Anusha Shankar of Blue Yonder: “Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake”

Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake: Self confidence is critical to leaders to help accomplish what we set out to do with positivity. Remember to own up to your mistakes, course correct and move on. Learn from your mistakes. As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in […]

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Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake: Self confidence is critical to leaders to help accomplish what we set out to do with positivity. Remember to own up to your mistakes, course correct and move on. Learn from your mistakes.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anusha Shankar of Blue Yonder.

Anusha is an expert in all things product management with nearly two decades of experience in the software technology industry. Anusha’s strength lies in her passion to build customer-friendly technology products. She does this by sitting down with customers to listen and truly understand their needs. Anusha’s love for technology developed when she accidentally stumbled into a computer science lab at her high school in India. She was instantly fascinated by the concept of machines doing a human’s job. She went to college in India and received her bachelor’s degree in Mathematics while taking computer science classes on the side.In addition, she received her master’s degree in Computer Information Science from Syracuse University. In her free time, Anusha loves running and has completed 19 half marathons and one full marathon. Running has taught her determination: a determined person will always find ways to succeed, they just need to have a plan so they can pace themselves; knowing when to slow down and when to speed up is part of the journey. And more importantly, remembering to have fun along the journey.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My love for computers started when I stumbled into a computer class in my high school. This was back in India in the early 90’s and computers were just finding their way into high schools and offices. I was absolutely fascinated by the whole concept of how a machine could solve problems like a human. I was born in a middle-class family where my parents had just enough to pay my college fees; so having a computer at home was absolutely out of the question. I found a computer course that offered a scholarship and a part-time job to pay the rest. I started learning about computers, and impressed by the power of technology, I decided to pursue my Master’s in Computer Science in the U.S. Computer Science was the new in-thing that had a prominent future, which helped me convince my parents that computers were a good path to follow. I then took out student loans to do my master’s degree at Syracuse University in New York.

Getting a job at Microsoft was every Computer Science graduate’s dream at that time and I was fortunate enough to be offered a job right out of college. I was a software engineer at Microsoft for five years before switching tracks. My greatest assets are my problem-solving skills and my curiosity; I soon realized that I was always trying to look at any problem from a user’s viewpoint and loved designing and building products. Hence, I made the switch to being a Program Manager/Product Manager at Microsoft. It’s been 15 years since I made the switch and I have found my calling. The part of my job that I look forward to the most is engaging with customers to understand their problems and coming up with ways to solve those problems using technology.

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

This is not really a story but more of an interesting observation. At my previous employer, we had different teams dedicated to the various elements like marketing, technical sales, solutions, and client services. My job was focused on building a product that solves the customer’s needs and our partner team’s job was to bring in customers.

However, when I moved to work for a startup, it was exactly the opposite. Here, we had to proactively find customers, convince them of the value prop and make a sale while simultaneously building a product that meets their needs.

At Blue Yonder, our team works like a startup, even though we are an established enterprise. My Product team is involved in every prospect call along with our Sales and Solutions Strategy team, trying to get customers to see the value that our product brings to the table, while building a solid product to solve the needs of the customers and course correcting based on customer/prospect/market feedback. This mix of a startup mindset within an enterprise is a very interesting play to product building as we leverage everyone’s strengths while being nimble.

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 the initial COVID-19 lockdowns happened and we all went to work from home, I was scheduled to present to nearly 50 people. The in-person meeting shifted to a virtual presentation. While waiting for people to join the virtual call, I decided to check my hair and posture in the Zoom video settings before I turned on the camera — or so I thought! All of a sudden, I hear the meeting coordinator call out, “Anusha, you are projecting your screen.” I had completely forgotten that my entire screen was projected and realized that they had watched me the whole time. It was a bit embarrassing but I just laughed it off saying, “Great, now that I have your attention, let’s get started.”

I immediately bought additional monitors to extend my laptop and I now have an allocated “presentation monitor” to ensure this doesn’t happen again. For all video calls, I join a few minutes early in order to do my video checks and then join the call — and turn on my camera.

