“Appreciate The Power of Asking” With Reshma Ramachandran

The power of asking. I have never been handed anything ever in the past 20 years of my corporate life. I have always had to work for it and more importantly ask for it. If its that promotion you want, a pay raise you think you deserve or that dream international move, go ask for […]

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The power of asking. I have never been handed anything ever in the past 20 years of my corporate life. I have always had to work for it and more importantly ask for it. If its that promotion you want, a pay raise you think you deserve or that dream international move, go ask for it.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reshma Ramachandran, Group Vice President Hitachi-ABB Power Grids. She is an award-winning innovative leader with two decades of experience working in multi-cultural teams and geographies including United States, Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia. She brings a wealth of experience in digital & business transformation, where, in her last role she managed a business operating at a massive scale and helped steer the transformation. Reshma coaches and mentors several young women in universities and is an advocate for women in STEM. She actively champions the business benefits of employing an effective inclusion strategy and has been a voice of change both inside and outside of the organization. She has won several awards, including a feature in Forbes for her leadership in large scale business transformations & innovation and her advocacy for more inclusion in the corporate world. She is a founding member of Divershefy.club, a premier global network of Women on Boards and in C-Suites who support women to reach the top.

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

Igrew up in rural India without access to reliable electric power. There were many a night that I have studied, done my homework and prepared for examinations under candlelight. There was a deep sense of urgency in me, growing up, to help bring reliable power to villages like mine. I took up engineering partly because of this purpose and partly because I was good at math. Apart from that I had no idea how my career would turn out, but the key was to make good use of everything that was thrown at me. So, from working in the desserts of the Middle East to the offshore platforms in Papua New Guinea, I have converted every challenge into an opportunity.

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

When I started at my current organization, I had to spend extended weeks in Sweden. I started in winter at Ludvika, one of our main offices in Sweden and where typically daylight is limited. I used to work long hours and never really could get out of the office when there was day light. When the winter was over, and sun was out more during the day, I was walking to office one morning when I realized that there was a beautiful lake beside the office. I mentioned it to my team that day and all of them were surprised that I did not notice it for almost half a year. The same evening, they organized a team dinner at the restaurant by the lake so I could soak in the beautiful views. The evening was mesmerizing and was a gentle reminder what a great team I had built in 6 months.

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?

I cannot term it funny or a mistake, however it is an interesting story. When I started working at one of our projects, a 1050 MW combined cycle power plant in Qatar, I was the first woman to be at a field office. Since there was no precedence of having a woman at a construction site, there was no toilet for women and I had to travel 9 kms to a gas station to use the toilet. This was a very valuable lesson to me as I got into positions of influence to just get the basic amenities for women, that typically male decision makers do not even think about about consciously — nursing rooms, childcare facilities, flexible working times.

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

What makes us stand out is we believe in enabling a stronger, smarter and greener power grid can drive progress for a sustainable energy future. Accessible energy is essential to growth of society and business, and by balancing economic, societal and environmental value creation in harmony with each other can true progress be made, for our generation and for generations to follow.

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

The most exciting project I am working on now is upskilling and reskilling our workforce. In an extremely disruptive world that we are living in today, the average life of a skill is under 5?? years. For any business or organization trying to transform, one fundamental pillar to address is the skillset and competencies. Learning agility must be built into the DNA of the organization and the corporate that will emerge winners in this disruptive world will be the ones that nurture a growth mindset in the organization.

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?

I am far from being satisfied with the current status of women in STEM. According to the research published by Catalyst, men continue to dominate the STEM fields. Women has less than 30% representation across the world. Globally women account for only 16% of managers in the STEM sectors while it drops drastically at the CEO level to 3%. The numbers are disappointingly low when it comes to women of color in STEM.

The most fundamental change that is required to change the status quo is to change the narrative. Instead of believing and addressing that the problem is with women, the problem fixing focus must shift to the decision makers.

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?

  1. Triple performance: The challenges women face in a professional career are typically the same no matter which career path you take. Women in STEM face a lot more barriers because of the stereotype that women generally do better in a caring profession such as nursing or HR rather than one where problem solving, and intellectual capabilities are required more. This bias generally required women to perform twice as much, and women of color thrice as much in a STEM profession to get the same recognition men get. The performance requirements intensify at higher rungs of the corporate ladder.
  2. Motherhood and the leaky pipeline: The bias around balancing motherhood and work unfortunately still exists. Coupled with the bias, lack of flexibility and less ROI on the efforts, women typically leave the workforce or move into lesser biased roles once motherhood sets in. This creates the gap in the pipeline and difficult to fix the under representation of women in senior roles.
  3. Mentorship vs sponsorship: While mentorship is gaining popularity in the corporate world, sponsorship remains a far cry. Mentorship addresses what women need to do to advance the career with the help of someone who’s either been there, done that or someone who can advise on strategies. Sponsorship requires active advocating of women for promotions, for challenging roles and voicing the reforms that are required to address the bias. Sponsorship is still not where it should be and to accelerate increasing women in STEM, active and conscious sponsoring of women is required.

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

Myth 1: The first and oldest myth is that women have no aptitude for STEM education or profession. Since women are supposed to be caring and compassionate, STEM is not for them. The fact is you can be compassionate and caring and have an aptitude for analytics, problem solving and any of the STEM fields. In fact, the future of leadership, with the advent and advance of machines is pivoted on the humane aspects, which is typically considered feminine traits.

