Becoming Your Greatest Advocate by Syamla Bandla

Automatic Summary

Meet Shyamala Banda: A Transformational Leader in the Tech World

Bring on the stage a woman known for her influential work in the tech industry - Shyamala Banda, the Senior Director of Production Engineering at Meta (formerly Facebook). With a string of leadership roles at Dell, Wallace Risk Management Solutions, and Fidelity Investments, Shyamala has left a prominent mark in these tech giants by driving teams through transformation and unprecedented growth.

Her success doesn't end at corporate leadership but extends to various diversity initiatives and mentorship programs, earning her many awards including the 'top 100 women of influence' by Silicon Valley Business Journal and the '2021 diversity and culture leadership award' by Wow. Recognized as a true advocate for women in tech, Shyamala is here to share some tried and true advice on becoming your greatest advocate.

Shyamala Banda at a Glance

  • Leadership Roles: Senior positions at Dell, Wallace Risk Management Solutions, Fidelity Investments, and currently Meta.
  • Awards: The top 100 women of influence by Silicon Valley Business Journal, the Wow 2021 diversity and culture leadership award, Women Tech Network, 2021 global technology leadership award winner to name a few.
  • Passion: Deeply passionate about driving diversity initiatives and mentoring women in tech.

Unleashing your Potential: Advocating for Yourself

When it comes to talent development, Shyamala believes in the power of self-advocacy. From her personal experience, she has seen how many professionals, especially women, often undervalue their contributions, effectively hampering their career growth.

"And I did not think that was part of my career aspiration. I was just deep into getting the work done. I was great at advocating for my team, but I sucked at advocating for myself," shares Shyamala about her journey towards understanding the importance of self-advocacy in her career development.

Since then, she has turned this challenge into an advocacy mission, teaching others to effectively communicate their value and impact. She even launched a LinkedIn Learning series on building personal brand, emphasizing its equal importance to technical skills.

Shyamala's Approach to Building Personal Brands

  1. Define your worth and articulate it effectively
  2. Drive your career growth instead of just going with the flow
  3. Invest in creating a personal brand

Sharing Professional Journey: Why it Matters

For Shyamala, sharing personal experiences and obstacles isn’t about seeking validation or sympathy. Rather, it’s about inspiring other women to dream big and navigate towards their career goals. It’s about creating relatable narratives that could potentially encourage more voices to join the dialogue of professional success and growth.

During her talks, Shyamala drives critical conversations about why it's often challenging for women to 'toot their own horn', citing gender stereotypes and societal expectations as significant factors.

Practical tips to Overcome Self-Advocacy Challenges

  • Be fiercely clear: Define your goals with clarity to articulate them better.
  • Leverage data: Support your requests and ideas with data to improve their credibility.
  • Aim for simplicity: Tailor your communication according to the audience, eliminating unnecessary jargon and details.
  • Speak with confidence and gratitude: Approach conversations with positivity and assurance.

The Power of Feedback

When it comes to growth in any field, feedback plays a pivotal role. It’s an integral aspect of learning, polishing, and eventually, mastering skills. However, receiving feedback could often be an emotionally charged experience.

This is where Shyamala emphasizes the importance of graciously accepting feedback – both positive and negative. She encourages the practice of viewing feedback as an opportunity to improve rather than a critique of personal abilities.

Self-Reflection: The Road to Improvement

Finally, for Shyamala, there is no substitute for self-reflection in the journey of self-advocacy and career growth. She strongly advocates for actively tracking both personal and professional goals to keep yourself aligned with your bigger aspirations. Remembering to own your story, building an ecosystem of advocates around you, and continuously seeking to build a positive, impactful personal brand is the key.


Shyamala's advice is not just words but a potential roadmap to accelerate professional growth. By placing equal emphasis on self-advocacy, personal brand building, and high technical skills, we can collectively inspire more diverse voices to lead the way in the tech world and beyond.

Video Transcription

Next, we have Shyamala Banda. She is the Senior Director of Production Engineering at Meta. Prior to meta, she's held leadership roles at Dell Wallace Risk Management Solutions and Fidelity Investments where she took the teams really through transformation and growth. She has many awards under her belt.

