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Shalini Chaudhari of Infosys on diversity and inclusion, nurturing women in tech, and making happiness pie charts to navigate challenges

“In addition to my home cooked meals, I grew up on Iyer aunty’s idlis, Chawla aunty’s channa masala and Kidwai aunty’s sewai,” says a smiling Shalini Chaudhari, Associate Vice President, Delivery Head, Infosys as she recalls her diverse upbringing.

Growing up in a “mini India” at a BHEL township in Bhopal, Shalini saw people speaking different languages, dressing up differently, but working together towards the same goal.

These experiences laid her early introduction to being diverse and inclusive, which only solidified further in her career when she worked “out of three continents, lived in 10 cities, and worked with people from over 25 countries”.

These life experiences taught Shalini that despite their backgrounds, human beings strive for three things – appreciation, taking care of the family, community and organisation, and joy and happiness.

In a career spanning 24 years, Shalini has lived her life encouraging people to understand and appreciate their differences, invest in personal and professional growth, and give back to the community. YS caught up with the software veteran to know more about her milestones, learnings, and life hacks under its ‘I am the future’ series that spotlights dynamic and successful women leaders at Infosys.

When life is your teacher

Shalini was 19 when she lost her father to an accident. What followed was a barrage of unsolicited advice that she should give up studying engineering and get married. Her mother and mother’s sister stood by Shalini, encouraging her to follow her aspirations.

Shalini also recalls feeling “left out” when she moved to the US because most of her team members were young, unmarried men who didn’t think she could be a part of the ‘gang’. And today, she fondly recalls when she went on a river rafting adventure with seven boys and had the time of her life.

Such life experiences cemented Shalini’s commitment to diversity, developed her an inclusive outlook, and fostered her to strive for wholesome impact and growth.

Calling herself a “curious, eager, and gregarious person”, Shalini speaks about the role her childhood and early experiences played in making her an avid storyteller and a champion for women in technology.

Landing her “dream job”

As an inquisitive child, Shalini speaks about her constant urge to challenge herself, stepping out of her comfort zone, and exploring new things.

Shalini got into Infosys when her younger sister stumbled upon a newspaper job advertisement. Starting as a software engineer, she worked with Infosys for eight years before moving on to organisations such as Accenture and Caspian, only to come back to infosys in September 2020.

“The last 18 months have been superbly engaging and exciting. I lead business strategy, and I am responsible for innovation and growing the consulting practice,” she says.

Today, Shalini boasts of a successful career spanning over two decades, and her work traverses the terrain of leading-edge technologies like automation, digital architecture, artificial intelligence, security, cloud, and transformation management.

Mentoring the next generation of techies

Shalini believes that grabbing opportunities is the key to success.

“I tell everybody that when you get that opportunity, take it up, because sometimes, women judge themselves too harshly. We think we have to be picture-perfect before we take up a role, as opposed to some of our peers who would learn it on the job. Also, ask for help, it doesn’t make you vulnerable or weak,” she shares.

Shalini is also vocal about the necessity of defining your own success. Citing an interesting example, she explains how she draws a pie chart of her happiness, that outlines everything right from her professional growth to personal investments. This “happiness pie chart” gives her a more holistic view of elements that are crucial for her joy and contentment.

“My pie chart of happiness and definition of success does not fall in any one category. So my advice would be to define your own success, your biggest competition is you, strive to be a better version of yourself … and feed your strengths,” Shalini tells YS.

Giving back to the community

Shalini often teaches underserved kids in rural communities and helps them become future-ready by making them aware of various life skills. Additionally, she also volunteers for to inspire and guide women in technology.

She believes that these experiences have made her humble, and more grateful about all the opportunities that have come her way.

Before signing off, Shalini talks about the importance of taking charge, and mentoring other women, and pushing them to walk through the door. “It is the responsibility of privileged women in leadership roles to understand that it is not enough to only be a mentor, you also have to be a sponsor who can build the brand,” she says, adding that well-intentioned men who are experts in their field, must also be allies.

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