[Women in Tech] Be a cheerleader for other women and help them face their fears, says Priya Mahajan of Verizon Business Group

Priya Mahajan, Head – ASPAC Public Policy and Regulatory Counsel, Verizon Business Group believes that with the power of technology and latest collaboration tools, networking can be quite effective and enhance one’s profile.
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Born and raised in Chandigarh, Priya Mahajan belongs to a family of lawyers. Her grandfather was a senior lawyer while her father was a corporate lawyer with a large FMCG company.

“Due to my keen interest in law, my grandfather saw me as his natural successor in law practice. So, I was brought up in an environment where the discussion over the dinner table always hovered around case laws and court proceedings,” she recalls.

However, not many women chose law as a profession at that time.

“It was essentially a male-dominated profession, and an unconscious bias existed that women were a better fit as teachers or doctors, rather than unconventional professions like engineers or lawyers. However, my family always encouraged me to follow my passion – the road less travelled, and that made all the difference,” she adds.

Priya studied Economics, Sociology, and Political Science as part of her undergraduate course, and later completed a three-year law degree at Panjab University.

Today, she leads Public Policy for Asia-Pacific at Verizon Business Group, the company’s enterprise solutions arm that is helping enterprises and medium-sized businesses with reliable technology built to drive scale and growth.

In an interview with HerStory, Priya outlines the need for networking, for organisations to follow an equal opportunity mindset, and why women should help other women.

HS: What role has technology played in your life?

PM: I believe technology has played a pivotal role in the advent of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ which can be characterised by increasing digitalisation, and humanity’s steady transition into the virtual world. I’m particularly intrigued by the field of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), driven by my passion. I started my career with a regional telecommunications company in India as their in-house legal counsel. I particularly wanted to understand the interplay of technology and regulation, and for that, a sound background in technology was essential.

HS: Please take us through your career journey…

PM: At my first job, my role entailed seeking Right of Way permissions, acquiring land for the rollout of the ICT infrastructure in the state, including the cell towers, and fiber rollout for providing internet broadband services.

After a brief stint, I joined a large mobile operator to help them on the regulatory side for the rollout of cellular mobile services in India. It was indeed an interesting time where telecommunications had opened for private operators and it was a great learning experience, especially in the field of emerging technologies.

In 2008, I joined Verizon as their Chief Counsel for India, and in 2017, I moved to Singapore to lead the Asia-Pacific Public Policy role. I am also the President of the Asia-Pacific Carriers Coalition, an honorary position to represent the advocacy interest of global and regional carriers in the Asia region. I am also a co-Chair of the AMCHAM Singapore Cyber Security Subcommittee and a periodic speaker on ICT issues.

As a qualified Attorney and Company Secretary, I hold multiple professional certifications including an Accelerated Management Certification by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad and Certified Information Privacy Professional Asia (CIPP-A), IAPP.

HS: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Verizon India.

PM: I lead Public Policy for Asia-Pacific and in my role, I work with diverse stakeholders, including policymakers and trade associations. My engagement with them is mainly regarding tech policy issues to drive sustainable policy outcomes for the business team that is focused on delivering solutions to help enterprise customers. These customers include 99 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and the team helps them securely connect to the global economy, and intelligently manage business interactions in real-time.

HS: What challenges did you face when working amid a pandemic?

PM: ICT became a critical enabler in the face of the pandemic. Be it remote learning for students, public health, or even online banking, secure and reliable connectivity is now indispensable to facilitate remote working. I am glad for the opportunity to work for a company that ensures the world moves forward and keeps everyone connected.

HS: Do you mentor women and do you think networking is essential for women in tech?

PM: I do mentor both men and women in tech, as I think there has to be an inclusive approach to diversity. A weaker network means less access to job opportunities. It also means companies may be missing some of the best candidates: those who have the right skills but lack the right connections.

It’s a big problem – one that disproportionately holds back women, according to new research from LinkedIn.

I am a firm believer in the power of networking, especially as the world is increasingly becoming connected and digitalised. Using the power of technology and the latest collaboration tools, networking can be quite effective and a great way of enhancing one’s profile. I am a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion initiatives, with a keen interest in building connections, leveraging networking opportunities, and being mentored by inspirational leaders.

However, women still face lots of challenges at the workplace – from a high gender pay gap to underrepresentation in leadership.

The gender network gap isn’t the sole reason for that adversity, but it is a factor that’s easily ignored and deserves more attention. By doing our part to close the network gap, we can ensure people with equal talents have equal access to opportunities, no matter who they are or where they come from.

HS: Why should every organisation have an equal opportunity mindset?

PM: In the last few years, we have made slow but steady progress towards closing the gap for women’s leadership positions in STEM fields, however, the pandemic has put us at risk of unravelling the work. We have reached a crisis point at a time when technology is advancing so rapidly that if we don’t take immediate action, women may never catch up.

Many of these women carry a larger burden of caretaking and at-home learning responsibilities. It’s never been about work-life balance, and the notion of work-life integration never applied. Today, women need to achieve life integration – on their terms.

I believe that large organisations have a moral responsibility to take action for this cause and help push for a more inclusive future for all.

I’d challenge women and men to find ways to become a sponsor, and help women rise through the ranks. Bring men along – this can’t just be a conversation amongst women. Be a cheerleader for other women and find ways to help women face their fears by providing a safe space for education and mentorship. Last but not least, practise self-care. We're only our best if we take care of ourselves.

Verizon recently announced Verizon Women’s CoLab, a new effort to support women amid the current crisis of women leaving the workforce at unprecedented rates. The initiative will span support for Verizon’s key stakeholders – customers, employees, and society at large.

HS: Who has been your biggest inspiration?

PM: My parents have been my biggest inspiration as they were incredibly supportive of every dream I've chased, even if that meant challenging the status quo or moving cities or countries. They have stood by me and let me pursue my dreams, which also includes helping me raise my kids while managing a challenging work schedule.

HS: What are your future plans?

PM: We are living in a time where a lot of disruption is taking place around us – business models are changing, new opportunities arise, and at the same time, traditional business is disrupted with revenue pressures and changing customer expectations. The demands of our job can be stressful, notwithstanding that we need to continue to reskill, learn, and unlearn to stay ahead of the curve. I plan to leverage the Verizon tuition assistance programme for my professional development.

I am also a firm believer that humanity goes a long way with just an act of kindness. So, I plan to be engaged in volunteer opportunities to support company-wide initiatives around digital inclusion, climate protection, and human prosperity.

Lastly, I aim to continue to bring my authentic self to work and to be a role model for others to follow, while being sensitive to cultural diversity, especially while working in a diverse environment.

Edited by Kanishk Singh