Priya Kanduri: The Best Example to Bridge the Vast Global Gender STEM Divide 

Priya Kanduri
Priya Kanduri

What could India do to better its current global Gender Parity Index’s (WEF, 2022) 135th ranking out of 146, which bares the numbers for all? STEM faculty’s 14% base rate, Female STEM graduates at 43% with 29% worldwide average, and no women at any top positions in decision-making bodies like JEE, GATE, and others or companies from the IIT, IISc, and ISER sectors.

One thing Women World India can do is to spotlight more inspiring stories of The Dynamic Women Business​​ Personalities to Follow. The stories like that of Priya Kanduri, the CTO and Vice President of Happiest Minds Technologies, Bengaluru. In fact, not only Priya Kanduri is the answer, but she also has many answers to the question of bridging the great gender divide.

Priya is a trailblazing figure in the world of technology, heralding a transformation in cybersecurity through her dynamic leadership and unwavering commitment. Armed with a STEM background, Priya embarked on her journey 25 years ago, forging a path in a domain predominantly occupied by men. In an era where women were underrepresented in engineering and cybersecurity, Priya defied stereotypes and ventured into this realm driven by her love for mathematics and computing. Her fascination with algorithms and coding led her to embrace the burgeoning field of cybersecurity during the early stages of its development, especially amidst the nascent buzz of e-commerce and secure data transmission technologies.

A Journey Stemmed from the Love for Technology

Priya’s career in cybersecurity presented her with a captivating, intellectually stimulating, and high-demand avenue brimming with opportunities for professional growth and personal fulfilment. Her journey encapsulates the triumphs of a woman navigating through a male-dominated industry, overcoming challenges, and embracing opportunities to excel in her field.

The pivotal factor contributing to Priya’s success in the information technology (IT) realm has been the nurturing and inclusive work environments she has been part of. Joining esteemed organizations like Wipro and Happiest Minds provided her with equal prospects for career advancement, irrespective of gender. Her association with workplaces promoting gender diversity and fostering inclusive cultures has been pivotal in her thriving and attaining leadership roles. At Happiest Minds, Priya found a supportive ecosystem that values and celebrates the contributions of women, as the company has been repeatedly recognized among India’s Best Workplaces for Women.

Networking emerged as another cornerstone of Priya’s career trajectory, enabling her to navigate the IT industry’s complexities and garner guidance, support, and inspiration. Additionally, familial support played a vital role in empowering Priya to pursue her professional ambitions, thanks to the encouragement and backing from her parents, brother, children, and husband.

Priya’s resounding success also emanates from her love for challenging roles, unwavering commitment to excellence, and dedication to leveraging her strengths. Striking a harmonious balance between her personal and professional life, devoid of constant judgment, has been instrumental in her positivity and success.

The Biggest Boost to a Technovative Tale

Priya’s technovative journey in the Information Technology (IT) industry echoes the unique challenges and remarkable opportunities faced by Indian women pursuing careers in this domain. She attributes a significant part of her success to an inclusive and supportive work environment, which was pivotal in her career trajectory. This supportive leadership, including notable figures like Chairman Ashok Soota, President Ram Mohan, and the executive board, celebrated women’s accomplishments at work, creating a sense of belongingness for women in the organization & industry.

Happiest Minds’ recognition among India’s Top 50 Best Workplaces for Women reflects this commitment. Priya also acknowledges networking as a crucial factor that provided her with guidance and support to navigate her career in IT.

Priya’s passion for challenging roles, dedication to excellence, and leveraging her strengths have been the cornerstone of her professional growth. She says, “I always wanted a challenging job. Doing a job I love, striving to do it right, and giving it my best have undoubtedly helped me progress in my career.”

Identifying and staying close to her strengths has produced the best results for Priya. Striking a balance between professional and personal life that works for her and trying not to judge herself in both places constantly helped Priya stay positive and constructive. Her ability to balance her personal and professional life without constant judgment has fostered positivity and productive growth in her career pursuits.

Happiest Minds – Born Digital. Born Agile!

Sharing the guiding philosophy that has propelled her organization’s success, Priya says that Happiest Minds is a Born Digital Born Agile IT consulting firm guided by a philosophy emphasizing the convergence of technology innovation, human-centric values, and perpetuity. The company’s guiding philosophy is rooted in the key principle of ‘Happiest People, Happiest Customers,’ leveraging emerging technologies to drive innovation, efficiency, and agility in business processes, enabling clients to adapt to the rapidly evolving digital landscape. “Our leadership is firmly committed to driving sustainable growth, fostering innovation and customer-centricity,” adds Priya, whose leadership approach is often recognized as an inspirational force for many aspiring women leaders.

Shedding light on her style of leadership and team building within the organization, she says that she follows the inclusive leadership approach by seeking diverse perspectives, promoting equality, and creating an environment of equal opportunity for all her team members.

