10 minutes of inspiration with Shefaly Yogendra, PhD

September 2016 - Inspire interview with Shefaly Yogendra


Shefaly Yogendra, PhD is a risk and decision-making specialist, serves as an NED on a listed company board and as a trustee of a celebrated British charity, and advises founders and CEOs on technology, risk, branding and talent. She is on the Female FTSE Board Report 2016's list of 100 Women To Watch. Follow Shefaly on Twitter: @Shefaly

Tell us a little about what you do.

I am a risk and decision-making specialist. I prefer the term 'specialist' to highlight the ongoing nature of my learning rather than the stasis of being an 'expert'. 

I help make better decisions through understanding risk. Focusing mainly on strategic impact of technology on transforming or disrupting industries and organisations. My clients range from boards and CXOs of large organisations to founder-CEOs of startups in the UK, the USA and India.

How did you get to where you are today?

Early in my career in corporate venturing, I was an intrapreneur. When I left the corporate world after 6 years, I found I was virtually unemployable. Fitted for my age, I would be in dull jobs, and fitted for my rich cross-functional experience, I would be working with people 15-20 years older than I, which wouldn't have worked either. 

Through working as an independent advisor and consultant to investors, regulators, BigCo clients and startups, I built an enviable portfolio of experience in networked and regulated industries many of which are being redefined by emergent technologies. My test of a good day is to have learnt something new before bedtime, while making some progress on my path of growth. 

I have a direction for my life and that means when opportunities arise, I do not ignore or dismiss them in pursuit of an unchanging career goal. I take advantage of them and grow as a professional, as a person.

How has your life experience shaped you as a leader?

My mother passed away when I was four. My father, whose parenting I often rave about, did not seek to limit me or inhibit me with gender stereotypes. I see the world as limitless. I can fix machines, hang pictures, have spirited debates about politics and technology, and bake cakes. As a leader, I seek to help people maximise their potential without the challenges posed by limiting beliefs. 

What have the highlights and challenges been during your career?

Starting out as a self-employed business advisor in a new country was challenging. Not least because as an Indian person with a technology background, I often had to deal with people assuming I was a coder, never mind my stellar business experience! 

My career highlight has been the diversity of my clients and collaborators, working across the world, working across industries, with a multidisciplinary toolkit I am formally trained in and sharpen every day.  Innovative thinking happens at the cusps of disciplines and industries!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Choose a path, a journey, not a hard-set goal. 

A hard-set goal can distract us from opportunities and from personal joy. For instance, a lawyer might join a law firm with a goal is to make partner is X number of years. Some may not enjoy the journey but are set on the goal at great personal cost. Yet others, when they realise they are not enjoying it, may be better placed for alternative paths such as becoming an in-house lawyer or becoming a business advisor. It is OK to revise our goals and redefine the role to suit our path.

I also believe we bring the whole person wherever we go. If our minds feel the stress, our bodies will tell us, and it will all show up in our performance. Be true to your whole self whatever choices you make.

What are the most important lessons you've learned in your career?
Be invisible but in plain sight. I was invisible in plain sight until I joined Board Apprentice and met Carol Rosati who helped me to point out things in my CV that would make me stand out. These days if we don't find someone on the web, we think it is strange. Be discoverable, with things you want to be known for. 

My other lesson is first build, then brag. Because of confidentiality reasons, I don't discuss my clients but my advice would be to build a strong story before you start bragging. Nobody can hurt self-confidence that is rooted in real experience and knowledge.  

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Women really don't go around thinking "Ooh, look, we're women!". Until someone reminds us. We are not defined only by our genders. Women think what everyone else does -- how can I solve a problem, learn, and grow. But most of the time, women are also fighting invisible phantoms of gender stereotypes. These implicit biases are a sizeable challenge. 

I should also say, as an inclusive intersectional feminist, that the same gender stereotypes that trap women trap men too. The stereotype that says mum should be main caregiver keeps dad confined to his place as the main earner. Both stereotypes minimise our humanity and limit our potential. The sooner we recognise this and change things at work and in life, the better for all of us!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Davina Walter, my chairwoman at JP Morgan US Smaller Co.s Investment Trust (LSE: JUSC), is an excellent mentor and champion!

Hillary Clinton, US Presidential candidate 2016. She has been consistently committed to the women and children agenda. She has publicly and painfully changed her mind on LGBT issues. Many women relate to her being held answerable not just for her own actions but for those of her high profile male relative, the husband. If she were a man and we removed all of the gender criticisms of her imperfections, she would be shoo-in.  The sheer fight in her boggles the mind.

Masarat Daud, my young friend with a fiercely independent mind. She founded the '8-Day Academy', an initiative that actively campaigns for education in rural and urban areas, especially for girls. Her TED talks on the Burqa are online and worth listening to! She was part of the film "Human" (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdiExDQeCZA) London is lucky to attract and keep such minds amongst us.

What's on your reading list right now?

How Women Decide.

Luxury in the Eighteenth Century: Debates, Desires and Delectable Goods.

Yoga Bible.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't change a thing.