Walking the Talk of Diversity in the Computer Industry

In this Tech Barometer podcast, Monica Kumar, SVP of Marketing at Nutanix, tells how she’s helping diversify the technology industry workforce through education, leadership and encouraging innovation.

By Jason Lopez

By Jason Lopez March 23, 2021

Diversity in employment has been an ongoing issue in the tech industry. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 26 percent of the computer industry workforce, down from 35% in 1990. Nutanix executive, Monica Kumar (SVP Marketing) is working to raise that to 50%.

Kumar began her course toward a career in high tech when she took math classes in high school. She later attended Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur, India, where she was the only woman studying mechanical engineering.

Today, she’s a long-time leader in Silicon Valley, where she brings to market technologies that help businesses and people’s lives. She is also committed to empowering the companies that make technologies to hire a diverse workforce. In a Tech Barometer podcast released in March 2020, she talked about this plus the importance of empowering women and building a diverse workforce.

“But no matter how much drama and how bad the situation, things always work out in the end,” she said, sharing a perspective she transports from her favorite Bollywood films into real life. “Things work out. It’s about staying optimistic and persevering. It’s about breaking into a song and dance when things look grim because that will bring positive energy and tide you over the rough time.”

In a LinkedIn article, Closing the Idea Gap: Why Leadership Diversity is Imperative, she wrote, “Companies with high gender diversity in their leadership team are more likely to outperform on profitability and report higher revenue from innovation. Concurrently, leadership teams with narrower perspectives may struggle to adequately respond to change or uncertainty. Pair that notion with today’s constantly shifting market landscape and you have a situation where lack of diversity may put a company’s long-term survival at risk.”


She Brings Bollywood Flair to Silicon Valley Tech

In 2019, she joined Nutanix as Senior Vice President of Marketing, responsible for building a global team to drive global Go-to-Market (GTM) messaging, thought leadership and category creation efforts for the company. While digital transformation is changing the old ways of doing business, Kumar said success is always based on human ingenuity and determination.

Kumar said while women need to continue to develop “hard skills” such as computing or mathematics, she also encourages them to not be afraid to bring empathy, compassion, and authenticity to work, and to master other “soft skills” such as exhibiting leadership, negotiating, and dealing with being interrupted or talked over, something young women often encounter.

Transcript (unedited):

Jason Lopez: This edition of the tech barometer podcast is about workplace diversity through the story of Monica Kumar, senior vice president of marketing at Nutanix, Monica had been at Oracle for 22 years, working her way up from manager to vice president. In 2019 she came to Nutanix and she was a new face on stage at Nutanix conferences like this one last fall in Copenhagen.

Monica Kumar: I've been in the industry for about 26 years. Before Nutanix. My last gig was with Oracle. I was the marketing lead for Oracle database and database cloud, so you can imagine it was a big plunge for me as you shift, but I'm really excited that I joined this revolution that Nutanix started a decade ago to simplify the lives of our customers and give them technology that's so innovative that will change how IT deploys infrastructure.

 Jason Lopez: Tthroughout her career. Monica has not only been passionate about making technology but also about how technology gets made. And what that means can be discerned from the title of a recent article she authored closing the idea gap, why leadership diversity is imperative. And this is from the article she writes, companies with high gender diversity in their leadership team or more likely to outperform on profitability and report higher revenue from innovation. Diversity is really important to her and she joins us to chat about her journey and how she became an advocate for diversity in the tech industry. Monica, thanks for carving out some of your schedule to talk with us. 

Monica Kumar: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity. 

Jason Lopez: So my first question is simply about how you got interested in technology and how you got here. So, so how did you get here?

Monica Kumar: I think in my case it's, if I think about it, I grew up in India. Girls only did biology, the path was go become a doctor, right? Or the path was a lawyer or something. But when it came to science, it was pretty much biology. I think. I just wanted to show people that wait a second, girls can do mathematics. And that was a turning point for me. So I just, it was kind of like a dare in a way that I wanted to prove to the world around me. And my parents were very supportive. They like, of course girls can do math. And once that was math, then my path was engineering basically.

