HCL Technologies’ Diversity & Inclusion Leader Anuradha Khosla discusses authentic leadership with Cisco Security Business Leader Shailaja K. Shankar
As a future-oriented organization, HCL Technologies leverages the power of diverse teams to drive better business outcomes and enable innovation for its customers.
Reaffirming this deep commitment to advance diversity and inclusion (D&I), HCL's Women Connect Affinity Network hosted an insightful fireside chat with special guest, Shailaja K. Shankar, Senior Vice President (SVP) and General Manager of Cisco Security Business Group.
During the session, discussions focused on emphasizing what authentic leadership means in the workplace and how women working in the technology sector can accelerate their careers.
The event formed part of HCL's Feminspiration series, which strives to bring in diverse perspectives and wisdom from successful women leaders as they reflect on pertinent gender aspects in engaging sessions with HCL employees and aspiring leaders.
Own Your Leadership Style – Leading with Authenticity
The event was moderated by Anuradha Khosla, SVP & Head of Diversity and Inclusion at HCL Technologies, who engaged Shaila on the theme Own Your Leadership Style – Leading with Authenticity.
Shaila is a transformative business leader with strong executive management skills, and deep product portfolio development experience. She prides herself in being a champion of diversity, mentoring the next generation of technical women leaders.
Owning your identities
Shaila champions diverse teams, and feels that authenticity is to “mean what you say and say what you mean.”
She underscored the importance for individuals to bring their genuine selves to work and accept their multi-dimensional identities.
A kaleidoscope of perspectives – all voices matter
Sharing an anecdote from her work experience, Shaila mentioned that once, while building a security solution for consumers, male members on her team focused on enhancing individual experiences, prioritizing features related to their own devices, applications and bandwidth needs.
Meanwhile, women on her team suggested more inclusive feature recommendations, such as a separate guest Wi-Fi or building a voice-enabled interaction to know about house security with notifications read through Alexa to enable a better experience for elderly at home.
Having a diverse team helps organizations think through the various use cases of products, ultimately developing and delivering enhanced user experiences. Shaila drove home the importance of being intentional about who we choose for our working group, pointing out that diversity isn't just limited to gender or generation – it includes ethnicity, age, and race. Diversity delivers differences in thinking.
Collective opinions surface when women enter decision-making roles
Pondering over the various milestones the tech industry has achieved in the recent years, Shaila observed that the awareness and acknowledgment of gender under-representation has helped transform companies' talent landscapes.
Organizations now have dedicated teams for diversity, equity and inclusion alongside leaders who are committed to making workplaces better through increased female participation at all levels.
Today, boards across businesses realize that collective opinions surface when women enter decision-making roles. Having advocated for women's representation on boards and the provision of parental leave, Shaila says she’s happy to see this increasingly happening across industries today.
Active inclusion avoids accidental exclusion
Nearly 30 years ago, Shaila was an immigrant fitting into a new culture and work environment. When asked if there's anything she would do differently today or advise her younger self, Shaila shared this gem of advice: “When you’re invited to discussions, your perspectives are respected by the organization. You have a seat at the table because you have valuable insights to offer. Speak up when you’re there instead of writing the email before or after the meeting."
Shaila suggests that when it's your moment to shine, women must grab it!
During the discussion, HCL talked about effective leadership styles when working with diverse team members. Shaila said that while some may be more vocal than others, people have the same concerns, aspirations, and desires the world over.
Shaila encouraged having genuine interest in getting to know people, as it allows you to more easily connect with them, and it affords them to see who you are as a person. In Shaila’s words, people “always care about people who care.”
Leading with authenticity in the hybrid world
Highlighting some of key traits of authentic leadership, Shaila emphasized the following:
- you don’t need to know all the answers
- give your ego a day-off and genuinely show up to your teams
- listen and be inclusive in decision-making
- be clear about the ‘why’ of your decisions and communicate that rationale
- regular communications cadence is important to ensure everyone feels included in the cause
- adopt a servant-leader style - it is an empowering leadership style that puts the needs of others over your own with a focus on how you develop people
- be a little more flexible – a vital aspect, especially with teams working remotely
Advice to young aspiring female leaders to accelerate tech careers
Shaila highlighted some key aspects that aspiring women leaders should be mindful of during their climb up the career ladder:
- clear communication skills are key, irrespective of your field, and allows you to better present your thoughts and ideas
- have three-year roadmaps and be willing to share plans with your support group, including family and colleagues
- build a network of supporters and peers that you’re open to learning from – without always having a specific need in mind
Talent opportunities shaping the way forward in tech industry
Shaila passionately advocates the evolving cybersecurity business and recommends technology enthusiasts join the industry. She notes that the IT industry, which includes cybersecurity, has 4 million unfilled jobs, mostly in research and security roles, and she sees a lot of talent opportunities for data scientists, cloud and UX professionals.
She shares that cybersecurity is one of the areas where professionals work towards building a better and more secure place – it combines a personal cause with a professional opportunity for those wanting to create a positive impact.
Shaila feels that stakeholders have the responsibility to “create the talent and help that talent develop.” Today, we see organizations actively engaging with universities on dedicated cybersecurity courses and other programs.
#BreaktheBias in the tech world
Shaila acknowledged that, “we all contribute to bias as much as we are at the receiving end of it.” It’s a journey of learning. We require to let people learn more about cognitive biases and make sure that, while we are engaging with other people, we check ourselves.
The organization needs to enable an environment that is free of bias. As professionals, we must strive to be better versions of ourselves, especially for less represented groups – it’s important to call out those biases.
Managing the juggle
According to Shaila, “Work-life balance is a myth.” However, she shared a meaningful takeaway for all the aspiring women leaders – "At any given time, ask yourself what is the most important, impactful and urgent thing that you have to do in that timeframe (day, month, quarter, year). Also, weigh in if you could delegate or outsource some parts of your job, both at work and at home."
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PARTNER CONTENT: Developed in collaboration to support IWD's Women and Tech Mission.