Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson


Lav Chintapalli

Lav Chintapalli

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Lav Chintapalli

Job Title: Leadership Coach & Strategist, Pathway Power; Founder, Alcye

Company website: https://pathwaypower.com and https://alcye.com

Years in the tech industry: 20 years

On her role at Pathway Power, and at Alcye:

Pathway Power is a boutique Leadership Development firm. My aim is to enhance the performance of people — executives, managers and teams. I do this in two ways: By designing custom solutions for organizations that tie leadership and talent development to the organization’s strategic initiatives; and through 1–1 coaching. 

As a coach my role is to partner with the client, help them strategize, set and achieve goals and become a better leader during the process. I strive to help them develop an empathetic perspective. I believe we need more heart-centered leaders who are aligned with the demands of the 21st century and willing to relinquish the obsolete thinking of the past, as success and empathy are not mutually exclusive.

I started Alcye a year ago as I recognized a gap in how adults were converging to re-skill or connect. Alcye is a web platform that increases engagement within communities for adults as it enables them to work effectively through shared learning, peer engagement and inter-mentoring.

‘Seeing strength is being strength’ — on formative role-models:

I grew up in India. My father passed away when I was 8. My great-grandparents and grandparents took my mother and me back under their wings. They were all good, hard-working people and functioned as a single unit. My great-grandmother was a force to reckon with. Her mental and emotional strength was the backbone for us all. My mother is also a strong person. She was only 25 when my father passed away and to date, I’ve never seen her cry. 

Before my father’s passing, I was raised by my aunt along with her three daughters. She lived in a city where there were good schools.  From K-12th, I attended a super strict but excellent all-girls Catholic school. And yes, I got caned - for wearing nail-polish. Being in an all-girls school, I never encountered gender-disparity during my formative years. I was a good student and held leadership positions within clubs and sports. It never quite crossed my mind that I could not have equal opportunities.I wouldn’t say that I was raised to believe in my potential but I would say I learned resilience. Seeing strength is being strength.

On women, family, and the fight to empower women:

My daughter and I were browsing through some vintage stores in Austin, and in one of them I came across a set of renaissance-styled paintings. I stood there looking at them for a long time debating whether I should buy them, and I noticed something. One painting has a man sitting at a desk with a large book open, his gaze on the page. In the other, there’s a woman sitting at a desk holding a large open book. But she gazes downwards as two children play there. I realized how not much has changed since then. 

Why are men given rights and women have to fight for their rights?

Women are working outside the house, and taking care of household duties as well as their children. Yet, they have fewer resources to help them ease the burden. They are constantly fighting battles that men don’t spend an ounce of energy on. This is not against males. Rather, it points to the fact that we as a society need to put more effort in providing practical solutions to helping women, in understanding the barriers they face, and having initiatives to alleviate the barriers. 

My own commitment to empowering women stems from seeing my mother and grandmothers struggle, my own struggles, and from listening to stories (from all over the world) that makes me feel like I’m in a time-warp — wait, we are in the 21stcentury, and yet. Same stories with different faces. We have come far from not being able to vote, and yet we still have miles to go before we rest. Why are men given rights and women have to fight for their rights?

Early tech — on forging a path:

I started my career in healthcare, working as a geneticist, and in the operating-room at Duke University, doing clinical trials. I realized I loved tech when I volunteered to build a database in FoxPro (now obsolete) to house the research results. I moved into programming, subsequently overseeing a team in the pharmaceutical industry. 

At the same time, I also started an after-school program for kids teaching math & reading. Adults joined the program as well. I realized then that I loved people even more than tech and science, and upleveling them gave me so much joy. So, I switched to adult learning and people development within the tech sector. A lot of re-schooling for sure.

Field report — on how women and men differ in the kind of support/guidance they require:

Women are different from men in how they approach and respond to most things and that includes the wide facets of career advancement, professional success, happiness and reward. While the areas they need support and guidance may be similar, how they solve it is different, the barriers they face are different. How they create goals, how they view impact, integrity, leadership, family life, to name a few, are different — without trying to oversimplify behavior.

