[Women in Tech] Talent above gender should be the mantra for every organisation, says Rachel Ler of Commvault

By Rekha Balakrishnan
July 05, 2021, Updated on : Tue Jul 06 2021 02:11:14 GMT+0000
[Women in Tech] Talent above gender should be the mantra for every organisation, says Rachel Ler of Commvault
As VP and GM, Asia-Pacific and Japan, one of Rachel Ler’s biggest successes has been to re-build the ASEAN, Hong Kong and Taiwan region in Commvault virtually, without having to board a plane.
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With a career spanning over 19 years, Rachel Ler has donned leadership roles across Asia Pacific and Japan with leading technology brands including IBM, Microsoft, Dell Technologies, HP Enterprise, and Nimble Storage, with Commvault being her recent stint where she has clocked in 15 months.


After graduating with a diploma in Information Technology, Rachel started her career as a programmer in 1998. After a short stint as a pre-sales consultant for an HR software company, she landed a job at global tech giant IBM.

Rachel ler2

“Looking back, I feel really fortunate to start my career at IBM and be part of an amazing culture, driven by knowledge sharing and mentoring mindset. I had many inspiring mentors whom I looked up to and guided me during my tenure, and today, continue to be my sounding board,” she says.


As Vice-President and General Manager (Asia Pacific and Japan) at Commvault, Rachel is responsible for driving sustainable growth with a focus on solution innovation and customer experience. Her key focus includes strengthening Commvault’s broad and diverse partner ecosystem across all the distinct markets. Based in Singapore, Rachel also leads a team of highly experienced data experts who help companies move, manage, protect, and use its data.


In a conversation with HerStory, Rachel traces her tech journey, working through the pandemic and her biggest successes and challenges.


Edited excerpts from the interview:


HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about your early years…


Rachel Ler (RL): I grew up in a modest Asian family shaped by strong Confucian ethics. Dad had a firm but rational say on my education. The road to IT was predicated on a Labor Day rally speech by the nation’s most admired and respected Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew – that IT will shape the future of Singapore. Both my dad and I are fans of LKY (as he is affectionately known), I went on to graduate with a diploma in Info Technology and started my career as a programmer in 1998. I had never looked back since.


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


RL: I always had an analytical mind and was constantly drawn to problem solving scenarios which required a methodical approach. So, when I graduated, the first thing I looked at was to find a job being a programmer, because that’s really what I liked. My father’s advice on choosing IT as a career also really echoed with my interests, so I wouldn’t say it was just a coincidence that I had been watching PM Lee’s address on TV that day along with my Dad. It was all meant to be!

I love the tech space and have seen IT transforming lives. I loved my Nokia banana phone and never thought that I would give it up for today’s ubiquitous smart phone. Is a space where there’s constant change and for the better, with opportunities to re-learn and upgrade.

HS: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Commvault.


RL: As the leader for Commvault APJ, I am responsible for driving sustainable growth across the region, with a focus on solution innovation and customer experience, while strengthening Commvault’s broad and diverse partner ecosystem across all the distinct markets. In particular, I enjoy and love to have conversations with our customers on all how we can help them to do amazing things with their data, wherever it lives.


HS: Any particular women-in-tech experience/anecdote that you would like to share?


RL: The gender divide in the more traditional male-dominated cultures in Asia is well documented. It was a challenge initially to break the barrier, but with thoughtful and culturally sensitive leadership, building a cohesive team in male dominated countries like Korea and Japan earning their trust, and knowing that we have our strengths to learn from each other are sweet spots for me.


The most heartening and important moment is when a few male employees in Japan and Korea, asked me to be their mentor to shape their journeys and leadership styles and I think that’s a breakthrough in bridging the gender divide.


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


RL: I joined Commvault at the start of the lock down in Singapore, a sales role with no travel and no face-to-face customer meetings was unimaginable then. I have never been home for this prolonged period of time since I embarked on a regional role seven years ago, but I learnt to be resilient and adapt.


From a sales war-room, one-on-one catch-up sessions, attending birthday celebrations, to lending a shoulder to cry on – all were done on-line. And with results too.


HS: What can be done to attract more women to the tech workforce?


RL: While gender balance is indeed a delicate issue and equal opportunity should be at the forefront of hiring considerations, this also means prioritising candidates according to their attitudes and aptitudes as opposed to engaging in tokenism. All candidates should be looked at as equals during hiring consideration.


That means young women who are keen on entering this sector should focus on honing their skillsets, as well as seeking out roles that challenge them and give them room to grow. Don’t let initial setbacks push you back, and always seek to constantly learn and excel in every task.


HS: What have been your biggest successes and challenges?


RL: One of the challenges I resonated with growing up was the gender stereotype, like in typical Asian families, I was taught not to speak my mind and be vocal about my passion and desires. Women should be in the kitchen and not the board room pretty much ruled those early days.


Thankfully, mentors and experience are life changing moments, my dad had no notions that women cannot be in tech, steered my education in IT and my career mentor taught me to break the silence and the glass ceiling with sound advice on career and leadership skills.


One of my biggest successes has been to re-build the ASEAN, Hong Kong and Taiwan region in Commvault and recently have the best quarter with best linearity for APJ, this for me is an amazing feat done virtually, without having to board a plane. This would not be possible without technology and the people. I am proud of and thankful for a great team in APJ.

rachel ler

HS: Do you mentor women in tech?


RL: I always practise an open-door policy with my employees and mentees to build strong relationships. I can proudly say that I not only mentor women but men alike, I am motivated when I see people – be it our team, partners, or customers with such diverse backgrounds breaking all odds to make things happen.


HS: Why is networking essential for women in tech?


RL: Networking is important to help women navigate their career paths. It’s not only about the people we meet along the way who could provide us with growth opportunities; it’s about having a networking group day today. I call it your board of directors — people you can count on for career or personal advice. You need a group that you can call when you hit a dead-end in your career journey. Women need to have the courage, interest, and initiative to step foot into the arena.


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


RL: I believe, the prime reason is occupational segregation, due to the pre-defined gender roles, traditionally, there has always been a greater demand for more men working and graduating in STEM fields, whereas women were considered only good for the kitchen and not the board room. Another factor is lack of career guidance and mentoring. At Commvault, we have strong mentorship program to guide young men and women to share and shape values and beliefs, to broaden their skills for personal development and prepare for the future.


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

RL: I am a firm believer in respect, inclusiveness, kindness, , and treating others as they would like to be treated. Leading an inclusive culture with authenticity can only help to bridge all stereotypes, including the gender divide. It is important to encourage discussions at the workplace.

Talent above gender should be the mantra for every organisation, it should be about being the best, being able to stand up for yourself and make a difference in people’s life and an obligation to pull others up.


HS: Who have been your biggest inspirations?


RL: Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo CEO is one of my favorites, I have drawn leadership inspirations from her early days at PepsiCo where she believed that each product must engage customers directly and personally that they fall in love with it, her transformational shift towards health-oriented product right up to her parting words “to think hard about time” in her farewell speech at PepsiCo.


HS: What are your future plans?


RL: Personally, I am always for continuous learning as a life process into the future, finding time to do an MBA is in my plan. In the near term, I will be extremely thrilled to achieve a True North growth plan for our business in APJ which means tripling our revenue. More importantly, I am steering my team towards their True North, this is taken from a book by Bill George, and is about authentic leadership based on self-awareness and passion to drive to a purpose bigger than self and career.


Edited by Anju Narayanan

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