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

There are three things that I think make Blue Yonder unique:

  1. We are truly reimagining the supply chain space with the lofty moonshot of autonomous supply chain. This is revolutionary beyond words, as this is in a space that doesn’t drastically change very often and most companies are just getting started in digitizing their entire supply chain. We are paving the way by thinking of the end goal and making investments in getting us there.
  2. Our relentless passion towards not just meeting customer needs, but going a step further into understanding them. Learning and taking action on what would make our customers successful and executing on that is something very few companies aim to do.
  3. Most importantly, our open, respectful and inclusive culture. Any company can aspire to have a great corporate culture, but Blue Yonder truly stands out from the rest. We have four Core Values that we live by: Empathy, Relentless, Results, and Teamwork. A perfect example of these Core Values in action is a time when our product team was falling behind to meet a customer deadline and a sister team stepped in to help out while still delivering their daily job. I thought this cross-team collaboration was amazing and I felt that Girish Rishi, our CEO, needed to know so I emailed him about it. With a 5,500 associate company, I did notexpect a reply from him. Girish not only replied to me, but the entire company as well, acknowledging the team that stepped up and encouraging everyone to do the same. Our culture of having an open channel to the CEO and his leadership team allows our associates to be heard and listened to, which is often very rare and unique. This is what makes our company stand apart, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

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

There’s no doubt that environmental sustainability has become a priority for businesses across the globe. Rather than making decisions solely based on business, organizations are now making it a priority to do what’s right for the environment and humankind. I’m excited to be working with a small team inside my company to build a solution that moves organizations towards a more sustainable supply chain. We’re building powerful dashboards that provide organizations with visibility to their carbon footprint and provide insights on what they can do to reduce waste, recycle and reuse. This will ultimately empower them to make environmentally conscious decisions within their organizations and also in choosing their partners.

Knowing that we are helping in this critical journey to assist businesses with reducing their carbon footprint and enabling a sustainable supply chain is very fulfilling. I’m looking forward to seeing it come to fruition.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

At this point in time, I am not satisfied with the status quo! I thoroughly believe that we need more women to get into STEM and grow into leadership roles to inspire other women. Women have made so much progress thus far in paving their way into STEM, but we can’t stop now. From making resources more accessible to women everywhere to new ways of education, we have a ways to go, but I know we can get there.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I don’t think getting women into STEM careers is the hard part anymore, it’s keeping them there! Having women in senior positions makes a huge difference, as it shows young women that STEM is a real opportunity for them. Growing women leaders both organically and inorganically is the way to address this; this allows other women to learn and aspire to be like these other women leaders.

Furthermore, having embarked on a STEM career, women may also face conscious and unconscious bias. Organizations should create more awareness around this with employees to ensure women feel safe and that they belong in the workplace.

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

There is the myth that the battle for gender equality in STEM disciplines is over. Unfortunately, we are far from it. Gender inequality in STEM is not just a problem for women — it concerns all of us for moral, civic, cultural, and even economic reasons. There’s much work to be done before women are equally involved in STEM areas and are fairly recognized for their contributions. By attracting and retaining more women in the STEM workforce, we will maximize innovation, creativity and competitiveness.

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.)

  • Ask for what you want: Earlier in my career, I wasn’t being considered for a promotion even when I was going above and beyond on what was expected from me. I always thought, “If I deserved something, it would come to me.” Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. So, I decided to speak up and have a candid conversation with my manager. He was surprised that I wasn’t already at the next level and then helped promote me. If you don’t ask how to get to the next level, you will never know what you need to do to get there.
  • Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake: Self confidence is critical to leaders to help accomplish what we set out to do with positivity. Remember to own up to your mistakes, course correct and move on. Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be less self-critical: As women, our bar is typically very high and even when we do really well, we tend to focus on the things that we could have done better. Take time to appreciate yourself for the work that has been done and give yourself the recognition you deserve.
  • Listen more: People want to feel heard and being able to listen will make you more approachable. More importantly, you will learn something new every time you listen to someone.
  • Make meetings personal: I have found the best leaders that I feel inspired to work for have always started meetings by sharing a personal experience and enquiring about others before getting down to business. This humanizes the whole experience for everyone and brings a sense of humanity and humility to the workplace.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Here are a few pieces of advice that I’d like to share with other women leaders:

