Why women shine in tech roles at Cognizant
Female leaders at the global IT consultancy share how gender targets and a strong workplace culture help talent soar in the field.
They say tech is a man’s world – and Jeanie Wong experienced that firsthand when she landed a regional leadership role in 2021. “I walked into a business meeting,” she says, “and there were 18 men and one woman: myself.”
But in a short two years, things have transformed. For one, Wong’s Greater China team is now close to gender parity with women employees comprising 38 percent of the organization as of 2022, as well as 38 percent of all new hires globally.
Cognizant’s board has five women leaders, up from one in 2019. Its progressive hiring policies include a target to increase its female senior manager population to 19 percent by end-2023.
“I see a distinctive difference,” says Hong Kong-based Wong, who is Assistant Vice President & Head of Cognizant Greater China. “This is the first company to have a quantitative target for recruitment and promotion. Its conscious, top-down decision for women inclusion is clear.”
Seeking women talents
As part of its continued diversity push, the organization is looking to attract more female talent to apply to its open tech roles across projects that span a variety of industries, from banking and finance to insurance, life sciences, retail and the public sector.
To ensure a slate of diverse candidates for every open position, hiring managers at Cognizant undergo training as part of the organization’s Diversity Candidate Pipeline initiative, which helps them to understand unconscious bias, enable diversity within hiring panels, and create gender‑neutral job descriptions for recruitment.
Cognizant’s senior leaders also have specific goals to hire and retain women in leadership positions. Leaders at the director level and above are given targets relative to their business area for hiring and retaining women, and their progress around these targets is reported in quarterly business reviews and annual performance reviews.
“I’m getting reports about ratios for my intake not only among young graduates but also at senior leadership levels,” Wong says. “You don't want lots of women in junior roles, and when it comes to leadership positions, they dwindle.”
A gender edge in tech
Shifts in technology trends have seen the sector evolve from one focused on backend hardware to a wider digital movement affecting business relevancy. This enables women to show off their unique value-add.
“Some business processes, like outsourcing or helpdesks, are typically client-facing and detail driven, which play to the typical strengths of female employees here in Asia,” Wong says, adding that these ‘bridging roles’ can offer inroads into a tech career.
“In a way, it helps women, because it's all about data and using tech to transform business. These roles require attention to detail and strong communication skills, so candidates without a technology background can still fly. You don't have to be a technician or a strong, dominant personality to convince.”
Wong got her break as a client solutions executive, bridging communication between the technical language of IT teams and the business language of clients.
Meanwhile, Grace Ng, who is Assistant Vice President of Cognizant’s Strategic Partnerships Group, landed her Singapore-based role for her ability to combine partner experience, technology and services.
She is the organization’s first woman in APAC to be a certified coach on virtual presentations, thanks to her inclusion in a five-month leaders’ training program.
“That's the kind of environment here: you’re included in activities, discussions, execution, regardless of who you are and what role you play,” Ng says. “The environment Cognizant has created empowers me to excel and strive forward.”
To help women employees soar at work, Cognizant has tailored programmes to accelerate the careers of staff – such as Propel, its signature women’s global leadership development initiative.
In 2021, the organization exceeded its goal of putting 1,000 high-performing women in leadership levels through Propel. This year, it is continuing to tap potential leaders for the program across five cohorts, including directors and senior directors.
The organization has also organized social groups where female employees can connect with colleagues across locations. Additionally, it drives wellness programmes tailored to address physical and mental health which employees are welcome to attend with their families.
Beyond structured programmes, Cognizant’s commitment towards gender diversity flows into other aspects of its culture. For example, employees conducting meetings are expected to aim for balanced gender ratios of attendees, and teleconferences after 7pm are discouraged to protect employees’ family and personal time, says Wong.
Wong and Ng, both of whom are mothers, have similar advice to women looking to make the leap into tech like they have: take the leap.
Ng cites an opportunity at work to lead teams in Europe, which she initially turned down due to concerns around her lack of market knowledge and ability to juggle work with family commitment. But with encouragement from her boss, she stepped up to the plate successfully.
“An inferiority complex may be stopping some of us. So, be bold,” she says. “Even though you feel discomfort, given the opportunity, try. Because if you never try, you never know.”
Wong, meanwhile, recalls how she was approached for past roles at companies such as IBM and HP. “I didn't even consider that I had the potential to do these jobs,” she reflects, adding that she joined Cognizant eager to challenge herself with a stretch goal: lead the growing business in a massive market.
During interviews, Wong has noticed that female candidates “wait till they fit 90 percent of the job description, while men give it a go once they hit 60 percent”.
“That’s a significant difference in mindset,” she says. “Women tend to take the humble way, but the career storytelling element is something women candidates can be more expressive about. Be proud of what you have achieved.”