Build and maintain professional relationships. Take the time to meet and know leaders and other professionals in your field. Relationships are the most valuable assets for your future success.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sarbari Gupta.
Dr. Gupta is the Founder, President and CEO of Electrosoft Services, Inc., a provider of technology-based services and solutions to the federal government with a special focus on cybersecurity. Dr. Gupta, who has been active in the information security industry for over 20 years, possesses broad-based knowledge and experience in the areas of cybersecurity, privacy and cryptographic solutions. Dr. Gupta, who holds a PhD degree in electrical engineering and CISSP and CISA certifications, has authored over 20 technical papers/presentations in refereed conferences/journals and several chapters in two cybersecurity books. In addition, she has co-authored several NIST Special Publications in the areas of electronic authentication, security configuration management, and derived credentials. She also holds four patents in area of cryptography.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Curiosity about how things worked drew me to disassemble and reassemble items around the house as a child. Later, in school, my fascination with understanding the mechanics of the world made math and the sciences my favorite subjects. Ultimately I found that STEM studies provided a career path where my talents and interests combined. As an undergraduate I majored in electronics and electrical communication engineering. Then, in graduate school, I focused on electrical engineering. There, I was exposed to the field of information assurance, now more commonly referred to as cybersecurity, and I decided to specialize in this discipline. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Iwas interviewing senior people who had recently retired from federal service for a business development/sales position in the company. Most of the initial interactions were conducted via email. One candidate’s qualifications stood out, so I invited him to come into the office for an interview. When I entered the conference room and extended my hand in a greeting, the gentleman stood up with an astonished expression on his face and mumbled something like “Oh, you are a woman.” I replied, “Yes, I believe so. Is that a problem?” He recovered his composure and the interview proceeded. I ended up hiring him and he worked at my company until he retired permanently a few years later. I found it fascinating that even in the 21st century someone might still be shocked that a corporate president and CEO could be a female.
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?
The funniest (and somewhat sad) mistake I made in the early days of Electrosoft was naively assuming that once our company had secured work at a federal agency that the work could continue indefinitely. I felt that if the customer liked our people and our services, then they would figure out a way to keep us there. However, that notion was quickly dispelled once one of our initial task orders ended. Suddenly, those staff members were out of work and I did not know how we could engage or pay them. I quickly learned that in business you must continuously seek and secure new business opportunities so that other work options and revenue streams exist.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our strong focus on customer service makes Electrosoft stand out. Recently, at a U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce award ceremony, I was to receive a business award. The event organizer asked each recipient to prepare a short acceptance speech citing the number one factor that made their company successful. I had planned to say a few words about customer service being a core corporate value and how it is not only the right thing to do but also the reason behind customer retention. Before I could share my remarks, the presenter displayed a slide with a quote that the award committee had elicited from an Electrosoft customer. It read: “Sarbari Gupta, Electrosoft Services, Inc., has supported several of my IT-related contracts and efforts, and has always supported every one of our efforts, even when tangential. She always delivers under budget and on or before deadline and is one of the best contractors I have worked with. What stands out is customer focus; no matter what’s going on in the background with her company, she always makes me feel number one.” I was so moved by this quote I could barely say the words I had prepared. Instead, I pivoted to another thought and completed my acceptance speech saying something like, “The quote says it all — this is what has helped to make our company successful.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Weare always working on exciting new projects. As cybersecurity specialists, our firm is currently helping several federal agencies protect their IT infrastructures and operations through technical, management and operational strategies. Our efforts will protect the data that is vital to keeping government programs operational as well as keep the personal information of our nation’s citizens held within these systems safe from cyberattack.
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?
No, I am not satisfied with the status quo. To remedy this situation, a true change in culture is required — and we all know that cultural change is difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, I see the following actions as essential in changing the status quo:
Encourage girls to engage in STEM subjects and projects from the earliest age. Parents can start the process at home and teachers in elementary, middle and high school can continue these efforts.
Develop and implement programs that expose young girls to successful female STEM professionals who can serve as role models both to them and adult female professionals.
Implement career tracks that bring more females to management and C-suite roles.
Break those glass ceilings that hold back all female professionals, but especially female STEM professionals, in the workplace. Assure these women receive impactful assignments, are considered fairly for promotions and are compensated the same as their male counterparts.