Some to name a few, the top 100 women of influence by Silicon Valley Business Journal, the Wow, 2021 diversity and culture leadership award and also was a Women Tech Network, 2021 global technology leadership award winner as well. So shy Mala is deeply passionate about driving diversity initiatives both within the company as well as in the industry as a whole. She invests a lot of time in mentoring other women in tech and today has a session for us about becoming your greatest advocate. I'm really excited because some of the things she says she's going to share with us right away here are really tried and true advice on how to define our worth and importantly how to articulate our contributions. I think that's something a lot of us we are excited to hear about myself included. So shy Mala, welcome to the stage. Hello, thank you for joining

us. Hi there. Thank you so much, women in tech and Anna for having me here. Super excited. This is a community I deeply love and it's great to see this phenomenal set of uh women community coming, coming together. Let me, yeah, I

will leave it to you Shyamala and I'll say to a winner this year just now in our

so not on and a couple of people pinged me. So I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you so much. I should be so blessed and grateful. Hello, everyone. Good morning. I'll start with a brief introduction. And through my career journey, I want to share about what does it actually mean to become your greatest advocate? I started my journey uh in us in a fintech company uh where I was a lead network and security engineer, Fidelity and I was in East Coast for five years and then moved to West Coast with a start up company uh where I was again a lead uh uh production engineer and that company got acquired by Dell.

Uh my role there just changed drastically and was a stepping stone for me to move into a leadership role. And I'll talk about that journey in a bit. As I also share, how did becoming your greatest advocate helped but also my own uh inhibitions which prevented me to first take on that role. And then from uh Dell, I moved on to another company in insurance industry where I was head of cloud engineering and operations where I transformed the team which did not exist and build the team and then in the cybersecurity industry. And then I'm at meta now supporting meta's most mission critical revenue generating platforms. Um whatsapp, Instagram ads and to name a few, I'm super excited to talk about this topic which is deeply uh uh I'm deeply passionate about. And if I told you all many years ago, this would be a topic which was most afraid of in my constant uh the constant feedback I used to get from my uh manager at that at that time was Sharma, you're not doing enough to advocate for yourself. And I did not think that was part of my career aspiration. I was just deep into getting the work done. I was great at advocating for my team, but I sucked at advocating for myself and guess what? Fast forward.

I actually signed up about five years ago, a linked learning series. If you haven't, I highly recommend because a lot of people have reached out to me the content I shared there, which is building your personal brand is super important, just not building your technical skills, which are needed for the job, but also building your personal brand is super important at meta.

I also deeply believe in paying it forward at meta. I have mentored women. I actually cared more time for women. There are at least three women have grown for manager to director level coaching circles which I deeply care about in this. We create a safe environment where we talk about some of the challenges. And I'm going to talk about articulating your contributions, where language matters. And then last, but not the least, I have led women in engineering day at meta where we brought together thousands of women together in, in under one roof. And, and also we did it in a hybrid mode this year where we brought together many women and the previous speaker, Deb you know, put it so nicely. Why it is so important to speak and share our journey is so that we can aspire other women who want to take on the stretch goals because the journey is not easy. But as we share our obstacles and how we overcome, I think it gives inspiration to other women to dream big and to they call those calls.

So let me start the very first question I asked myself and I ask you all, why do you think it is so difficult for women to advocate for themselves? I will also raise my hand if you ask this question. And even today, depending on the audience and setting, I, I have those moments where it's very uncomfortable. The answer is, you know, multi fold. One is self advocacy does not come to women naturally. They're excellent for advocating for others, their team members, but it is very uncomfortable when it comes to advocating for, for themselves. And part of it is also gender stereotypes, right? The societal expectations and the behaviors we accept from uh women is, you know, being unselfish caring.

Whereas uh with men, it is little different. It's, it's ok to be ambitious. And what I have learned is also we are self critical on ourselves. We also believe self advocacy means it's only we need to be talking about our achievements and we forget that it is building that ecosystem so that you're not just you promoting your work, you're building those allies who are around you, who can be your ad, you know, biggest allies and advocates.

One of the things I have learned and I want to share some career examples. And through that, I want to share lessons learned and how I continue to build this muscle. I talked about my journey at the start of where I was actually an individual contributor and my manager at that time asked me Shala, we would like to you to take on the management role to lead the software as a service division for Dell, where Dell had acquired few other start up companies.