Proactively identifying and formulating growth opportunities for team members, including training, skill development, and career advancement pathways, is paramount to creating high-performance teams.

Fostering a supportive and inclusive culture, empowering team members, and encouraging them to take on bigger and more challenging roles and responsibilities have helped me create a positive and supportive work environment and ultimately drive innovation and productivity within the organization.

Prospering in the Company of ‘The Mindful Titans

In the realm of business, technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency. Sharing the unique ways Happiest Minds stay ahead in a digital age, Priya says Happiest Minds Technologies Limited enables digital transformation for enterprises and technology providers by delivering seamless customer experiences, business efficiency and actionable insights. Happiest Minds deploys a holistic approach to digital transformation, industry-specific expertise, global reach, and a commitment to innovation and sustainability to stay ahead in the digital age. She adds, “We leverage the emerging as well as core technologies in our web technology solutions to enable the world’s top enterprises, governments and organizations to deliver business value to their customers and shareholders.”

We leverage a spectrum of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud , digital process automationinternet of things, robotics/drones, security, virtual/augmented reality, etc. Our uniqueness is our position of ‘Born Digital. Born Agile.”

Also, Happiest Minds is the first Indian IT firm to be ‘The Mindful IT Company’, a logical extension of our happiness brand positioning. “This indicates our endeavour to be mindful in our approach to our people, customers and the community.” Mindfulness is a worldwide movement, and Happiest Minds is proud to be the first Indian IT company to embrace this philosophy consciously.

Evolve Constantly to Excel

The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. According to Priya, fostering a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among employees involves a multifaceted approach, requires proactive leadership and creates an environment where individuals feel valued, supported, and motivated to evolve and excel continuously. “Some of the strategies that I have adopted are,

  • Creating Continuous Learning Opportunitiesfor the team,
  • Creating individual development plans, and
  • Encouraging Constant Knowledge Sharingwithin the team.”

As an organization, Happiest Minds firmly believes in the timely recognition and reward of employees for their achievements, progress, and contributions. Offering leadership development programs to help aspiring managers hone their leadership skills and customized mentoring programs for women to advance in their leadership roles have helped the company create a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment, ultimately delivering a capable, engaged, and motivated workforce.

Proactively Overcoming the Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped industries globally. When probed about how they navigated these times, Priya says that, unlike many organizations that struggled in the situation, Happiest Minds was highly proactive in sensing the situation and had started putting up a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) much ahead of the actual crisis came to India. Customers’ interests and employee health and safety were the top priorities towards drafting plans. Tremendous efforts were made to align with each customer based on their needs, and BCP plans were executed accordingly. A special task force was set up to monitor the COVID-19 situation daily to plan the best possible response.

Each employee was provided with adequate support and was well-equipped to start Work from Home (WFH) while delivering the same level of productivity as a team. It is commendable that within a week, more than 99% of the employees worked from home without any business disruption.

Priya adds, “Apart from ensuring immediate Business Continuity and no Service disruption, we also put up long-term plans to effectively counter the negative impact of COVID-19 and identify new opportunities created by emerging conditions.” These included skilling up the members, exploring new and innovative technologies, keeping a sharp eye on the new business models that may shape out, and, most importantly, helping businesses go digital, enabling secure remote working and faster cloud adoptions needed for the hour.

Together as a team, we have done a great job equipping ourselves by contributing in the best possible way in the worst of situations and emerge stronger and better.”

At the Forefront of Modern Tech

Today, every business goes beyond the physical realm, touching on digital transformation, constant consumer engagement, and virtual user experience. Priya, too, accepts that generative AI is becoming increasingly essential in today’s digital age due to its significant impact on business operations. It revolutionizes how organizations access information, drive innovation, enhance efficiency, and facilitate reasoning and problem-solving. Happiest Minds is at the forefront of harnessing this transformative technology, empowering companies to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Happiest Minds Technologies introduced a new business unit for Generative AI, investing in building proofs of concept, upskilling employees, forging hyper-scaler partnerships and collaborating with open-source platforms. “We are also closely working with Microsoft to be a part of their AI partner council and is looking to replicate the same with other players,” informs Priya. It will also engage with open-source large language models(LLM) that are fast progressing.

Happiest Minds’ Generative AI capabilities are set to substantially impact the Retail and CPG sectors across a spectrum of critical functions. “We are helping our customers from product ideation and design to marketing, advertising, and brand perception; our AI-driven solutions are designed to drive innovation.”

With our consulting, R&D, and testing capabilities, we assist in crafting a tailored roadmap for seamless technology integration, aligning with your specific objectives. We partner with organizations as their innovation enabler, aiding them to harness Generative AI to achieve quantifiable business goals.”

