“Figure out what you have in common with people who don’t look like you and use them as role models” with Penny Bauder & Nishita Henry

Figure out what you have in common with people who don’t look like you and use them as role models and mentors for different parts of your life Nishita is Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Chief Innovation Officer, and leads the Deloitte Platforms business. In this role she drives the firm’s innovation agenda by working with cutting-edge […]

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Figure out what you have in common with people who don’t look like you and use them as role models and mentors for different parts of your life

Nishita is Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Chief Innovation Officer, and leads the Deloitte Platforms business. In this role she drives the firm’s innovation agenda by working with cutting-edge technologies, engaging the startup community and driving the transformation of next generation technologies into practical solutions for Deloitte’s clients.

Previously, Nishita served as Deloitte’s Federal Technology Leader, responsible for providing advisory, implementation, and operations services to every cabinet-level agency in the US government. In that role she led more than 3,000 practitioners as they assisted Federal agencies in transforming into more efficient, effective organizations. Nishita regularly advised Federal CIO’s and technology leaders on topics of modernization and innovation, digitizing government, cloud strategy, and customer experience.

Nishita holds an MBA from Darden, University of Virginia, and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband and two daughters who keep her busy with dance, dance, and more dance!

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Throughout the trajectory of my career, it was evident that client service and leadership are important components of who I am. It’s because of this constitution that consulting was always a natural fit. There was only one time in my life that I seriously considered leaving Deloitte, and that was about 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child.

Consulting is — while incredibly rewarding — a tremendous time commitment, full of long hours and traveling for work. I remember one day telling my husband, “If only I could work 40 hours each week, then I’d be able to manage work and life and be happy.”

As soon as I said this aloud, the words sounded tinny in my ear. I knew it was betrayal of my true nature. What I had failed to consider in my rush to make my career fit in a box, was that while I could switch jobs, I could never turn off my drive to achieve professionally. Even if I were in an industry that demanded fewer hours, I was bound to find ways to push the boundaries of any imaginary box.

Looking back at my decision twelve years ago, I recognize it as a moment of self-revelation: If client service and leadership are fundamental to my very being, then I need to stay in a place that not only rewards me for being who I am but affords me the opportunities to become the leader that I want to be. The second part is important: It wasn’t just a moment of self-revelation; it was also a moment of self-determination.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Deloitte stands out for a number of reasons. For starters, we are one of the largest consultancies in the world — with presences in more than 150 countries across the world. More than our scale though is our ability to solve problems and work with anybody to create thoughtful and lasting change.

Having a background in working as the Head of Federal Technology at Deloitte Consulting before becoming CIO, I had the opportunity to work with national federal agencies to help them transform into more efficient, effective organizations. One example that comes to mind in this space was our effort to work with the Marine Core to transform their development cycle for new vehicles from 10 years to 10 months simply by rethinking how they apply legacy technology.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Iwould have to say one of the most exciting projects of my career is also one of my more recent challenges. Early in 2019, I had the pleasure of helping to spearhead the development of an entirely new business arm for Deloitte, Deloitte Catalyst. As Chief Innovation Officer, we are constantly tasked with finding new ways to innovate our very understanding of solutions in enterprise.

In understanding some of our existing resources, including a connection into the startup economy in Israel and a network of 80% of the Fortune 500 companies in the world, we were able to create adaptable and scalable networks for our clients of all sizes to connect them with partners from across the world to develop new capabilities. These impacts have a ripple effect that help improve how enterprise can adapt to keep pace with customer demands.

Apart from its nature in client services, Catalyst is also beneficial for us as a company, as it allows us the opportunity to understand how ecosystems are solving problems, and add them to our perennial toolkit to better understand how we can continue accelerating innovation in our own practice for private and public entities alike.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Mytime at Deloitte has afforded me some wonderful opportunities to meet some truly inspirational people. I had the opportunity to serve on a panel with Nelson Mandela’s daughter and participate in a CIO event, hosted by Michelle Obama, with her, myself and about 50 other people.

One thing I did not expect from my work with Deloitte was the opportunity to become a leader for young girls. Through my work with The Ella Project — a cartoon series to encourage young kids, specifically girls, to pursue careers in STEM — I am afforded the opportunity to help encourage the next generation of women leaders in STEM by influencing how they view the world of technology. In my work with the Ella Project, I’m a comic book character that helps save the world from burping.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was an analyst at my first consulting firm, we were doing a migration from Novell to Microsoft. I was on the team responsible for all of the server architecture. We had to make sure all of the addresses and data was transferring to the right places. I was in charge of copying data from one server to another, and I accidentally hit the “delete” command instead of “move” and deleted a bunch of data off the server. I had to go to my boss to admit my mistake and ask the infrastructure team to restore a bunch of data from backup (I baked them cupcakes in return). From this experience, I learned the importance of asking for help, being nice to people, and double-checking your work.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

Ithink there are multiple factors and challenges that make it harder for a woman to excel in the tech. However, there is tremendous momentum building to promote a greater share of the industry — and leadership positions being held by women.