For example? Let’s talk ambition:

Ambition in itself, the desire to be successful, is gender-neutral. High performing women I’ve coached, who are also mothers, feel guilt when they have to put more time into their work. These women absolutely love the work they do; their work gives them a sense of purpose. And yet, they feel guilty if work draws them away from their kids, even if it’s for brief periods of time. I’ve rarely seen a man feel guilty, or at least that extent of guilt, about spending the extra time at work or travelling, and away from his kids. It’s about re-framing the issue. Men reframe the issue as providing for the family. But women are struggling with that reframing, since they all too often play the dual role of provider and nurturer.

Learned habits — on confidence:

There is a difference in the level of confidence men and women feel and exude, but what’s interesting is that there is a difference even within a gender, especially for women. Women at the leadership levels are more self-assured and feel more confident in their skillset than women who haven’t reached there yet. Comparing that to men, I don’t find that big a difference between men who are starting out and men who are executives. I think this is partly upbringing — women are primed from birth to be nice and nurturing and boys are primed to be strong and confident — so the men’s training starts early. This leads to a corollary situation: women usually have to experience success before they feel confident. This is not the case with men. Do keep in mind that what I state here are generalizations and categorical tendencies — not law, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Who asks for directions first, a man or a woman? There’s a huge difference between what men and women will allow when it comes to the transformative change process.

Transformations — on how women and men respond to coaching:

Who asks for directions first, a man or a woman? There’s a huge difference between what men and women will allow when it comes to the transformative change process. As a broad rule, women are more amenable to coaching because true transformation requires reflection and women are not afraid of going there. They want the solution to the problem, but they are also curious to the effects of change and what it requires of them. It’s a broader perspective. Men, on the other hand, tend to want more tactical, on-the-surface suggestions and approaches. If it’s a quick-success, then it’s even better. Age also matters when it comes to men. But I have coached men who are introspective and they make really good leaders — it’s like they can see a situation from all sides and have emotional depth and understanding.

On teaching, and the benefits of single gender classes:

I started a brick-and-mortar community learning center for women and girls when I lived in Raleigh, NC. It was called nuLimina: Building Stronger Women. We taught a lot of classes — public speaking for youth, writing, art, dance for women, and others. 

Research shows that single-gender classes benefit females immensely as the space allows them to grow in comfort and without fear; I’ve certainly enjoyed my own schooling in an all-girls school. nuLimina was doing well but I had to close it when my family and I moved to Austin. I still want to do something along the same lines, so the first iteration of Alcye (my web platform) was a mentoring marketplace for women. It didn’t succeed because women prefer in-person gatherings. They can do online, but they respond better to the community vibe of sharing.

On being passed over for career advancement, based on gender:

Yes, and more so in the tech field than in the sciences. There is an observable difference in behavior between men in the science industry to the tech industry. I have never felt gender bias when I was working in the healthcare and pharma industry —  maybe because they have a lot of women working in these fields.

Not so happy hours — rising on a sea of alcohol:

Coincidentally, there were not as many happy hours in healthcare, either. Once I moved into the tech companies, there’s most definitely what is termed as the bro-culture, and more so in startups than established companies. And more work-related happy hours, especially if the boss is male. This behavior while harmless on its own, increases gender discrepancy when it comes to getting promoted. 

Anytime there’s a boys-club or bro-culture and all the things that constitute that behavior, there’s a glass ceiling.

Not all women want to go out and drink with their team-mates every week, for many reasons. I’ve attended happy-hours and bonded with my team-mates when we went to conferences, but I couldn’t do it all the time on a regular work-week. And if the women are moms, they are definitely going home after work. This creates a visible and persistent rift. Now, the male boss who hangs out with the fellas gets to know them on a personal level. In the end, the one who gets promoted is the one he’s comfortable with. It’s unconscious bias. Adding to it, work is discussed and decisions are made during these drink-gatherings. Women are left out of these conversations and are losing out this way. 

