I can identify three driving forces in my professional life: Embrace change, never stop learning, and be true to myself and my principles. These core tenants form the basis of my leadership style and have led me to a degree of success for which I am quite proud.
I come from a traditional, middle-class family in the southern part of India, where education is a priority and a matter of family pride.
Having shown an affinity for math and science, I received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and was placed as a trainee at a large automotive manufacturing company. At the time, I was the only woman working at the plant. I was soon moved to the IT department. I then left for one of India’s largest technology services companies, where I was introduced to SAP products and technology. When SAP opened an office in India, I was chosen as a developer. Founding the inaugural office gave me a unique opportunity to learn all aspects of the software and develop a strong technical foundation.
Throughout the early years of my career, I was part of teams that were predominantly male. While managerial promotions came quite effortlessly to my peers, I had to work harder to show my potential.
To advance, I enrolled in a part-time MBA course for working professionals. It was a challenge juggling a full-time job with two small children, but the support of my family, especially my husband, made it manageable. Consequently, I have risen from development manager to senior vice president.
Today, the academic and professional scene for women has changed significantly. Fifty percent of engineering students are female and many organizations have policies which help women integrate their work and life more easily. I have been fortunate to have understanding bosses, as well as helpful mentors, who have played an important role in shaping my career and helping me reach my current position. It is now important for me to mentor women who are at crucial points in their career.
My advice to aspiring professionals is to believe in yourself, be willing to assume responsibility, and set boundaries, provided it does not inconvenience others. Success is not as much a matter of position and wealth as the internal satisfaction you obtain when you look back at your life.
What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?
Staying competitive in my position involves effort and planning. It also requires maintaining a good network and keeping technically up-to-date. Learning is a continuous process.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life? What did he/she motivate you to do?
I had the good fortune to have several role models. I try to find the strengths from all those whom I interact with, see what I can learn, and then re-create in my own style. One person I would particularly like to thank is my former manager Barbara Althoff-Simon. She always encouraged me to assume bigger challenges and sponsored my development.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Have clarity on what you want to achieve and prioritize. Advice from a HBS professor still rings in my head: to be extremely good in something you have to accept you will be bad in something else—and this is perfectly ok!