooyi in the early part of her career. While moving up the corporate ladder, she had many mentors including the then CEO of SecureSynergy Anil Menon from whom she learnt the nuances of marketing. 

It was after that she shifted her focus to channel sales, about which she says, “It’s been very exciting and challenging to be in a role that is a revenue generator for the organization.” When she started doing it, there were not many women on the side of channel sales she found herself on. However, she is grateful to have found a welcoming environment to thrive in the field. Fortunately, she says, she got the support from her mentors and well-wishers who were confident in her abilities and provided her the opportunities to prove herself.

The changing IT workforce

As even the more traditional societies like India open up to the idea of working women, the number of female business leaders across the world is growing, believes Kukreja. “The new era business doesn’t rely on physical strength anymore. Here, skills matter. Women have natural skills such as determination, observations to details, uniform thinking, and long-term strategic vision which is an important and ideal quality for being a C-suite leader,” she asserts. 

She points out that a huge proportion of the IT workforce in India are, in fact, women. Interestingly, the percentage of women in tech in India (35% of the total workforce) is much higher than in developed countries like the United Kingdom (which is 17%) and in the United States (20%), she points out. “This is an indicator of the fact that women in India are taking to technology better than their western counterparts,” she says. At IceWarp, women make 40% of the workforce, she adds. 

Indian Scenario

It is a recent phenomenon for India Inc to warm up to ideas like women’s equality, empowerment, and inclusion. “However, there is little action on the ground, unless mandated by boards or by regulations,” rues Kukreja. 

She cites a Nasscom study which shows why despite their big numbers, not many women reach the top rung. It states that while there are 45% women occupying entry level positions in India’s IT industry, only 20% of the senior-level positions are filled by women. “Their progress, and numbers, fall drastically because of the need to balance work and home. For example, a Gender Balance India Survey claims over half of women employees quit after giving birth,” she says, explaining reasons for lesser number of women in leadership roles. 

She holds the ‘always-on, always-available’ workplace culture of today as being partially responsible for holding back gender diversity, especially at mid to senior levels. Individuals often require to prioritize work over family, personal commitments, and well-being to rise to the top. “Men are perhaps more predisposed to making the trade-offs, while women end up picking the slack in household and other non-work responsibilities,” says Kukreja. Due to this, women tend to disadvantage themselves as they are  often unavailable to deliver and participate in the ‘Always-on, always-available’ expectation.

Course Correction

As she considers work-life balance as one of the toughest challenges in the workplace, she believes that flexible working would help most women to overcome and manage it well. “Besides that, women around the world continue to face a wage gap. In fact, according to research, women on average will need to work more than 70 additional days each year just to catch up to the earnings of men,” she informs. 

When any employee feels like an outsider in the workplace because of their unique qualities or differences whether it be gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, age, religion or sexual orientation, they feel excluded, believes Kukreja. “Exclusion comes at a great cost to organizations in the form of lower job satisfaction, reduced work effort, diminished employee voice, and greater intention to leave,” she points out. Building an inclusive workplace, she adds, means creating a culture that fully engages and supports all employees.