In Her Own Words: SHEFALY YOGENDRA [Women In Tech Series]

In her own words, we connect with Shefaly Yogendra, a board director/ trustee of BeyondMe a non-profit/ technology led, has a long portfolio career where technology is one of the binding themes in the technology-led industries she serve in.

On the run up to Women’s Day on the 8th March, we are paying homage to 7 women who have made a name for themselves in the world of technology. The names behind the women we are honoring might not be commonly known, but there is no denying that they are quietly making a difference in their field. In this series, the women personally share their experiences and challenges whilst also giving us a glimpse into the lessons that they have learnt along the way. In her own words, Shefaly Yogendra shares her story.

I have had a long portfolio career where technology is one of the binding themes across all the roles in the various technology-led industries I serve in. I currently serve as a non-executive board director for a JP Morgan Investment Trust (industry: financial services) and as a board director/ trustee of BeyondMe (industry: non-profit/ technology led). I also advise several startups and have a sideline in the luxury sector’s challenges where I write, advise and am developing something fun.

Both board roles were deliberate choices because they allowed me to use my broad skill set in technology, especially the strategic role of technology in redefining industries, the opportunities presented by technology in branding and talent sourcing, and the risks posed by technology-led disruptions of old models and industry boundaries.

I have always served in business roles in technology, and would like to emphasise that for a technology-savvy woman, who is not keen on the-only-way-is-coding narrative, it is important to see how many business roles would be enriched by her skill set and deep interest in not just the development aspects of technology but its broader impact on business and society.

When it comes to my current role, one of my current titles is “Non Exec Board Director”. In layman terms, this means I do not work inside a business and have not worked inside a business, but I serve on their board as an independent steward of shareholder interests. This is a role in governance, and is an important area for women in technology to consider in their career paths.

Going back to the beginning, I began my career in corporate venturing in a large technology conglomerate after completing my studies in engineering and business management. I have since had a rich career helping a range of clients in risk and better decision-making. I have been a founder in a fine-jewellery startup too. Seeking a board role felt the next relevant step for me.

For me to be were I am, it is essential that the work engages me and challenges me to grow and learn, and that I work with people I can both have serious conversations and silly laughs with. Finding all of those in every single thing I undertake is tougher than it sounds on paper. It took self-awareness, persistence and intellectual honesty to say yes and no to opportunities arising.

When it comes to challenges, I feel that there is still very little appreciation for the complexity we live amidst and for people, who have both breadth and depth so they understand how to navigate this complexity. I have built a strong portfolio career by serving a broad range of clients – including regulators, investors and businesses, both BigCo and startups – helping them with questions of strategic evaluation, risk assessment and mitigation, and leadership. I have worked with “technology” that is not just TMT or ICT but also biotechnology and emergent technologies.

However, as we tend to value narrow expertise a lot more, it is challenging for me to minimise my rich experience just so I can fit into a narrow role. I also often get asked “How do you know that?” and it is tricky to answer such a question because when we are constantly learning, how we learn changes too, and a simple two-line answer to how I understand something complex is not always possible to give.The challenge is to continue being who we are in all our splendor while ensuring we find and get the opportunities we want.

 If I was to pass along any lessons, as trite as it may sound, the key lesson in life is — always be observing and learning. How we learn and what we learn changes how we learn and what we learn. As an engineer, I see the world in a certain way, but as someone who also understands policy and regulation, I recognise issues arising in a technology business completely differently. e.g. When we talk about IoT, an engineer may think about how data is being collected, how it is being analysed, how it can be queried but a business person is more interested in how that data can train machines to generate nudges for certain customer behaviours for maximising profits. A person, who also understands policy issues, further asks questions about how businesses are collecting identifiable and anonymised information about the customer from the many “things” that data are harnessed from and what challenges it poses to individual privacy and governance.
The second thing I would say — choose a journey, not a hard coded goal. This is related to the last point. When we are learning, we may course-correct in the journey to remain relevant. A hard set goal may keep us on a path that is no longer relevant or useful. The latter is unlikely to result in professional growth or personal satisfaction.
Inspired by people who take a stance and persist not just in work but in life. I find those people inspiring. In the UK, I find Martha Lane-Fox a stellar inspiring technology leader. Her definition of technology, as evident from her career, is not tech for tech’s sake but technology for improving life. Whether as the founder of or the force behind DotEveryone, she has showcased a broad perspective and the kind of leadership that I outlined earlier the world needs but has very little appreciation for. Martha also publicly spoke about rebuilding her life after a life-threatening accident she had. I admire
Related imagegreatly her tenacity and her willingness to talk about her vulnerability so as to light the path for others.

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