And you'll all be surprised if I said I politely declined that opportunity. I sat not that I was afraid. II, I think if I reflect back a couple of things was I was very comfortable with what I was doing. I was super proud, proud of the you know, hands on and with all due respect with, with the IC contributions I was doing, my management was very persistent that try this. So I'm grateful and thankful I had advocates and sponsors who bet on me. And I'm, I'm glad that I took on that stretch goal because it was not an easy journey. Uh think about four different companies getting integrated into a large hotel. I was also a first time mom, a seven month old son, I was not afraid of about taking on this role, but I think I needed that push to just take on that stretch goal. Today, I have a different mental model today. I am not afraid of taking risks. In fact, I am ready to take on more. Um I sometimes even ask, hey, when I see this is an area I could help, but I'm grateful that many years ago I had mentors and sponsors. So I owe it to myself, pay it forward.

So when I see some women who are trying to be in an IC role and hesitant to switch to a management role, I shared this journey because this is super important and I think I owe it back to the community. I want to see more women both in the individual contributor role, grow on the technical side, but also in the management role. I want to share. Another example is on self advocacy. Sometimes we just take ourselves for granted. There is another incident which comes to my mind where I was leading a very, very large cross functional team which involved hundreds of, you know, team members and dozen plus teams. And there was a major milestone, we hit the leadership team and the program managers and all the leads knew that I was leading this project and when the coms came out, um my name was missed out and I knew this was an honest mistake. I sat, I sat on it for a few days. Oh, this is, this is a mistake because everybody knew that I was leading this project. I sat and I thought um I think I should speak up first if it is happening. And I was in a senior leadership role at that time. If this is happening at my level, how uh how do I play as a role model for others where it could happen to a junior engineer? So I very politely pinged the the individual who did the coms.

Hey, I know this coms went out and I know I've been an integral part of this project. And as, as I mentioned, it was an honest mistake. I knew and this individual not only apologized, he actually sent an email to my leadership team and all the other folks like first recognizing and actually apologizing why I'm sharing this incident. It may sound very simple, but I think it is super important to speak up and not take yourself for granted because you are setting yourself as a role model where others, if this happened to somebody else, they can. And this was obviously a very honest mistake, but it is super important to just not having the seat at the table but having the voice at the table. Um I also emphasize in projects like when I am in, in uh now I'm in a senior leadership role. So I get visibility to big Bet projects. First question I asked my leads or my peers is why there is no diversity on, on, on this team. The second question I ask is, let's not just have a diverse representation of women I see or a woman leader. We need to make sure we create the support system so that they are able to have their voice, you know, raised and their ideas being, being heard. I want to share a few um tips and lessons learned on how to advocate for yourself at workplace.

First, you want to be extremely specific on what you want. If you do not have clarity for, for yourself, you will struggle articulating that to others. So take some time uh spend some time if you're pitching an idea to a group of people or even talking about your own career growth to your management, like really take some time to determine what exactly you want to ask for. And second is use data to support what you're requesting, whether it's a career growth whether it's a project, why you are the best fit or it's a technical idea or it's a process change, you want to have, have user data, vet it out with some trusted allies, both within your team and within your peer groups and go, go about it and communicate with simplicity.

Sometimes the biggest mistake we do is we put too much details and we forget the audience uh fine tune your comms, fine tune your communication based on the audience simplify it even more if the folks do not have the, the the most details about that project and then talk with confidence and, and be and, and, and, and gratitude.

I think that is super important. I also want to share the language matters. Have you ever wondered what is one word? Um Women tend to use which undermines their contribution. I actually learned it in a workshop many years ago and I was shocked that I was actually using that word quite often which did undermine and the word is actually just and guess what? The next few days I, whenever I was typing an email or a message, I would say, hey, I just wanted to mention this. Hey, I just wanted to and I, I started reflecting this does downplay, uh take out that word. I mean it does downplay. Most importantly, what I want to share is when you have to own your story, you have to own your personal brand and language does matter. So speaking up, uh make sure that you know, your works the best. And the second is what we often don't do is clarifying the impact. We are so focused on sharing the end results and outcomes. We forget to share about the journey and the impact. What, what was it before your idea got implemented? I think that is super important to share about the journey and also the obstacles. Sometimes we beat ourselves up if there was a one week delay.

And I think what when I dig down deeper, the delays were valid and there was some complicated obstacles in, in, in the process which needs to be articulated. The other one is top downplay. One of the words is actually just remove it. If you're using that definitely doesn't help articulate your impact in a very strong words. And I also suggest use some, you know, active words. And if you're doing written communication, some of the active words which comes to my mind are like, you know, how you negotiated or you generated, how you exceeded certain goals, how you advanced a project or how you advance some of the metrics, which might be key for a project.

