"Joining the Women in Business programme was the catalyst I needed to take my career into my own hands."
Manisha Jha, Senior Architect at Cognizant
Programme: Women in Business
Manisha Jha, Senior Architect at Cognizant
Programme: Women in Business
I’d spent over 16 years in consulting and application development in the tech industry when I found myself hitting a glass ceiling. Towards the end of 2020, I’d worked for two years at Daimler South East Asia Pte. Ltd – the Singapore office of a global automotive corporation – as an Assistant Manager Data Architect. I enjoyed my role, but knew that there was no further I could go, and had been told a promotion was out of the question, so in January 2021, I decided it was time for me to make a change.
My husband had previously studied at LBS, and had always spoken very highly of his experience there. He encouraged me to look into courses and instantly the Women in Business programme stood out. In my professional life, I’d always been technically oriented and had felt uncomfortable with asking questions. I knew it was the demons in my own head that were limiting my potential. I wanted to start thinking differently, which was something the programme really seemed to address.
Being part of such a diverse class was truly eye opening. Not because of our differences, but our similarities. My cohort had women from the UK, Europe and the Middle East; in industries spanning interior design and government, insurance to banking and retail. What really stuck a cord with me is that despite our different backgrounds we had all faced similar challenges – such as difficulty with progression and issues around confidence. It helped me realise that what I was feeling before the programme wasn’t unique to me, there was multiple people going through the exact same thought process in different parts of the world.
Despite participating in the programme from the other side of the world, I still felt like I got the full LBS experience. I’m located in Singapore, so I couldn’t have studied on campus without taking time out of work. The online format was smooth, easily accessible and gave me everything I’d expect from a leading business school. The professors were also available outside of learning hours for us to drop in and ask any questions, which is testament to the School’s commitment to provide a world-class experience. I also loved that the programme’s reading materials came packaged up as a Christmas present - seeing something on my doorstep packaged up in pretty wrapping paper was a really nice touch to brighten up another day in lockdown!
Having a sponsor was one of my most valuable takeaways, as it alleviated the feelings of inferiority that had been holding me back. The programme provided us with a one page document on how to phrase an email to a potential sponsor. I was really nervous to reach out to someone so senior, but after connecting with the head of my division I was amazed by how open and welcoming he was. We arranged various meetings and he talked about how he’d sponsored people before, which instantly made me feel more relaxed. He put me in contact with people I could shadow and I reported to him on areas that I wanted to develop. Knowing I could speak to senior business people and be worthy of their time really helped to boost my confidence, and in my mind, broke down the barriers of hierarchy.
Joining the Women in Business programme was the catalyst I needed to take my career into my own hands. Despite the great relationship I had with my sponsor, I was stuck where I was; there was no room to grow. But almost instantly, the programme encouraged me to take that next step and look for a new role. While still studying, I landed the position of Senior Architect at Cognizant – a business and technology services organisation – seeing me move from a delivery to pre-sales role.
The programme really helped me to understand the value of in person interactions. Before LBS I didn’t have the confidence to initiate conversations. I used to hide behind my emails, which was just a front for my insecurities. Post-programme, I’ve already started to be more vocal in my organisation. I joined Cognizant while working remotely, so I set up one-to-one calls with my team to get acquainted. I also started Whatsapp groups with some of our senior vendors after meeting them. These are both things I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before the programme. I’m so glad I did. Making the effort has helped me better understand and connect with people across the business, which in this strange time, is more important than ever.
My personality has changed for the better. I’m now much more mature, centred, and less conscious of putting myself out there. I can feel myself going from strength to strength; every time I try something new and get a positive result it encourages me to want to do it again. Not only will this continue to have an impact on me personally, but on my organisation too – giving me the ability to connect with clients and present new ideas with real confidence.
I feel that having a programme specifically for women is extremely important; it creates a safe space to share your perspective. Co-ed programmes are great as you get a broader range of perspectives from both men and women. But being in a female-only class creates a sense of comfort that is otherwise, quite hard to find. This allows you to be vulnerable and share more than you might normally. We’re all in this struggle against gender equality and are all there to become better business people, which creates a real feeling of empowerment and comradery. What started as a group of individuals became a sisterhood by the end of the programme.
My greatest advice for anyone joining the programme is to come with an open mind. Leave any preconceived notions at the door and welcome the perspectives of your classmates. Try not to hold anything back and be willing to share your thoughts and opinions with those around you. By opening up, those around you will start to do the same, causing a chain reaction that will result in you all getting the most out of the programme.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry has its challenges. But that makes it all the more rewarding. By its nature, technology is constantly changing. So to keep up, you need to continuously learn about the latest developments and evolve your skills to suit. Being part of an industry that moves at such a rapid rate is incredibly satisfying, but you can easily get left behind. For women like me who have taken time out to have a family, I found it difficult to convince recruiters of my merit when returning to work after a five-year hiatus. This is where programmes like Women in Business can help. For me, it gave me the confidence I needed to step up and reclaim the career I’d worked so hard for.
When you’re in an industry where your gender is the minority, investing in your skill set is essential. If you enter an environment where there’s not many people like you, you’re always going to stand out, which means you really have to prove yourself. But that doesn’t mean you have to know it all. In tech, a willingness to learn and the courage to ask questions is just part of the industry, because everything around you is in a constant state of change.
I feel very lucky to be a woman living in this part of the world. When thinking of Asia as a whole, it’s come a long way from the days of my grandmother’s generation. Gone are the expectations and stereotypes around education, careers, getting married and raising a family. Women are now empowered to make their own decisions. However, there’s still a great divide in the freedoms granted to women in developing countries as opposed to first-world countries. Education is the great equalizer, and I believe one of the ways we can really help to start bridging the gap.
In the business world, I’d like to see a bigger focus to support women’s health. Whether that’s physical, emotional or mental, organisations need to pay more attention to their people; view them as human beings rather than resources, and realise that health has a huge impact on performance.
Personally, I’d like to play a part in encouraging more young females to start careers in the STEM fields. The cloud, AI and robotics are game-changers, industry disruptors and in the wake of the pandemic; technologies that are more relevant than ever. The younger generation is perfectly poised to embrace these changes as they’re happening. This presents a great opportunity for young women to put themselves at the forefront of these advancements and lead the charge, which would undoubtedly create a greater gender balance in the tech industry and beyond.
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