Priya Kanduri: The Most Respected D&I Champion of the Indian Cybersecurity Industry

Priya Kanduri
Priya Kanduri

In a landscape marked by persistent gender disparities, particularly in the male-dominated tech sector, Priya Kanduri emerges as a beacon of change and progress. As the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Senior Vice President (SVP) of Happiest Minds Technologies in Bengaluru, Priya embodies the spirit of innovation, leadership, and gender inclusivity.

Priya’s story shines as a testament to the potential for meaningful change. As a prominent figure in the tech industry, her journey exemplifies resilience, determination, and excellence. By breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes, Priya ascended to leadership and actively advocated for gender equality and empowerment in the workplace.

Priya’s exclusive interview with CIOLook India is given herein.

As an influential CTO in your industry, could you take us back to the beginning of your journey? What motivated you to step into this dynamic ecosystem?

I started my journey in tech two and a half decades ago, straight out of college. I have been in the IT industry for all these years, and I work in the cyber security segment of IT, which is severely underrepresented by women. When I graduated from STEM, I was one of the very few women in my engineering batch and fewer still in the field of cybersecurity. Society expected girls to stick to conservative life choices and frowned upon those who broke the stereotypical norms.

Computer Science engineering was considered a sole privilege for boys, and girls were deemed weak in maths and programming. There were very few women to interact with, share notes with, or learn from. Diversity and inclusion was not even a buzz word in those days. Working-mom-friendly work environments were far and few.

Considering these not as challenges but as opportunities and embracing them helped me grow in my career. I developed a deep passion for maths and computing, excelled in computer programming and joined cybersecurity because it met my passion for its use of deep tech, opportunities for curious learning and allowed me to perform and grow in an ever-evolving industry.

My unconscious approach to the situation had been to turn the position of the minority into a privilege to influence, trying to speak up and share my experiences and learnings at every possible opportunity. Creating an eco-system of supporting colleagues and having the right mentors—preferably women leaders—helps today’s tech women navigate their career paths.

I consciously worked towards it. I was fortunate to be associated with firms such as Wipro and HappiestMinds, which offered high-growth environments and encouraged women’s leadership.

At HappiestMinds, a new-age digital transformation firm, my current work involves developing next-generation cyber defence Platforms for global customers. Now, as a D&I champion and a women leader, I actively promote diversity in the workplace, constantly encourage my teams and peers to hire more women and devise inclusive approaches to create a very women-friendly work atmosphere. It has been and is my motivation, passion, and mission to make gender equality in the workplace.

Bridging gender parity is possible only when everyone acknowledges and comes together to address the issue. IT organizations in India have come a long way in fixing these gaps and should continue to focus on increasing workplace gender ratios of 30:70 to 50:50!

Your company has emerged as India’s leading company in its niche. Could you share the guiding philosophy that has propelled your organization’s success?

Happiest Minds is a Born Digital Born Agile IT consulting firm guided by a philosophy emphasizing the convergence of technology innovation, human-centric values, and perpetuity. Our guiding philosophy is rooted in the key principle of ‘Happiest People, Happiest Customers,’ leveraging emerging technologies to drive innovation, efficiency, and agility in business processes, enabling clients to adapt to the rapidly evolving digital landscape. Our leadership is committed to driving sustainable growth, fostering innovation and customer-centricity.

The industrial landscape is continually evolving. Please brief our audience about your firm’s USPs and how you are currently positioned as one of the best transformational companies in its sector.

As a CTO, I roll out next-gen solutions that boost annuity revenues in this evolving landscape. I have designed and implemented multiple Next-Gen Managed Security Platforms offering Proactive Threat Detection, Security Automation, Data-Centric Security as a service and Governance for new-age Digital Customers. These creative solutions and platforms have been not only our USPs but are also delivering IP revenues of 20% of overall revenue. These platforms have won multiple industry awards and recognitions [Identity Solution of the Year 2019 by Kamikaze @ CISO Leadership Summit, Overall Web Security Solution of the Year @ 2nd Edition CISO Leadership Summit].

Your influential leadership style is often recognized as a driving force behind your company’s achievements. Could you shed light on your approach to leadership and team building within the organization? 

I possess decisive and creative leadership skills. I am passionate about my work and always give my best. I believe in contributing as much as I can. As D&I champion for HappiestMinds, I crafted and executed innovative approaches to increase diversity from < 14% to over 30% in the last three years, especially in the manager and mid-level leadership layers.

I follow an inclusive leadership approach by seeking diverse perspectives, promoting equality, and creating an equal-opportunity environment for all my team members.