Anytime there’s a boys-club or bro-culture and all the things that constitute that behavior, there’s a glass ceiling. It takes conscious and mindful effort to not allow comfort and familiarity to sway who gets promoted. A lot of people get promoted to be managers and they know nothing about leading people or a team. When you become a manager, your responsibility becomes bifold — the work and the people. Or the way I see it, take care of the people, provide guidance, and they will take care of the work for you.

The forever wound— on her #MeToo experience:

#MeToo is such a common occurrence that it is absolutely sickening. Listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony in September had me in knots. It brought back memories of my own testimony in front of a committee of lawyers and interrogators. The isolation, the pain, the guilt, the trauma. I lost so much in my life during that time. Some things I can never get back and the repercussions are lasting. It’s a forever wound. 

And to think that my perpetrator was a repeat offender. I often wonder what it would take for men to not be disrespectful or violent against women? I mean they must have mothers, sisters, wives, daughters? I’m sure they wouldn’t want their family members become a victim to such atrocities? Then why would they do that to someone else? So many questions, no answers.

What I would like to see happen more is for the good men to speak up and not be silent. We absolutely need their support if we don’t want to keep repeating history.

History repeating — on the courage of women, and the silence of men:

When women brave the crowds and testify, they are opening that forever wound again for all to peer into and jab at. Recent verdicts on crimes against women clearly showcase how callously they are taken. My heart bleeds for women. And for all the daughters of this earth who have struggled from time immemorial in a heartless patriarchal society. What I would like to see happen more is for the good men to speak up and not be silent. We absolutely need their support if we don’t want to keep repeating history.

On whether change in the culture is affording women more opportunity:

I feel optimistic, yet I’m not sure if the climb is any easier. The outside pressure and the #metoo stories are raising awareness. But the awareness seems to only have increased apprehension among the men which is not the outcome we are looking for. So then, what concrete steps are being taken to instill the awareness and behavioral modifications into the company culture? Half the issue may be that companies do not know how to go about it. There are many diversity initiatives taking root, so that’s one piece of the puzzle.

On the role of men in creating change:

True change won’t happen until the men actively come on board, actively become ambassadors (or manbassadors), actively voice their support for programs and opportunities that will help women, actively object when their colleagues act disparagingly against a woman. One, because it is the right thing to do, two, because most of the decision-making roles are currently held by men — power structures are still tilted towards them, and three, because men and women bring complementary approaches to solving problems which in the end benefits everyone and the bottom line. Two of my bosses who were men embodied everything I just mentioned. So, it’s possible.

On measuring success:

Some companies are putting more concerted effort into promoting women. But we have to look at ratios. How many men:women at the manager level, at the Director level, VP level, Board of Directors level, and so on. That is the practical way to gauge career advancement for women. As far as work climate goes, we are just at the inception of solid change, there’s a lot of work to be done. But we’ve started, so that’s good news.

I don’t think it’s a woman’s job to contribute to lasting change in sexual politics. They are already doing a lot … walking the streets, enduring the atrocities, verbalizing them, speaking up against them, paying the price for them.

On what women can do to contribute towards lasting change in industry gender politics:

I don’t think it’s a woman’s job to contribute to lasting change in sexual politics. They are already doing a lot … walking the streets, enduring the atrocities, verbalizing them, speaking up against them, paying the price for them. It’s up to the men now to stop doing the things that are forcing women to be in these demeaning situations.

The responsibility lies solely with the men, and the control, or lack of control they have over their own behaviors. We talk about girls getting raped, women getting harassed — we talk about it in a passive voice like these things just happen to them. What we need to talk about is the men raping the girls, the men harassing the women. There is an active agent here. Let’s shift the focus to the doer.

The buck stops here — on effective leadership:

Once upon a time, Kings used to travel their lands in disguise so they could hear and see first-hand what is truly happening with their people, afraid that their ministers would cover-up unpleasant happenings. Companies and their leaders are no different. Leaders should always have a pulse on what the people in the company are actually feeling, and not just depend on the chain of command for the details. I think it important for leaders to practice transparency and authenticity, and create a culture of trust, equity, and belonging. And if there are leaders who want to change their company culture or get their leaders coached, and not sure where to start — I’m right here.

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