[Women in Tech] How Shylaja Krishnakurup traversed the path from software engineer to director at Verizon Business Group

As a Director for Verizon Business Group, Shylaja Krishnakurup leads a team of 1,500 engineers in India to help build leading-edge technology and business solutions to serve Verizon’s global enterprise, business markets, wholesale, and public sector customers.
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Shylaja Krishnakurup is a Director, India, for Verizon Business Group. With over 25 years of industry experience, she has handled various roles of increasing responsibilities through the years and has been instrumental in driving many complex projects to great success.

As a Diversity & Inclusion champion, she was instrumental in formulating several programmes for women employees with the vision to create more women leaders. Shylaja says she enjoys taking up new challenges and working under pressure.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from BITS, Pilani, Shylaja loves to spend quality time with her family and watching TV in her leisure time.

In a conversation with HerStory, Shylaja Krishnakurup shares her perspectives on women in tech, how everyone in the organisation has the power to innovate, and the challenges of working during a pandemic.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about yourself, your education, and growing up years?

Shylaja Krishnakurup (SK): Born and raised in Chennai, I grew up with my elder sister and a younger brother. My family always encouraged me to pursue my interest in science, including giving me the freedom to move to a different city for my higher education. I pursued my Bachelor’s in engineering from BITS Pilani. The academic curriculum and the teaching methods were designed to spark critical thinking and questioning and the institution itself was an experience for me, which provided holistic education and formed the foundation in shaping my career.

HS: Was there anything specific that drew you to STEM?

SK: In today’s world, technology is an inherent part of our everyday lives and there is no limit to what you can achieve through technology. From my early school days, I had a keen interest in Mathematics and Science, particularly Maths, as solving complex problems always fascinated me. When I was able to relate everything happening around me in numbers and simple scientific concepts, I was more drawn towards STEM subjects thereon.

HS: Please take us through your career journey…

SK: I started my career as a management consultant for a large engineering company. However, my passion towards technology and software development drew me towards a programmer role in a reputed IT services organisation in 1998. The first client I worked for was Bell Atlantic, which was Verizon’s predecessor, and that is how my association with Verizon began even before it was founded. In 2002, I formally moved to Verizon India and began my wonderful journey spanning around two decades and still counting! Every day has been exciting with new learnings and challenges, which have helped me grow from a Software Engineer to a Director today.

HS: Tell us about your role at Verizon…

SK: As a Director for Verizon Business Group, I lead a team of 1,500 engineers in India and we build leading-edge technology and business solutions to serve Verizon’s global enterprise, business markets, wholesale and public sector customers across the globe. I am also responsible for the formulation and execution of growth strategies with a focus on delivery, talent, and innovation. As a Diversity and Inclusion champion, I have made it a mission to shape the workforce of the future by bringing in diverse talents.

HS: How did you face the challenges of working in a pandemic?

SK: Driven by our commitment to deliver the promise of the digital world, as we continued to transform the way people, businesses, and things connected, here are a few new initiatives that were undertaken to help our people adapt to the new normal:

  • Launched ‘My Voice’, a platform for employees to raise queries (or) to provide suggestions on how we can be more efficient in shaping our response to the pandemic situation.
  • Made sure we stayed connected throughout with our new collaboration tools like Slack, where we are constantly engaged in communicating with teams on a regular basis.
  • A new COVID-19 resource page was introduced in our internal portal, which had a repository of all COVID-19 related queries and support. We also redesigned our insurance policy to cover COVID-19 related medical assistance and curated special Covid leaves exclusively for our impacted colleagues.
  • Provided round-the-clock assistance to people suffering from emotional health issues during the lockdown.

HS: While there are a large number of women entering tech, what more can be done to attract them, and more importantly retain them in the workforce.

SK: In today's highly competitive business environment and with more companies realising the need to ensure equal representation, it's more important than ever to recruit and retain top talent. We need to ensure we are creating a good and safe environment, offering flexible work timings, developing an organisational culture that makes work-life balance not only an expectation, but a reality that helps actively develop women as leaders. Verizon India has a number of programmes that help attract, engage, retain, and develop women professionals.

HS: Do you mentor women in tech?

SK: At Verizon, I was part of a signature programme - the Power Program for women who are top talent, focusing on advancement of women in taking up leadership roles. This programme is a unique combination of mentoring and sponsorship support provided by the senior leaders of the organisation to the budding leaders for enhancing and progressing their career. Currently, I am the executive sponsor for the India location for another flagship programme titled WoW - Women of the World. It’s a year-long developmental experience for women that focuses on building the five core strengths: building your personal brand, self-leadership, communication, critical thinking, and empowering you to own your career.

HS: Why is networking absolutely essential for women in tech?

SK: Some women just feel uncomfortable with networking — putting themselves out there, speaking up for themselves, and promoting themselves. But networking is important to help women navigate their career paths as well. It’s not only about the people who we meet along the way who could provide us with growth opportunities; it’s about having a day-to-day networking group. Networking skills are not just important as we climb the ladder of success, we also need it in everyday business. Networking will help you meet like-minded people or people who are compatible with you in terms of future ideas, life goals, aspirations, and other plans.

HS: Why do you think there are very few women in leadership positions in tech?

SK: In our growing up years, as we continue our education, both men and women have equal ambitions to pursue a successful professional career. However, women today still tackle the lion’s share of the house and child-care work, and hence they do not ascend to the highest levels of leadership and often lose their ambition and opt-out. The loss of so many capable women from the higher levels of our workforce takes a toll on organisations, especially as we seek leaders who are capable of navigating organisations through high levels of change and uncertainty. The lack of female mentors at the workplace and the difficulty in finding support for this role-balancing only add to the woes of women professionals.

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

SK: In today’s day and age, an ideal workplace is where talent belonging to varied economic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, and skills, is given equal opportunity and fair treatment. There are about 70 percent more chances of capturing new markets in a diversified environment. It helps in adding new skills to the team and promotes innovation. By creating a diverse and equal workspace you are able to draw on a wide range of ideas from a workforce full of different skills, experiences, resources, talents, all of which will give our business a competitive edge against the rest.

HS: What are your future plans?

SK: Being in a technology and communication company, there is a lot of disruption taking place around us, and especially in the post-pandemic era, we are seeing changing customer expectations, new opportunities arising, and new business models emerging. It is exciting to learn about 5G and the opportunities and solutions we can think of building around 5G.

In addition to reskilling, learning, and unlearning to stay ahead of the curve, I also keep myself open to new ideas and constantly look for opportunities to learn from the next-gen professionals about new concepts and ways of thinking. Also, I have a passion for volunteering to support company-wide initiatives around digital inclusion, climate protection, and human prosperity.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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