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?
The recommendations above speak to some of the greatest challenges women in STEM or tech face. If I had to select a single challenge, it would be the lack of confidence STEM females feel attributable to a lifetime of cultural conditioning that makes them believe they are out of place or not good enough. Our society reinforces the misguided notion that men are superior when it comes to math and the sciences. We must make young girls feel good about their STEM interests, dispel any notion that their gender makes them naturally inferior and instill confidence in their abilities through constant reinforcement at home, in school and 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?
One myth would have you believe that women in STEM are not as dedicated to their jobs as their male counterparts. Purveyors of this myth will point to the time women take off to start and raise a family as support for their misguided belief. The truth of the matter is that women STEM professionals often work harder than their male counterparts just to prove their value to a system that continuously devalues their contribution.
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.)
MyTop 5 Leadership Lessons are as follows:
- Live and work with integrity. Do what you say and say what you do.
- Set an example for others to follow. Whether you are an actual or aspirational leader, make sure that your actions and behavior set an example for others.
- Take pride in the quality of your work and performance. Put your heart and soul into every task you pursue. Ask yourself: Will I be proud of this work product five years from now?
- Build and maintain professional relationships. Take the time to meet and know leaders and other professionals in your field. Relationships are the most valuable assets for your future success.
- Believe in your own power to craft the life of your dreams. You have the power to create your own destiny. Shake off self-doubt, accept that you have no control over certain aspects of your life and think proactively about what steps you can take to address the parts where you exert control.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Build an open and trusting culture where team members feel as though their ideas will be heard and valued, along with any concerns they may have.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The more crucial elements to manage a large team include:
Develop and communicate a clear vision of expected outcomes.
Delegate authority to people you trust.
Assign clear responsibilities to this next level of leadership.
Establish a reporting schedule and structure to track progress and identify risks.
Lead with strength but always display your humanity.
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?
Iam most grateful to my husband for the successes I have achieved in my professional life. We met in college many years ago and developed a great love based on mutual respect and friendship. Through the years, he has always been a source of great strength and stability. No matter what professional goals I have set out to achieve, he has encouraged and supported me. Most of all, he has given me the strength and confidence to cope with difficult times.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Iam a firm believer in bringing goodness to the world and try to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. In 2018, I instituted a paid time off (PTO) policy for employees, granting them each 8 hours of PTO every year to volunteer in the community service activity of their choice.
My personal passion is promoting STEM education. Recently, I’ve volunteered at several STEM training events for Girl Scouts as a volunteer working through RESET, an organization that gives kindergarten through 8th grade students unique and enriching STEM opportunities. I also teach an after school computer programming class for 2nd and 3rd graders via INMED, a nonprofit that creates pathways for disadvantaged children and families to achieve self-reliance and success. Through the Women in Technology’s (WIT) Girls in Technology (GIT) Mentor-Protégé Program, I’ve mentored two high school students interested in the STEM professions; manned a booth at a College/Career Fair; and staffed an exhibit at the GIT Experience at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. I’m currently serving as a mentor in another WIT mentor-protégé program for adult working women as well. Last May, I led Team Electrosoft at The Arc of Northern Virginia’s Corporate & Community Team Challenge, an event raising ~$54,000 for individuals with developmental and intellectual challenges.
I also speak to groups of tomorrow’s professionals, sharing insights from my own journey. Most recently, I spoke to undergraduate and graduate engineering students at the University of Maryland and Elizabeth Seton High School students on the strengths and values needed to achieve leadership and success in business.
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. 🙂
IfI could inspire a movement, it would be one that empowers girls and women to have more confidence in themselves and their ability to shape their professional success stories. Specifically, I would like to see more females involved in and contributing to the STEM and technology fields as these career paths impact the world in which we live while affording them opportunities to build successful and secure lives and futures.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Myfavorite life lesson quote is: “Nothing happens by accident.” This philosophy has motivated me to work hard on whatever I set out to achieve rather than depending on luck or accident. Further, this quote reminds me that I control my own fate.
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 🙂
Iwould love to have a private meeting with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In. Her life story really inspires me, especially her impact on the technology world and her strength and resilience.