Proactively identifying and formulating growth opportunities for team members, including training, skill development, and career advancement pathways, is paramount to creating high-performance teams.

Fostering a supportive and inclusive culture, empowering team members, and encouraging them to take on bigger and more challenging roles and responsibilities have helped me create a positive and supportive work environment and ultimately drive innovation and productivity within the organization.

The essence of technology lies in levelling the field. How do you strike a balance between operational efficiency and gender equality?

I have built a team with 40% women diversity in my cybersecurity service business. I conceptualized a special “women in tech” initiative, which has conducted seven episodes so far, including webinars, fireside chats, and panel discussions with women leaders across the globe and industries, to promote and encourage more women to take leadership roles in the cybersecurity field.

I have already conducted multiple webinars, fireside chats, and panel discussions with various global women leaders across industries to promote and encourage more women to take leadership roles in cybersecurity, promoting diversity and inclusion. Also, mentoring women leaders in mid-levels within the organization, specifically in the cyber security domain, is another approach of mine. I have helped plan careers for and create multiple women leaders in cybersecurity.

Digitalization and technological advancements are crucial aspects of the modern industrial ecosystem. How does your company integrate these principles into its core functioning and contribute to a technovative future?

We enable digital transformation for enterprises and technology providers by delivering seamless customer experiences, business efficiency and actionable insights. At Happiest Minds, we deploy a holistic approach to digital transformation, industry-specific expertise, global reach, and a commitment to innovation and sustainability to stay ahead in the digital age.

We leverage emerging and core technologies in our web technology solutions to enable the world’s top enterprises, governments, and organizations to deliver business value to their customers and shareholders.

We leverage a spectrum of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud, digital process automation, internet of things, robotics/drones, security, virtual/augmented reality, etc. Our uniqueness is our position of ‘Born Digital. Born Agile.

Also, Happiest Minds is the first Indian IT firm to be ‘The Mindful IT Company,’ a logical extension of our happiness brand positioning. This indicates our endeavour to be mindful of our approach to our people, customers, and the community. Mindfulness is a worldwide movement, and Happiest Minds is proud to be the first Indian IT company to embrace this philosophy consciously.

The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. How does your company foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among its employees?

Fostering a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among employees involves a multifaceted approach, requires proactive leadership and creates an environment where individuals feel valued, supported, and motivated to evolve and excel continuously. Some of the strategies that I have adopted are,

  • Creating Continuous Learning Opportunities for the team,
  • Creating individual development plans, and
  • Encouraging Constant Knowledge Sharing within the team.

As a leader in India’s industrial sector, you surely have faced your share of challenges. How your resilience and ingenuity triumphed over adversity?

My journey in tech has not been without its share of challenges that most women also face during their careers. It may sound stereotypical, but the constant doubt of whether I was giving my best at home and work was hard to overcome. Making a mark in the cyber field, where women are severely outnumbered, has been challenging yet rewarding.

While women have come a long way, there still exists a huge gender gap, especially in middle and senior management. Women leaders are the key success factors for the growth of any organization. They bring diverse thinking and creativity, communicate more effectively, and work collaboratively. I truly believe more and more women should pursue careers in IT and, more importantly, stay steadfast in the face of challenges and persist with their career ambitions.

In the next twenty years, technology will be used more creatively than ever. To keep up with the changing trends, techies must focus on constant learning, avail themselves of all social channels for learning and growth, have a mentor to guide them, and finally, be with the right organization for the right development. Tech women must envision their short-term and long-term goals to reach the top.

Tech is a way for the Indian industry to accelerate its economic potential and capacity. What would you advise to women aspiring to venture into tech or STEM?

My advice to all the lovely girls and women embracing the field of STEM is;

Believe in yourself. The STEM field is gender-neutral, and girls are as good as boys in engineering. You have thousands of examples; look around and get inspired. Embrace failures. Everyone learns from them.

Develop problem-solving skills. Remember, no one knows better than women the art of juggling multiple fronts and solving diverse problems along the way. STEM and the career thereafter are no different. Develop a passion for math, numbers, and solving problems for customers.

Learn, learn, and learn. Cliched though it may be, curiosity and continuous learning will remain the bedrock for your growth in a complex and constantly changing world. Even today, I spend an hour reading relevant content.

Find your mentors. Remember, there are as many men as women who can give you useful career advice. Many men are equally big advocates of girls taking up STEM or women in tech. Find them and leverage their experience.

Finally, Don’t Quit. You’ll face many situations when you are told to choose between education/career and other priorities. Stay steadfast in your dream; don’t quit.