Meytier was honored to sit down and chat with Ashish Mittal, Head of Investments Management, Investments Operations and Compliance Technology at American CenturyInvestments. Ashish shared valuable insight from his years of experience hiring and leading in technology with us. We admire his thoughtful analysis of the struggles women face in his industry as well as his commitment to elevating women in tech in his own teams and beyond.
Women have a tendency to self-select themselves out of core technology roles and into analysis, project management, and other support roles. We believe this is becoming a barrier to some of the highest levels of leadership as companies increasingly expect leaders to come from core engineering backgrounds and continue to be hands on technologists. Have you noticed this drop out of core tech over the course of your career? What do you think the reasons were?
I’ve definitely seen the phenomenon of women dropping out “core tech” roles in the Industry, but I haven't seen many drop out of tech careers altogether. So I think they used to drop out in the sense that over time, they selected roles in program management, operations management, financial administration, people and operational management, all still in the context of tech rather than ‘engineering leadership’ or ‘technology leadership’ driving the core technology mission, though this drop out has reduced significantly recently. As to why - part of it is just the set up of expectations. Culturally, most organizations were historically geared towards men, so leadership roles were structurally and culturally limited for women.
I’ve also noticed that women were given scant support over the years when it comes to building those core tech skills that are necessary for big leadership roles. Partly perhaps because for a long period technology was a bit of boys’ club and hard to break into. Informal conversations, mentorship, etc. happened between men more naturally, with women lacking a critical mass in the profession. That has started to change, especially recently, but a full transition will take time. Women weren’t given the same resources, opportunities, and training to build those core tech skill sets for quite a long time, and thus, they couldn’t turn ambitions into concrete opportunities as easily. The doors were a little bit closed to women.
I am fortunate to be working in an organization at the moment, where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are part of the DNA, with leaders at the seniormost levels driving the DEI agenda in words and deeds. Indeed, this was one of the key factors which attracted me to the firm to begin with!
What do you think are the fundamental skills to succeed in tech? What technical areas do you think are the future of tech? Where should young workers focus?
As you grow in your career, softer skills become more important. If you’re in middle management or senior management it’s important to have the ability to create a vision, advocate for it and evangelize, create organization and technical strategies, manage organizational dynamics, inspire your teams; the ability to shape and drive one’s environment becomes more important. Not that hard skills aren’t important, they're just muted in that you need to define the vision and manage the outcomes, but you don’t build it personally anymore, i.e. code yourself.
All that said, when it comes down to it, “learning to learn” is the most important thing. Tech goes through so much change. It’s important to just be able to learn. Every five-seven years, people in the tech workforce have to reskill. It’s important to be able and willing to constantly learn new things. In terms of important tech skills for the future, I’d say artificial intelligence, cloud computing, distributed architecture, automation, robotics, and the like are critically important. Most other tech professionals will probably give you the same answer, and I’m sure we will all be slightly or a lot wrong in hindsight after 15-20 years, because something else will come up and be the next big thing.
How do you hire? What do you look for in candidates?
For someone who has been in the industry for under five years, hiring tends to be more about promise and potential than exact skill. I look for a track record for learning new things; I look for leadership potential. When you’re hiring in the beginning of someone’s career, you’re essentially making a downpayment and hoping that the potential pays out in the long term.
For more senior roles, I ask, “Is this a person who can shape the organization and shape the vision?” Do they have the acumen to shepherd that vision through the organization? All organizations are resource constrained, so how do you make sure that you’re able to build support and conviction to drive the right outcomes for the firm? Environment management and vision-setting, inspiring, become the most important skills at the most senior levels.
Of course core technology skills are a given, appropriate to any level of seniority, and at intermediate to senior levels of hiring they are expected as tablestakes!