While these challenges can seem daunting and unfair, platforms like this from Authority Magazine are essential to building up our colleagues and giving them the tools to excel in STEM fields. A few that come to mind are:

  1. Women in STEM struggle with being taken seriously for our technical competence. We tend to get dismissed more, or there is a perception or unconscious bias that we don’t know as much about technology as our counterparts. Some ideas that immediately come to mind as a way to work past this inherent bias can be:
  2. Speak up and demonstrate competence early in your career
  3. Be hands on with tech early so that you create credibility for yourself and build a network
  4. When you feel someone isn’t taking you seriously, speak up and be heard for what you believe
  5. Speak authoritatively. Believe that you do have the knowledge

Doing all of this earlier in your career will build your confidence as you grow

We may not always have role models and mentors at the executive level that look like us, so it’s harder to see yourself in that position. It falls on more than just up-and-coming women in tech to make this happen. It falls on all women who have experienced success to mentor other women and continue to grow the prevalence of women in leadership positions. A couple of tips for women who experience success to never forget where they started:

  1. Figure out what you have in common with people who don’t look like you and use them as role models and mentors for different parts of your life
  2. Mentor those behind you. It’s okay to be the first — make it your goal to make it easier for others

Women have to practice believing in themselves, having a seat at the table, and speaking up. There are a few ways we can be conscious that we are contributing and demonstrating value through our expertise, including:

  1. More self-talk around having confidence
  2. Be conscious about having seat at table.
  3. Make it a point to raise your hand. With practice, it becomes easier.

To be taken seriously, our male counterparts only have to be perceived as smart, whereas females need to be seen as both smart and likeable. That’s true in life, not just in STEM. Understanding that, as a woman, you will be judged more harshly is important to remember, but that does not mean you should diminish any facet of your professional expertise. Try practicing these three essential steps:

  1. Be your authentic self
  2. Hold men to the same standard that you hold women
  3. Continue to lead with kindness

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Myown experience in being a woman in tech was not always easy. The path to where I am was fraught with challenges and obstacles I had to overcome — as it is with all professionals. There are certain challenges that are unique to women, but for the most part, the pillars of leadership are consistent across enterprise. Some of my favorite, and most essential tips, are:

1. Get the right people on the bus.

Build good teams. This seems intuitive, but there is so much more to it. Focus on picking people who are smarter than you, as they will challenge you. Build an atmosphere that is open where people can be truthful; this can be done by building inclusive and diverse team. Great ideas are built through friction; we shouldn’t run from these situations, but rather embrace them.

For Example: I was once dealing with a tough client and a project that was behind schedule and over budget. I was asked to come in to turn the project around, and immediately had to reflect on team to make sure we had the right technical and leadership skillsets to manage a team of 200 people located around the world. We needed to get on the right track, communicate clearly, set clear expectations, and improve morale. All of this takes the right leaders — a balanced set of leaders with technical know-how, an ability to communicate and rally the team, and the ability to make tough decisions. We had to refocus to ensure we had all those right players in order to ensure a successful outcome.

2. Talk less, listen more

As a leader, it’s our job to pay attention to what others say and to make sure we are soliciting a variety of viewpoints. Often times, using the Socratic method and asking questions rather than giving what you believe is the correct answer will help solicit different points of view and unique perspectives.

3. Be authentic and passionate about what you do and what you believe

Inspiration and engagement are important, and always more effective when it’s personal. You can demonstrate this passion by making your values known and standing by them. “People will forget what you told them but will never forget how you made them feel.”

4. Be the first to take responsibility and give credit.

It’s important to make sure people know that they are valued and their contributions to the team are noticed and rewarded. When things go wrong, however, it’s the leader’s responsibility to own it and put the team on a path forward.

5. Keep trying and keep learning

Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go your way or live up to your expectations. Learn from it and apply forward. I always aim to be better the next time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” — John Wooden

As a leader you have to make tough decisions, and sometimes the tough decisions aren’t always the popular ones.

But, if you do things with the best intentions, understand all possible outcomes, communicate well and with kindness, you’ll be proud of the leader you are.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d have dinner with Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia. He built a successful business doing what he loves and believes in, with the ultimate purpose of doing good for the world. It’s interesting how he put all of those pieces together and has remained true to himself.

I’d also have drinks with Michelle Obama. I feel like I have an incredible amount to learn from her as a leader, as a mom, and as someone who clearly exudes passion about everything they do and has done so under incredibly tough circumstances and environments.

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