Today, I am co-founder and CEO of PAMTEN.com, an information technology staffing and services company. I am also an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a passionate champion for women who want to build a career in technology — a career that I almost never got to pursue.
I was born in a small town called Samalkot in Andhrapradesh, India, where I grew up in a conservative family that didn’t believe that young women should pursue careers in technology. Keeping the promise I made to mother, I accepted that I would have to push myself to get the education I needed and build my own career. When I earned that opportunity, at a large manufacturing company in northern India, I was the only female employee — in a company with more than 5,000 employees!
During my time there, I encountered gender discrimination, often where my subordinates would intentionally try to ruin a project to undermine my authority. But I stood up for myself, worked twice as hard and proved my worth to the company. I did not have a support system to nurture my professional development, but I grew stronger each day and develop the skills that would eventually help me build my own career.
My husband, Satyamohan Pamula, our daughter, Anusha, and I moved to the U.S. in November 1997. From 1997 to 2011, I worked as a software engineer and program manager in a large pharma company in New Jersey, until we opened the doors at PAMTEN.com. It was a dream come true, but I was concerned that we received few resumes from women. We saw some shocking surveys, showing that only 25 percent of tech jobs are filled by women, that an alarming number of young girls are dropping out of STEM programs after high school, or that most women don’t think they are smart enough to apply for technology jobs — even when they are qualified.
That gave me the idea to create SheTek, a for-profit initiative that provides training, mentoring and a strong ecosystem for young girls and women to thrive in tech careers and show all industries the value that women bring to the tech space. SheTek has three pillars to carry out the programs:
- SheTek STEM focuses on introducing young minds to the opportunities that exist in science, technology, engineering and math. The SheTek STEM program focuses on mentorships, hands-on workshops, field trips, unforgettable experiences and building lasting friendships by partnering with community organizations and nonprofits.
- SheTek Power helps young women and women re-entering the workforce to get started in a career in tech. Efforts are specifically tailored to empower young women through mentorships, “soft” skill training, community-building and internships. Graduates also will have access to the SheTek job network.
- SheTek Preneur gives women business owners access to outsourced CTO services and provides them with knowledge on leading technology trends to help them grow their existing businesses or spur ideas for new ones.
Building support in N.J.
The New Jersey launch event, which took place Jan. 9 in Princeton, focused on cybersecurity and drew a diverse group of more than 20 college students and women returning to the workforce or looking for a career change. All were eager to learn about one of the tech industry’s fastest-growing fields. As of 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were more than 100,000 open jobs for cybersecurity in the nation, with an estimated 28 percent year-over-year growth rate. From 2018 through 2022, a massive shortage of workers is expected, as more businesses ramp up their cybersecurity preparedness.
It was especially gratifying to see the support for this initial event. Hosted by Merrill Lynch, brought together a group of corporate and nonprofit leaders who support the development of women and girls in technology. The initiative is led by Joanna Black, SheTek chief strategy officer and entrepreneurial leader in social responsibility, sustainability, wellness and women’s empowerment.
The guest speaker was Michele Siekerka, CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Sierkerka talked about how SheTek is aligned with the NJBIA’s efforts to improve New Jersey’s high-tech economy and its commitment to promoting workforce-development programs. Supporters for the event included corporations, small businesses and local nonprofits and schools, including: Dress For Success and Wings For Growth, Felician University, Montclair State University and Stuart Country Day School of The Sacred Heart.
SheTek pays it forward
As we strive to get more women into the tech market, we also work tirelessly to promote a commitment to giving back.
In 2006, I founded sofkin.org (Support Organization For Kids In Need) to support underprivileged children and women. Working with these children, who are now young adults, we found that, in India, there is still no support for women in the tech industry. We continue to focus on the value of STEM education. Thanks to our corporate partners, we can develop SheTek and its three pillar programs, but we also can carry the compassion forward.
We donate 10 percent of contributions to the SOFKIN Girls Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity based in New Jersey and India, which provides loving and caring homes to over 100 destitute children in India.
SheTek’s plan to power tech evolution
We stress that SheTek’s focus on technology can be applied to young girls or experienced women. Key topics include:
- Sparking early interest in technology for girls, and mentoring them through the transition into college and the workforce;
- Working with companies to see the value in hiring women to fill more roles in technology;
- Teaching companies to train and coach their women employees to grow in their tech-specific careers;
- Matching talented women with companies in need of technology-services staffers;
- Supporting women-owned startups and businesses with outsourced CTO-services teams powered by talented women;
- Educating women business owners on how to use technology in their day-to-day operations;
- Connecting and supporting women through the online SheTek Community Platform;
- Mentoring and counseling women and girls to advance their careers by building and developing their “soft skills” as well as their technology skills;
- Partnering with NGOs, academia, corporations, government, chambers of commerce, professional groups and other organization to advance career growth for women in technology.
For more information on how you can get involved with SheTek, please log on to www.shetek.net or on social media, follow @shetekglobal.
Chaya Pamula is co-founder and CEO of PAMTEN.com, based in Princeton.