And the last but not the least we do not do enough is create quick feedback loops. This, this used to be a mistake. Um a decade ago, I would do, I would have this great idea and I will walk in a room of course, the only woman in the room and then I would feel beaten up, like, you know, the the idea did was not agreed upon. And I think one of the things is have your trusted, you know, advisory board. I call at work where you can run through this with your key parts, who could be the end users of something you're trying to implement, get that early feedback. So when you go, you do go into these large meetings that you're trying to move a big project in a certain direction you have that buy in and you have allies who can speak for your ideas. And the burden is just not on you. And I want to touch upon negotiating for what you want. Uh This is something I have struggled in my early career. I would say even uh time to time I struggle now based on the audience. But I think it's a muscle you have to build over time, which is how do you approach about it? And there are many ways of uh negotiating, you could have a win, lose, which is not something I would recommend.

What has really stuck to me is creating this win win approaches where you're also putting yourself in the other person's sh you, you also win trust with your partners and sometimes you have to meet in the middle and, and go with, with that homework and the other is what kind of preparation you need to do when you have to negotiate, do your homework, have your facts.

And as I mentioned, based on the audience simplify your comms written or even verbal, what you're trying to share and, and prioritize what is most important to you and what you're willing to give up also be prepared that you may be walking out with a no. And then what is the plan B have that in place as well and find common connections. And as you are negotiating things that with your counterparts that is super important as well as building the relationship, I want to leave one of food for thought. Um Is it is not easy for women to be as I started this topic to be self advocates for, for, for your own career growth or even things you're driving, we self doubt ourselves so much, we are super critical. We want things to be perfect. And I think this is a muscle, we have to build things don't, don't have to be perfect. Think about an interview. When you're looking at a candidate, I would see a resume of a woman leader that would be like 90% match versus uh a male resume, which would be 50% match and still come in for, for the role. So self doubt, imposter syndrome is high in women. We have to acknowledge, but you have to build a framework when you do have those moments. This is where your trusted advisory, both outside of work. And in side of work, you can run an idea.

And from time to time, I highly recommend this has helped me a lot in my career journey, self reflect, have both your personal and professional goals, how you're working towards it um and writing out like what your strengths and what you have achieved and from time to time have that as part of your personal brand, personal brand is nothing but like, you know, you articulating in spite of, you know, the audience setting, what what is the value you bring to the table but doing it in a way that you're just not doing it.

Like all by yourself, you are asking for people around you to become your advocates or sponsors. I think with that, I wanted to make sure that they are five minutes for um any question and answers I could answer.

Hello. OK. Yes, absolutely. We had actually quite a few questions for you. Um Shamaa but we have one minute left. So we're gonna do a quick question or two together here. Um So one super quick one and then I'll give you um a longer one. What was the name of the linkedin careers course that you recommended at the beginning?

It is the your personal brand?

Perfect and longer question. Can you give an example of when it was really hard to speak up? But you still did it regardless of the circumstances,

I can think of a very recent one where um III I think we were waiting for some updates on some decisions. And in my one on one conversations with my teams, there was a lot of frustration of building up. We are not going in this direction. And when we had my leadership, the my leadership come into the meeting, everybody was silent and I actually spoke up on behalf of my team. And after that meeting, my team actually thanked me that is like, we are so grateful. Like while we were hesitant, you spoke up on behalf, being vulnerable. So the moments for me, if I look back at the moment when I was vulnerable, and those were the strongest moments where I've come as a strong leader and like being vulnerable, not hesitant to like, you know, taking on the risk, but at the same time, not a afraid of being like, you know, this was uh a weak spot we have and we have to address.

Yeah, and I'm sure that that just grew so much trust within your team. So you, you're the one who put yourself out there. But then really, it, it creates so much more trust and growth opportunity. Right?

Absolutely. And the other, I have one quick one to also mention is sometimes in one setting, the things may not happen, you spoke up and things didn't happen. I had to build a muscle of taking the feedback with gratitude and take feedback as a blessing and I used to make sure that I came back with actions first. Thanking for the people for the feedback. Few, I agreed few. I did not. So even the disagreement, do it gracefully. And that builds allyship for the long run that builds really strong relationships for the long run.

Yes and so well said, and I think many of us are internalizing this right now. Going next time I get feedback, how am I gonna react? Or if I'm the one who has to give it uh in these scenarios, how can we do it the best? Thank you so much Shua for being with us today. Um That is all our time together, but I hope you enjoy the rest of all of the talks that we have. Um And thank you again. Thank

you so much for having me here.