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Finding your inspiration during International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month

By Sheila Rohra

An interview with Hitachi Vantara CEO Sheila Rohra

As Hitachi Vantara (HV) teams, customers and partners celebrate International Women’s Day and U.S. Women’s History Month, the HV editorial team thought this would be a good opportunity for us to interview our new CEO, Sheila Rohra. Learn more about Sheila or follow her on LinkedIn.

You’ve had a stellar career in tech before joining Hitachi Vantara in 2023. What excites you about the company?

We have a tremendous opportunity ahead. With the growing use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and deployments of hybrid cloud, our customers and partners are experiencing a massive data explosion and increased infrastructure requirements. And we have the expertise and reputation for supporting mission-critical data workloads with quality, reliability and resiliency. I love hearing our customers call our products “unbreakable.” The stories are inspiring.

I am especially honored to be a part of the amazing heritage of Hitachi. This is a company that focuses on customer needs and invests in the innovations of the future, with an eye on a sustainable future. And Hitachi Vantara, as the team delivering data infrastructure, helps address the data requirements of the 21st century for organizations around the world.

The Hitachi culture inspires me with its commitment to community and especially our three values:

  • Harmony – willingness to respect others by being thorough and frank, but fair and impartial;
  • Sincerity – acting with ownership and honesty, never passing the buck; and
  • Pioneering spirit – working with creativity and passion to pursue higher goals beyond our capabilities.

I see these and value these, especially in our technology industry, because I believe it sets us apart and leads us to achieve more for our customers, partners and community. 

What’s been your favorite part of the job so far?

Meeting people – our customers, our partners and our diverse and talented team – has been both inspiring and informative. Listening to feedback, both positive and negative, provides the insights that guide me and our entire executive leadership team.

Those conversations make the hard work and sometimes challenging efforts very rewarding. I value the time and expertise shared each time, and these connections energize me to continue to strive to deliver our promises and exceed expectations.

How did you did you get started in tech? And why tech in the first place?

I was the first from my family born in the United States of America. My parents were immigrants from India and made sure that I grew up with the Indian culture by sending me to regularly spend June, July, and August in India with my grandparents.

My grandfather was a very progressive thinker, and he pushed the family to give me the same opportunity as they would traditionally give for boys. He decided that I wasn’t going to be helping with cooking or cleaning, because he wanted me to spend that time studying instead.

That focus on academics allowed me to become an electrical engineer in an era when there were only a few women in my university’s program here in the United States. After completing my bachelor’s and master’s programs, I ended up working for a computer manufacturing company.

And what were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome or manage as you built your career?

Getting started was not easy, and I had to be willing to do whatever I could. In my first job with a technology company, I was originally hired to work on the assembly line putting together computers! But I was willing to take the opportunity.

Stepping out of my comfort zone was key to each opening that led to growth and progress. After I worked six months on the assembly line, the CEO of the computer manufacturing company learned about my educational background and called me in for a meeting. He asked if I wanted to lead the ISO certification effort for quality assurance. I didn’t hesitate—I just said yes. Then I went and looked up the acronym ISO because I had no idea what it was.

Within four months the company was ISO 9000-certified—two months ahead of schedule. The CEO rewarded my efforts by making me head of quality assurance for the company.

What was one of the biggest lessons for you as a woman building her career in the technology industry?

As women with career aspirations, we often have more than one area of responsibility, because we not only have our career-related responsibilities, but family ones.

Balancing family and career is not easy. I was used to doing things myself. But after having children, I quickly found that I was failing miserably at everything – I had to make a change, and it would require tradeoffs.

This meant learning to ask for help and being willing to accept that help. I had to learn to let go of details and not micromanage everything. By making these compromises, and with the help of my parents, I was able to raise my kids in a nurturing environment while growing my career.

What does having a diverse workforce mean to you?

I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and feel a responsibility to create a culture that supports transparency across teams, respect for each other, and different points of view. In today’s world, it is not a surprise that diversity, equity and inclusion are the foundation for innovation and growth. Like many other companies, we have employee resource groups to allow our team members find community and support each other.

But more than that, I believe that having a culture that supports our team members begins with our leaders. We each have ownership in our business results, and to get there, we need to continually get input from team members with different backgrounds and experiences.

Our company continues to be focused on diversity across our teams, including gender diversity. To do this, we need to nurture upcoming talent and encourage all members of our teams to say “yes” and take chances at new opportunities.

As technology leaders, we also need to continue to attract women to the technology industry, whether through community programs or educational efforts. I enjoy volunteering and participating as a board member for local STEM efforts and global charitable programs that help young women to continue their education and explore the wonders of technology.

Any closing words of advice for women in tech and their advocates?

If you are a woman in the technology industry, thank you for all you do! As you find your inspiration during this year’s International Women’s Day – take some time to consider how you can stretch, learn, and grow.

  • Try new things.
  • Say “yes” to opportunities (even unfamiliar ones).
  • Keep learning, working, building connections and growing – you never know where that next opportunity will take you!

Being an ally is incredibly important – there’s a lot each one of us can do to help the women in your professional circle. Here are some ideas for how you can support your colleagues and teammates in their pursuit of new goals and skills:

  • Invite the women on your teams to lead those new initiatives.
  • Provide support to those who say “yes” – help them be successful!
  • Don’t just have the same people do the big projects – give others a chance.

Sheila Rohra is Chief Executive Officer, Hitachi Vantara.
Be sure to check out Insights for perspectives on the data-driven world.

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