Smita Totade, Ph.D., CISA, CRISC, CISM, CGEIT, is a freelance arbitrator and trainer with over 35 years of diverse experience in all aspects of information systems including research, consulting and training in IT, IS audit, IT governance and business continuity management. Totade is no stranger to holding leadership roles, but she had to overcome resistance to her pursuing these roles throughout her career. Totade previously held roles as professor and chief information officer (CIO) at the National Insurance Academy, assistant director at the Central Institute of Road Transport, and director at Sun Hi-Tech Management Development and Research Institute. Totade has volunteered and served on various committees at ISACA® and within the ISACA Pune (India) Chapter since 2000. She has been recognized by several organizations as a top achieving woman engineer in IT.
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced when stepping into a leadership position?
A: When I entered into my first IT role in 1984, I experienced both indirect and direct resistance from my male peers, subordinates and supervisors in accepting that they were required to work with and, moreover, report to a female officer. This resulted in a lack of cooperation from them at times. I tried to overcome this resistance by focusing on my professional development, mentoring, training and communication to provide technical clarity to the team members and get them involved.
Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to this role?
A: Initially, I had to work single handedly with nontechnical assistance on all fronts setting up hardware, setting up network software, developing software, providing IT support for research, training others and consulting for the organization. My hard work and dedicated efforts to develop both technical and interpersonal skills are what led me to my CIO role.
All through my IT career, I kept accepting and overcoming challenges such as delivering projects on time despite inadequate technical manpower, lack of awareness of top management on technical issues and lack of priority for budget allocation to IT.
Q: What other challenges do you see women face in being ready to take a leadership position?
A: I have observed that many women are satisfied in their existing roles and do not aspire to rise to leadership roles for fear of the demands of increased workloads, leading teams and frequent travel. These demands lead to more time spent in their professional role and less time available to spend with their family. Women leaders need not only work hard, but must also try to maintain the proper work-life balance. The woman leader is also challenged to keep up with the pace of emerging and changing technologies.
Thirteen years after I graduated, I felt the need to upgrade my technical and managerial skills, so I pursued my Master’s degree. I also acquired professional certifications such as Certified Information Systems Auditor® (CISA®), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control® (CRISC®), Certified Information Systems Manager® (CISM®), at appropriate times in my career. For example, when I noticed that my CIO role demanded more governance-related experience, I acquired the Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT® (CGEIT®) certification.
Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led to this role?
A: When it came to my CIO role, it was the trust senior management placed in my capability to be a leader that pushed me forward. They were highly impressed with my efforts toward both academic and technical growth which led to results beyond organizational benchmarks.
Q: What challenges do you see organizations face as they look to hire more women in leadership positions?
A: Organizations need to make special efforts to address technical skills issues, managerial skills issues and work-life balance issues specific to women and develop internal women candidates to take on leadership roles.
Specifically, organizations should identify and develop in-house women team members to take up leadership roles by providing technical and managerial training as required at various stages on the career ladder and allow flexible work patterns that support women’s goals and preferences inside and outside of the profession. Many organizations have already taken steps in this direction.
Q: Have you seen progress in retaining women in the technology field over the course of your career?
A: Yes, I have seen a positive and increasing trend in retaining women in technology over the last four decades. Decades of results prove women make exceptional business leaders who guide sound strategy. Women leaders have also demonstrated the need for applying intuition to vet new opportunities, a willingness to jump in with both feet when the fit feels right, the ability to delegate tasks to increase focus on important priorities, and to invest in the professional development of one another through mentorship and networking.