Meet Kyndryl’s Manali Das, daughter of an ex-Air Force and Maharashtra Police officer, who loves taking up challenging roles and breaking barriers

Manali Das, Associate Director - Applications, Data and AI Global Practice, Enterprise Services Engineering Leader, Kyndryl decodes her 20 successful years of being a woman in tech, and how her father has greatly influenced her personality enabling her with critical leadership skills.

Ambitious, dynamic, collaborative and dependable — these are some of the qualities that good business leaders must possess. In the case of women who rise up the ranks, several issues such as impostor syndrome, lack of mentors, etc. prevents them from showcasing these strengths. But not in the case of Manali Das, Associate Director — Applications, Data and AI Global Practice, Enterprise Services Engineering Leader, Kyndryl.

As an enthusiastic and driven professional, she has always set higher goals and left no stone unturned to achieve them. In her words, Manali likes to “drive her projects until the end, and she has delivered successful outcomes, despite challenging situations.” Even in the face of roadblocks, she has never backed down and always found a solution.

In a candid chat with YourStory, Manali opens up about the role her formative years have played in shaping her personality. The chat was a part of an exclusive interview series titled ‘Lead like her’, wherein Kyndryl and YourStory are highlighting inspiring stories of some of the most successful women leaders at Kyndryl, who are leading the way for women in the workforce with their grit, determination, and growth-oriented mindset.

Growing up with a “superhero”

Walking down memory lane, she remembers her childhood vividly, when she along with her family travelled the length and breadth of the country. Calling her father a “superhero”, Manali shares that he was the first person in the family to be a part of the Air Force and inspired a lot of family members who are currently serving in Indian forces. Manali’s father was posted on-field in Pathankot during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Post retirement, he joined Maharashtra Police forces because he wanted the same adrenaline rush to serve the nation.

Her father’s career trajectory fuelled her passion and appetite for taking up challenges, and also gave her many opportunities to meet, interact, and observe people from all walks of life.

“I grew up in a disciplined environment, and not a regimented one, unlike popular perception. We were not treated as cadets at home and had the freedom to pursue anything. My father would also sometimes travel on his own, but in his absence, my mother raised us. I think it was a time that we learnt to be more agile and adapt to situations. I imbibed alertness, discipline, and determination in my formative years,” she adds.

Understanding diversity and inclusion

Manali recalls how doing various activities, projects which included farming, gardening projects, with her father helped her realize the importance of hard work and breaking the stereotypes of gender-defined roles.

“I received multifaceted exposure during my childhood, and I think that has helped me develop a nuanced understanding of diversity and inclusion. To achieve diversity and inclusion, it is essential to include people of all genders, those with disabilities, and many more. Everyone wants to feel included, and it is important to take their opinion. You need to leverage each person’s strengths,” she says.

Another strong pillar of strength in her quest to pursue excellence has been the support she has received from her husband and family.

Of challenges, learnings and big wins

After completing education in computer technology and visual effects, Manali worked with many US and UK-based companies such as Bridon International, Southern Living, Astrape Consulting for 3D visualisation, product modelling and architectural walkthroughs; before getting her big career break in 2011, when she landed a job with IBM in the telecom business operations unit.

Along with a team of 45 people, she built a 24x7 application operations centre for Vodafone. “It was a high pressure project but my father always taught me to finish things, irrespective of challenges and that really motivated me,” adds Manali, who went on to win many awards and accolades for the project including IBM’s internal prestigious service (eminence and excellence) award.

One of Manali’s key achievements is establishing and institutionalising monitoring for Vodafone which was replicated by major telcos such as Idea and Airtel.

Later, she was given the responsibility to drive service line engineering covering platform, storage, database and middleware for two geographies - Asia Pacific and Greater China group - covering 13 countries in different time zones. Her agile nature, ability to connect with people with diverse backgrounds, and zest for learning played a crucial role in helping her to collaborate and succeed.

“The experience and accolades I have gathered have enabled me to lead the engineering services for database and middleware services, leading a team of global chief engineers where we are working on offering design and development, automation and tool strategies, developing technology roadmaps, capability building for delivery readiness, maintaining competitiveness of our metrics,” Manali tells YourStory.

Meeting and working with different kinds of people, having autonomy over her work, and a healthy work-life balance are the elements that she truly cherishes in her work at Kyndryl.

“There is a new challenge every day. Within the organisation, I have changed many roles, and I must admit it has helped me get out of my comfort zone,” adds Manali.

Leadership mantra

Manali believes that working out regularly has helped her gain clarity both in her personal and professional life. “I have started proactively planning my projects to assess the roadblocks. Also, sometimes having conversations over sending emails is more helpful. Saying no is also essential, because [agreeing to everything] sometimes takes away the focus from your priorities,” she says.

As a role model for many, Manali tries to mentor women employees, thereby pushing them to come out of their comfort zone.

“I urge them to take up challenges. I always encourage people to read; a target of 25 books a year is a good idea. Try and learn from other leaders. Break barriers, come forward, and share your views,” she says, adding that upskilling is equally essential.

As Manali says, stay focused, share your knowledge, and connect with more people. Because the sky's the limit.


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