Prita Choksy Shah is the SEA Head of Digital Banking & Core Transformation at Finastra, a global financial services technology company. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering, Computers from the University of Mumbai and a Management degree from the prestigious Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
What made you decide to study computer engineering and how was your experience being a woman in what has been a male-orientated degree?
I had quite a methodical approach when it comes to picking study paths and I remember being the only one among my friends to enrol in career profiling assessment. After assessing my skills, one route that was a match was engineering. It never occurred to me that it might be an unusual choice for a woman, it was just what I saw as a good fit. My parents were very supportive in giving me a lot of directions as well.
It did however hit me on my first day of school that I was in the minority, as only 20% of the students were women and the professors were all male. Despite that, the experience was actually quite pleasant in a way that some professors would even go out of their way to offer extra help and support to the female students. Later in my career, when I completed my MBA, I was surprised once again by the even larger gender gap with only 10% of students being women.
Seeing that, I realised I’d have to work harder and go further to get noticed in the corporate world. I used it as a driving factor to increase my performance and have found it very motivating.
Could you share with me the things you are most proud of about your career and why they are important to you?
Early in my career, I joined Tech Mahindra, a leading global technology company, which had a strong focus on programs for professional growth and career development. Women were a minority, a consequence of the gender representation pursuing engineering, but they believed in equal opportunity and gave me the opportunity to take a two-year sabbatical to pursue my management degree.
When I joined ITC, a large India headquartered conglomerate renowned for focusing on building strong leaders, I was five years out of college and was being recommended for their future of leadership programme. I found it incredibly motivating that my managers had trusted me, believed in me and allowed me to show that I could perform.
I hit a roadblock after two years at HDFC Bank. I had always wanted to work for a bank but it was a high-pressure environment and very cut-throat, so I took a month’s break for some personal downtime and reflection. It was then that I met the CEO of Polaris who invited me to join to set up a new venture from scratch – hiring, building solutions, identifying the story and the go-to-market strategy for building their Cloud business, which gave me a much more well-rounded experience.
What does the Professional Services or Sales industry offer as a career and what are some of the things someone should look out for?
The industry can be very rewarding and there is a significant amount of human interaction. I started my career coding as a Software Engineer but quickly realised I was more people-orientated, which aided my career progression to a Sales role.
There is also the opportunity to create new businesses and markets and drive change. For example, at Finastra, in addition to the more saturated markets, we saw a significant opportunity in Myanmar where we secured three of the top four banks as customers. The Myanmar market is actually very progressive and there was even an occasion where all fifteen people in a meeting between us and the client were women!
I have seen some resistance from customers when buying from a female salesperson; the industry is still very male-dominated at the leadership level so it is very much like being back at school where you need to work harder just to prove yourself – internally or to the customer.
I have always enjoyed creating new niches. Furthermore, there are ups and downs in Sales so it is important to seek a strong leader to work for and a mentor who will believe in you.
Success in Sales comes from building long term relationships, not just closing deals. Most importantly, you have to be yourself, open yourself up to feedback and engage collaboratively to be a successful leader.
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