Priyanjali Banerjee shares some thoughts about how she has overcome the gendered expectations she grew up with to build a flourishing career in technology.
Priyanjali Banerjee is a finalist in the Women in Tech Awards, Woman of the year, Financial Services category. Here she reflects on her career, and how she has overcome biases based on her gender and ethnicity.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role:
I'm Pri and I'm a Delivery Lead within the Insights & Analytics Team at Hymans Robertson.
My main focus over the past 12 months has been to empower my team to be more independent - less about taking orders, and more about coming up with their own ideas and challenging established processes.
I work towards building and nurturing a stable and healthy work environment by coaching and encouraging my colleagues to speak up and overcome imposter syndrome. My team and I have helped develop a blameless culture in our work ecosystem - mistakes are considered a learning exercise, where we learn as a team. Psychological safety means we are free to experiment and explore new approaches to software delivery and evolve our career pathways.
And while imposter syndrome may not be something we can cure, we can continue to work at it to reduce the impact.
How did you get into the tech industry?
Growing up I was strongly discouraged from the tech industry as it wasn't considered a "suitable" career choice. I was told that a woman couldn't sustain a career in the industry given the demand on her time from family commitments.
Thankfully, spending a few years on the wrong career path made me realise that having an enjoyable career is important both for a healthy personal and professional life. Life is too short to have an awful time at work. So I followed my passions and pursued a career in tech. I haven't looked back since!
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Defying the odds of gender and ethnicity to become a team leader and credible female leader in the digital space.
Moving to the UK from India, I soon realised that in a completely new culture I needed to relearn how to communicate. The assumptions, social beliefs, even how to interpret body language and one's tone - things we take for granted - vary from culture to culture. Coming from a certain gender and ethnicity often triggered strong biases. And similarly, I had some biases too about how I "should" be. Perhaps it's that awareness that helped me understand the importance of a supporting a leader who not only coaches you to speak up but also encourages you to challenge yourself.
Every challenge I have faced to get to where I am today has shaped me, my work principles and priorities. I understand and appreciate why it is so important to have female role models and share stories to give future female leaders ideas and hope that even in challenging circumstances it is possible to dream big.
What's your top tip for women considering a role in tech?
Be kind to yourself. Women often juggle multiple roles. For example, I am a mum, a team-leader, a daughter to a terminally ill parent and grand-parent, and a supportive wife to someone going through a career-change. I find it is very easy to prioritise everything, everyone but myself.
In this age of hybrid working when we can easily bounce between work and home, the travel time that forced "me" moments before the pandemic, can now be spent on something else on the "to do" list. It's also easier to "power through" sickness because you don't want to inconvenience your colleagues.
Needless to say this is not healthy as I found out when exhaustion drove me to tears. Whilst I am so good at checking in with colleagues/teammates, offering support with prioritisation or gently encouraging them to take time off when they're not feeling well, I have not been taking my own advice. Why though? Am I not as important as everyone else?
I have learnt that the length of the "to-do" list doesn't matter. What matters is regular prioritisation by asking questions. How urgent is the work? What is the impact of the work? Would I be blocking someone else if I don't do it right away? And so on. I now have a regular period blocked in the day to review my priorities and create a healthy work plan with periods built in for me to unwind, meditate, and listen to that podcast I have been meaning to.
How can we encourage more women into the tech industry?
We should acknowledge that women have different challenges to men, but these differences shouldn't hold us back. We need more conversations about these challenges to raise awareness around:
- Coming back to work after maternity leave
- Working part-time - it's not ok for colleagues to schedule important meetings on non-working days
- Going through menopause and working
- Caring for others (be it looking after little ones or other family members) and working
Having good role-models to mentor and share career stories will help women and girls feel more encouraged that they can have a wholesome career in the tech sector.