Myth 2: Women lack ambition is the next myth and often the leaky pipeline is blamed on the lack of ambition. This is far from the truth. Women are ambitious and have everything in them to make it happen. The fact is ambitious women must still navigate a broken system. Likeability and performance have an inverse relationship for women and the still patriarchal system does not accept ambitious women. Therefore, instead of “fixing” the women, the system needs to be fixed to reward ambitious women and create a truly equitable reward and recognition structure.

Myth 3: With diversity targets and push for more gender diversity, there is more equality now. Data and research year on year, proves that this is far from the reality. Although progress is being made, it is at an alarmingly slow pace. Individuals, societies and organizations need to work in tandem to eliminate the unconscious biases to accelerate the speed.

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.)

  1. No job is that big. In my early days, I used to always think that to get a seat at the table you really, really need to be an expert in something where no one else can beat you. Once I got to the seat at the table, I realized that I was way better than several of them already there. We sometime tend to underplay ourselves and think some jobs are too big for us. There is no job too big.
  2. Trust is give and take. A lot of leaders want the team to trust them without earning it. I learned it very early in my life that you need to give trust to get it back. And you keep the trust by always syncing your actions with your words.
  3. The power of asking. I have never been handed anything ever in the past 20 years of my corporate life. I have always had to work for it and more importantly ask for it. If its that promotion you want, a pay raise you think you deserve or that dream international move, go ask for it.
  4. Know your worth. It is fundamental that you always know your worth and walk away when you know your worth is not appreciated.
  5. Be vulnerable. There is a perception that leaders are strong, aggressive, and lack emotions. Being vulnerable shows, you are just as human as anyone else on the team. My vulnerability has earned me trust, respect and acceptance in all the teams I have led.

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

Unfortunately, the challenges faced by women leaders are very different from those of their male counterparts. The biggest challenge in my view is that of the imposter syndrome, especially for women in STEM. In a male dominated STEM world, the pressure to fit-in is high. The only advice I will give to women leaders to thrive rather than survive is to be authentic. Diversity is not about just having more different looking people at the table but is about having different opinions. If we change as people to fit-in, we lose the true value of the seat at the table.

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

This advice goes beyond women leaders. As a leader, you need to put the team first. Every waking moment, as a leader your job is to think about how to make the team succeed and you need to prioritize the team first, no matter what. For the team to be successful, as a leader you need to focus on the strengths rather than weaknesses. I have seen way too many leaders trying to improve the weaknesses. This is not good use of time and effort. We are all good at something and a good leader makes these strengths complement each other.

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?

I have had several men and women who have helped me reach where I am today. I got my first mentor when I was 16 and he continues to be my mentor. He has played a pivotal role in shaping me to who I am today. My father has always been a great support and helped me stand up to the society I grew up in to break stereotypes. My life changing turning point was marrying my husband. As Indra Nooyi rightly said, choose your spouse well because he is going to be the single most important factor that will define your professional success. My husband is my emotional anchor and he believes in me more than I do in myself.

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

To be successful is no good if you do not pay it forward. As a leader I have the influence to change the career trajectory of several people and I am always humbled with that realization. Both inside and outside the organization, I use my leadership position to mentor and champion woman. For the efforts I do to advance women in STEM, I was recently recognized as the HERoes Top 100 Women Executives Role Model by Yahoo Finance and Involvepeople.org and was a finalist of Agent of Change award for Women in Telco &Tech. I am also the founding member of divershefy.club, a premier global network of Women on Boards and in C-Suites who support women to reach the top. Currently, I am also working on raising funds for supporting women tech entrepreneurs since they receive less than 1% of the funding.

From the work I do and have done for the last two decades, it gives me immense satisfaction that each day of my efforts goes into bringing electric power to more homes. I grew up in rural India without access to reliable power, a purpose that fires-up my day to day work relentlessly on technologies that enable reliable power transmission. And now I am even more satisfied working toward reducing the carbon footprint by enabling a smarter and greener grid.

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. 🙂

Change happens with us despite us waiting for the world to change. I’d start a simple movement of each one of us starting a change to make the world a better place.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is “Life is what you make of it”. One never knows what challenges will come in the way, but what is always in our control is how we respond to it and how we convert a challenge into an opportunity. As a woman of color in a very male dominated field, I face rejections and discriminations more number of times than you can imagine. I have never let any of these negative experiences shape me or define me. And every time I have been rejected, I have used it as a re-direction. I truly believe we all have choices and it is what we choose to be today that eventually defines who we are. And its because of this staunch belief that I, a small-town girl from rural India, who had absolutely no idea where some of the countries she has lived in was on the world map, made to where I am today.

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 🙂

Definitely Indra Nooyi! What I believe in is if you cannot see her, you cannot be her. I grew up idolizing Indra Nooyi, she was my inspiration and role model. Sharing a similar background growing up in India, moving to the West without knowing too much about what’s in store and struggling with trying to fit-in, she has given me a lot of confidence to push myself forward through every challenge the corporate world has thrown at me. Even today, when I am faced with a challenge or a low point, I try and think like how she’d have done it and I wade my way through it.

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