In 2019, BlackRock and Central European University (CEU) initiated the Women in Technology Scholarship, which awards funds to women who show passion for data analysis, programming and technology, and great potential or leadership in their professional and personal endeavors. Award recipient Harshita Saxena demonstrates the values, trajectory and impact made possible by this distinct scholarship. Saxena graduated from CEU's Department of Economics and Business with an MS in Finance ('20) and now works as Analyst for Investment Product Strategy at BlackRock Budapest.
The award, for students in CEU's Department of Economics and Business, is geared towards educating the next generation of female finance and data analytics professionals, covering partial tuition and providing one-on-one mentoring by CEU faculty and industry partners. Championed by Melanie Seymour, Head of Global Client Service at BlackRock and former Head of BlackRock Budapest, and Michael Burch, current Head of BlackRock Budapest and the Social Impact team at headquarters in New York, the cooperation fosters direct engagement with BlackRock through career opportunities, internships and capstone projects, promoting women in the field of technology.
We spoke to Saxena, who graduated six months ago from her studies at CEU supported by the Women in Technology Scholarship. This is an edited interview conducted on December 11, 2020.
What does the Women in Technology Scholarship mean to you?
The topic of women in technology is something that's been extremely close to my heart. I would like to take you back to the time when I first heard about the scholarship opportunity. While I was pursuing my undergrad, I read an e-mail saying that CEU was giving women in technology scholarships and it instantly resonated. I see myself as a woman in technology and at that time it particularly struck a chord because I was working in the fintech industry at a Chinese venture capital company, which was intriguing and engaging for me, but as a woman, I could see there were not a lot of females in the space.
When you think about tech, typically a male-dominated industry comes to your mind. Therefore, when I read about the scholarship, I thought, I would like to change that. I got the scholarship and then I was at CEU doing my masters in finance and I knew I wanted to take this forward. I wanted to know how I could create an impact, so I took up certain courses to equip myself with these skills and learnt how to use technology specific tools. Then I experienced opportunities to work at BlackRock where people were committed to creating efficiencies in operations, facilitated by technology. I recognized this space as one where I could step in to analyze and thereafter optimize processes. I fondly remember Melanie Seymour's support as she is always very encouraging of women in technology and transitioned the BlackRock Budapest hub into a real innovation hub - this is where I want to be.
What was your route to CEU?
Having been at the University of Delhi, I had studied a lot of theoretical concepts as I had majored in finance while doing my Bachelor's in Management Studies. What I needed as an individual was practical knowledge, simulations and more case studies to truly understand how to apply these theoretical concepts. The curriculum at CEU and the way the classes are designed confirmed that this was not going to be solely a classroom teaching environment. We had contact with realistic situations, and that was the most important component for me. The second factor that I considered highly was the fact that CEU allows you to take courses beyond your major, which I think is a great quality to gain knowledge in different electives.
Thirdly, the kind of opportunities the CEU Department of Economics and Business provided in terms of job placements right after graduation were far beyond what I could have hoped for. There is no other institution as per my research that has that kind of recruitment and placement team that CEU has. The personalized support I received through the university and the scholarship, has been exceptional, from making my CV to directing me to companies. The entire team has been truly instrumental in helping me identify my interests. Finally, the Women in Technology opportunities cut across different cultures - having more than 100 nationalities on one campus is a pretty unique thing. Going to CEU has been incredibly beneficial to me.
Can you share a memory or a formative moment from your studies or internship as a Women in Technology Scholarship recipient?
In spite of various job offers, the key reason I committed to BlackRock right from the beginning is that I had the opportunity to be innovative and creative. Secondly, I also could work with different teams. This spanned from natural resources to global emerging markets. Having the chance to work with different areas was a crucial decision for me. I value dynamic work environments as well as international work environments. There's so much you can learn from working with diverse objectives in mind. I enjoy multitasking in that way, learning from the various domains simultaneously.
Is there any advice you would share for women who are pursuing careers in analytics and technology?
If there is one thing I've learnt in the last year, it is to be yourself and not to worry about marching with the crowd. A lot of my colleagues were getting into the consulting space when I was moving into the technology space. I walked through the technology door as I thought it was more suited to my personality, and I followed my gut feeling. If there are women out there asking if tech is the right space for them, I would say that's the future and it's the right space whether you are a woman or a man. Technology needs more women so there's no need to be apprehensive. Even if you don't know how to code, I want every woman to hear that it's okay - having a basis from which you build your knowledge and getting the right people to implement is still really valuable to that space.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with CEU's global community?
There has been no better decision I've made than coming to Budapest as a city and CEU as an institution. I think those have been the best decisions of my life, even for my family. They've supported me throughout. If you have a gut feeling don't be afraid to go against the norms and pursue your vision.
Learn more about giving to CEU and our year-end giving challenge here. Examples of the many donor-funded scholarship programs at CEU can be found here. CEU's goal is to raise $125,000 by December 31. You can make a difference for promising students from around the world by making a gift today. Alumni wishing to participate in the challenge may do so here; and friends of CEU may contribute here.