  • Open communication is key.
  • Give your team timely feedback and encourage them to give you candid feedback.
  • Always take the blame for your team but pass on the credit to the individuals when success happens. Your team will go above and beyond when they know you have their backs.
  • Last but not least: take care of your health and well-being and make that a priority for your team as well.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

However big your team is, it’s still critical to have one-on-one meetings with everyone on your team. Personally, I recommend having these meetings regularly These valuable meetings give you as a leader a chance to get a pulse on how everyone on your team is doing without any hierarchical filtering. You succeed only when every individual on your team is happy and successful.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Growing up in India, at a time when most girls barely received basic education before being married off, my parents wanted to ensure that my sister and I were financially independent and successful individuals. I get my “never give up and don’t stop trying until you get what you want,” attitude from my mom, who is the strongest woman I know. She has been such a powerful role model that being mentally strong is the norm in our family. My dad was a very hard worker and always gave us great advice. He’s the one who always told us “nothing replaces hard work and always give 100%, if not more.” He always put 100% into his work and gave his all, even when he wasn’t acknowledged for the effort. That taught me to go above and beyond in everything I do.

I owe EVERYTHING that I am today and more, to both of my parents. Without their constant support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Sustainability is incredibly important to me. In my current role, I wanted to help businesses lower their carbon footprint. In doing so, I helped build a series of powerful dashboards into Blue Yonder’s Luminate Control Tower. For quick background, Luminate Control Tower leverages machine learning to help customers resolve supply chain disruptions, utilizing network-wide visibility, collaboration and orchestration.

To take it a step further, I helped create these new dashboards that provide visibility into the carbon footprints across the customer’s entire supply chain, including partners, and creates actionable insights for them to act upon. These insights help customers make sustainable choices for their business and in selecting partners. This is the first Blue Yonder SaaS product to incorporate this sustainability feature and I’m very happy to have taken the lead on this impactful project.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have two causes that are very close to my heart that I’d like to share:

As a girl growing up in India, public transportation was nightmarish; men would grope and touch girls so inappropriately. We would often wait for an emptier bus to get home. There were a few brave women who stood up to these men and I always admired them for it. Everyone has a right to protect themselves and I would really like to initiate a movement where self defense is made mandatory for all children and young adults. This would give them the confidence to stand up for themselves and for someone else who is in need.

Second, being transgender in India is a huge curse for the individual. The family disowns them and no organization would come forward to employ them. They are left on the streets to beg or get involved in prostitution in order to feed themselves. There is definitely a need to uplift the socio-economic standing of this community. I have always wanted to do something to help them and make them lead a dignified life. I have been thinking of a plan to set up a center in India where transgender people can be be taken care of and learn a skill so they may earn a living. I would like to initiate a movement that promotes LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the Indian workplace that is humane in approach, giving them a chance to make a living with dignity.

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

Depending on what I’m going through, my favorite quote changes. I picked up running later in life so something I like to tell people who have just started running is: “It doesn’t matter if you run, walk or crawl, getting to the finish line is the goal, the how is irrelevant.” I reflect on this often, outside of physically running too. When things in life appear like a herculean task, just like a 26.2 mile run, pace yourself and just keep moving forward, one tiny step at a time.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. 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? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Kathrine Switzer — the first woman to run a full marathon. I am not sure if she is considered a prominent leader in a traditional sense, but she is a true source of inspiration. She is not only a physically and emotionally strong marathon runner but when women were banned from running marathons, she burst open the running gates and made it possible for many long distance women runners to not only just train and run but compete professionally too. She is definitely someone that I would love to meet and chat with.

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