Jason Lopez: So what were your big challenges? And I'm kind of thinking of a video I saw of Neil deGrasse Tyson recently talking about the first time that he saw calculus in school and thought he couldn't do it, but then he started tackling the edges and soon you know, the wall came down and then he realized I got this. So what kind of challenges did you face? 

Monica Kumar: Yeah, and you know, it's been so long that I can point to one particular thing, but there are things that I've given up because I thought it's too hard and I'm not going to do it. But math, because it was a dare that girls can do math, there was no way that I was not going to enjoy it. And like it and learn it and do well in it. So it had become, you know, failure is not an option there for me because I was setting myself to do something bigger than just like, Hey, I, this is Monica doing math. It was a statement that I was making and, and honestly in those days where I grew up, very few women did math and even fewer did engineering. I was the only woman in my class of 80 mechanical engineering students and across the entire college of a couple thousand students, we had probably 10 women. 

Jason Lopez: Well, that kind of leads right into my next question. Not only were there not many women in your classes, but I wondering, did you experience pushback or suggestions that you shouldn't be there? You shouldn't be studying math and engineering. 

Monica Kumar: Yes. And you know, again, not now that I look back, I don't really blame the people in a way because that's how they were conditioned. So I went to a college in India, my hometown Jaipur, where I grew up. It's now called Malvia National Technology Institute. You know, I don't, it was the conditioning at the cultural, the society. And at that time I understood, but what really gets to me is that even now when I look at the number of women in tech and engineering, it has grown slightly, but not at the rate I would have expected. But what gives now, I mean this really been focusing on this and putting a spotlight on this for a long time and many, many women have paved the way before me and in my generation and even now. But even now when I talked to my daughter, who by the way is I'm a sophomore at an American university and she's doing computer science. She was telling me she's the only woman in some of her math classes and tech classes and that completely freaks me out. Honestly, I don't understand why, uh, there are still such few women in math and science and technology. 

Jason Lopez: Yeah. It sounds like you're speaking rhetorically. 

Monica Kumar: I mean I do understand why they are, but it just frustrates me that there aren't more and that, you know, we are not doing a lot more about it to change that. And so that's something I am personally very focused on is in every small way I can influence it I am going to do that is by having dialogue is by talking about it, by taking very concrete steps in terms of hiring, in terms of promoting people, in terms of building confidence amongst the groups in terms of making everybody feel that they included, that their opinions matter and that they belong in that uh, discussion. They belong in the company, they belong in that group and their opinions are equally important. So I feel like that's one of the things we as leaders need to very deliberately focus on is what are we doing on a daily basis to act on that. 

Jason Lopez: Yeah. Over the past several years, you've been the lead in marketing, some of really, you know, the most impactful enterprise technologies that are out there. And I'm referring to Oracle database and cloud. So how did you get interested in marketing? 

Monica Kumar: So ever since I was young, uh, one thing I realized about myself is I'm a very people person. I know it may sound like a cliche, but I really draw energy from being around people and having positive engagements and experiences. So I was a mechanical engineer. Uh, when I did my undergraduate, I did a couple internships and a little bit of work in that area and I realized I'd be on the floor operating machinery with my colleagues, et cetera. It didn't quite excite me as much, even though the technology was there. And I realized what excited me was when I was out front talking to customers and telling the story about why this product or that product, Oh, how we can help. And just listening to customers about what is it the different to solve. To me technology is just a means to an end. It's a way for making human lives better. 

Jason Lopez: Well that goes along with the idea that consumer technology at its core ease of use is one of the most important things, you know, elegant design, intuitive, uh, interfaces, that kind of thing. And I've been hearing lately about this idea that IT people should be able to have the same sort of experience running the data center. You know what I mean? It's that idea that the data centers should be operated with the same ease of use of an iPhone. What do you think of that? 