As a technology partner, Happiest Minds helps customers create Generative AI-based solutions at various levels. “Our unique strength lies in blending content, data, and AI to architect solutions that resonate with today’s dynamic business landscape.”

The Most Crucial Work-Life Balance

According to Priya, preventing burnout in the IT industry and achieving work-life balance are crucial for maintaining mental and physical well-being. “Here’s what I do; these are learnt over a while out of my own experience and experimentation:”

*Prioritizing Tasks: Unmanageable workload can be overwhelming at times. Identifying high-priority tasks and projects and allocating time to address them effectively.

*Practicing Mindfulness: Easier said than done, but incorporating mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, into daily routines helps reduce stress and increase mental clarity.

*Creating a support ecosystem: This doesn’t come naturally to women. But consciously building a network of colleagues, mentors, and friends who can offer support and guidance in personal and professional life can provide a valuable outlet for sharing experiences and seeking advice. “It’s okay to ask for help; we should offer the same when others need it. Thus, create a support eco-system for yourself.”

Healthy habits, open communication, and regularly seeking and acting on performance feedback significantly contribute to mitigating burnout. Achieving work-life balance is an ongoing process. “We live in a digital age where the boundaries between work and professional life are blurring daily. I accepted this long ago and learnt to be flexible with my schedules and adjust them as per professional and personal priorities.” Embracing Flexibility helps one create a balance between professional responsibilities and personal life. Regular self-assessment and adaptation are essential for maintaining well-being in a rapidly evolving industry such as IT.

Solving Issues Together

Also, handling disagreements at work can be a challenge for anyone. Here are some strategies that have been particularly effective for Priya in navigating these situations.

First and foremost, it’s important to approach disagreements with a mindset focused on collaboration and finding a resolution that benefits the team and the organization. This means listening to the perspectives of others involved in the disagreement and being open to finding common ground. “Instead of viewing the situation as a win-lose scenario, I have learnt to approach it as an opportunity for problem-solving and growth.”

In some cases, addressing the disagreement directly and privately with the person or people involved has been helpful. “Being assertive and confident in expressing my perspective while also being respectful and diplomatic helped me to be productive in conflict situations.”

Additionally, building and maintaining strong professional relationships at work are instrumental in managing disagreements at work. When there is a foundation of mutual respect and trust, it becomes easier to address conflicts constructively.

An Advice Straight from the Heart

Women can face unique challenges in the workplace, and it’s important to be mindful of these dynamics when navigating disagreements. It is most important, especially for a woman, to not get emotionally or personally charged about the situation and consciously remember that it’s all business and everyone is entitled to their point of view – navigate these challenges with confidence and success.

Priya’s advice to all the lovely girls and women embracing the field of tech is;

~Build a Strong Network: Connect with other women in tech, as well as with mentors, industry professionals, and like-minded individuals who can offer support, guidance, and opportunities for collaboration. Joining professional organizations, attending networking events, and participating in online communities can all be valuable ways to build your network.

~Take Risks and Treat Challenges as opportunities: Be prepared to take on challenging projects and embrace growth opportunities, even if they initially seem intimidating. Taking risks can lead to valuable experiences and professional growth.

~Recognize and Overcome Bias: Gender bias and stereotypes may still exist in the tech industry. Please work to overcome these and pursue your goals.

~Seek out and stay with Supportive Employers and growth Environments: When considering job opportunities, look for companies that believe in diversity and inclusion. The right growth environment can make a significant difference in your career experience.

~Balance and Self-Care: Tech is a demanding field. Make your well-being a priority and practice self-care.

Learn, learn and learn. Clichéd, though, curiosity and continuous learning will remain the bedrock for your growth in a complex and constantly changing world. “Even today, I spend an hour reading relevant content.”

And finally, Don’t Quit. You’ll face many situations when you will be told to choose between education/career and other priorities. Stay steadfast in your dream; don’t quit.

Curiously Looking to Tomorrow

Priya furthers that being open to Continuous Learning is her approach to staying on top of tech trends. Networking with Industry Professionals, engaging with peers, partners, analysts, customers, and leaders in my field, exchanging ideas, and learning from their experiences greatly help with continuous learning. There is much to learn about industry trends through their insights and experiences. Additionally, specific to the cyber security industry, the following Threat Intelligence Sources provide much information on cyber tech trends. Various publications from authorized sources on threat intelligence and data breach reports provide information on the latest cyber threats, attack vectors, and analysis. Understanding current cyber threats helps to stay ahead of potential security risks.

Finally, Being Open to Experimentation is the key to learning and staying ahead of the tech curve. “Staying curious about emerging technologies and being open to testing new tools, platforms, and methodologies helps me stay ahead of the curve,” concludes Priya Kanduri, whose journey stands as a testament to the transformative power of an inclusive work environment, supportive leadership, networking opportunities, and the pivotal role of family support in propelling women’s careers in the technology sector.