Monica Kumar: I agree. I mean I was thinking about this the other day. I was like, imagine if you were asked at your home to be responsible for your plumbing, electricity, your gas line. It's like, Oh my God, how am I going to live in this house? All I'll be doing all day long is figuring out my plumbing issues. And so I was kind of equating it to the same. Why should it have to worry about all of this infrastructure and the stuff that they need to run the apps on? Why can't they just run the apps and conducted business? Why can they just get access to the data and do the analytics? You know, why can't they just have the developers get access to the infrastructure and, and data and do what they need to, to build applications? Why do they have to worry about this whole plumbing and taking care of all that. They shouldn't. 

Jason Lopez: Let's backtrack a bit to your statement that technology is a means to an end. When you look at things like hybrid cloud AI or the idea of simplifying, um, you know, enterprise software, what do you think? Where is technology going in your mind? 

Monica Kumar: So I absolutely believe that technology is means to an end. And ultimately technology is here to make human lives better. I see more and more people plus tech working together to solve problems. And what I mean by that is we can't be a hundred percent reliant on just technology like robots to solve the world's problem over time. It's going to have to be human beings and technology coming together. So let's look at some examples. And I believe automation is really the big piece of technology that's going to drive the world in the future. And you know, you hear the word autonomous, right? Autonomous vehicles, autonomous farming, autonomous in terms of how healthcare is going to become, you know, my parents are older and I always worry about them like the fall part, right? Oh my God. In the middle of the night it's dark. What if they get out of bed and just fall? Now my mom, she actually uses her Alexa and she'll say, turn the lights on so before she gets out of bed, the light is already on too. She doesn't have a fumble around to figure out what the switches. That's the power of technology. 

Jason Lopez: Well, the flip side of automation seems to be a warning about the uses of AI. You know, whether it's in the hands of the right or wrong people or whether it's being designed correctly. What's your sense of that? 

Monica Kumar: I mean, I absolutely agree with that, but you know, there's so many great things about automation and autonomous technologies and AI ML. I do however agree that we have to be responsible about it. We have to make sure we remove as many biases into the technology as we can. As well as that it doesn't get into the hands of the wrong people and that we built all the compliance and regulations, but that's going to come over time. That should not stall the progress in my opinion because there are so many good things coming out of this as well. Right. And that's what I'm saying. So we have to be obviously you know, responsible about any tech that we are building. 

Jason Lopez:  Last question here and I'm sort of kind of encapsulating in the meaning of this. Uh, I'm sort of encapsulating what we've talked about your journey and you know, learning math, but then realizing that even though you love technology from a geeky point of view, you also love it from a people point of view. So keep that in mind. What is your day like? What's a typical day for you? 

Monica Kumar: Absolutely. Um, on any given day, uh, there are a number of things that are on my mind all the way from thought leadership and awareness for Nutanix as a company. You know, what is it that a brand is saying out there to customers in terms of our products and solutions. So I'm looking at, you know, do we have points of views that we put across to customers and to our sellers and how to position our portfolio. So be it through messaging on our website through blog articles, through social media, through press and analysts engagement through investor engagement. So that's one part of the job. And the second part of the job, which is equally big or bigger, is really aligning our product portfolio in a way that solves customer problems.  

And to me, it's the most exciting journey that I'm part of right now. It's the people and it's the fact that they have technology that's there to simplify the lives of our customers. 

Jason Lopez: Monica Kumar is the senior vice president product and solutions marketing at Nutanix. This is the Tech Barometer podcast. I'm Jason Lopez. Thank you for listening. There are more podcasts and print stories at theforecastbynutanix.com. 

Jason Lopez is executive producer of Tech Barometer, the podcast outlet for The Forecast. He’s the founder of Connected Social Media. Previously, he was executive producer at PodTech and a reporter at NPR.

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