Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be where you are now.
I started my career in the consumer products industry in India and quickly realized that a traveling sales job was not the best option for a woman during those days. At the same time, my hiring manager moved to another company and invited me to interview for a position there. It was a turning point in my career. I joined Standard Chartered Bank to help them build India's nascent credit card business.
It was a lucky break and laid the foundation for my career in financial services and fintech. I think finding your way is all about being focused on what you like, being aware of what's working and not working, and being open to taking a chance on something you've never done.
I got the chance to work with and learn from very smart people, most of whom have gone on to run some of the biggest institutions across the world. That job was also my first experience with imposter syndrome and unconscious sexist bias that some of us are still unpacking. Yet, all in all, it was an incredible learning experience.
I eventually moved to ABN AMRO as they launched cards, then went to business school in the U.S.. I briefly returned to cards after graduation, this time at Capital One, doing what we were doing at Standard Chartered but in a much more digital world. We had so much more data to manipulate and use to create insights. Doing that within the realms of proper and ethical standards is more difficult and deeply rewarding. After that, I went to Visa, which was my first brush with technology. Around 2014, I decided to move into smaller tech companies. That's been an interesting shift because while technology can be limiting for women, it's also a very accepting place. That's what makes me so hopeful for more inclusion in tech. Tech has found a way to accept all kinds of people. You can be quirky, have different hair, tattoos, look different, behave differently, speak differently, think differently, and still be accepted and celebrated for who you are. I think it's an industry that can be really rewarding once you get to know it.
What kind of work are you doing now? What are the main emerging areas you’re seeing in technology and marketing?
I run marketing for Arkose Labs, a fast-growth start-up in the fraud and abuse detection space.
To be honest, I didn’t “grow up” in the marketing world, and it has been an interesting journey where I have relied on my past experiences, however unreleased, and learned from the wisdom of others. To me, career growth is all about honing in on your professional experiences and incorporating them into your job while also being willing to learn.
Marketing has evolved over the years, and the pandemic has especially transformed the world of B2-B marketing. Arkose Labs has also seen tremendous growth, we’ve recently raised our Series C, and now we’re in scale mode. At the same time, the digital fraud landscape is rapidly changing with many competing providers.
The key is growing the company while building a strong brand and creating differentiation and longevity in a crowded space.
You have changed industries and countries - we see a move from consumer financial services marketing to the security space, which can be so technical/esoteric/complex. What did you do differently to succeed in a new industry?
Learning is so important. You're mistaken if you believe you know everything about a specific industry. I've been in this industry for years, and I have learning moments every day. You have to be open to every learning experience that presents itself to you. It's important to be comfortable with not knowing everything.
I was a good student all my life, but in my first year of undergrad, I bombed completely. It was so bad. Yet what that did for me was help me get comfortable with not knowing stuff. It's almost liberating. You recognize that whenever you're uncomfortable and unsure, you'll figure it out. You don't need to almost fail out of college to learn that, but everyone needs those experiences. Get comfortable with not knowing things and be willing to ask questions. It's okay to ask, learn and follow up with people. You don't need to be perfect. Acknowledge that you're going to make mistakes, and be okay with not being the smartest person in the room, no matter how senior you are.
What do you think companies can be doing better to support more women reaching leadership positions like yourself?
I think this is an interesting one. This pandemic has shown that women lead with more empathy and can get more out of their teams. I truly believe that companies need to create a culture where inclusion is not a women-only or minority-only issue.
Companies need to spend less time training women to be more assertive or training marginalized people to be more accepted and spend more time training the people who are marginalizing them to be different. It's a mindset change. Minorities don't need to change themselves to fit in. There is room for everyone, and tech has shown us that.
It is also important for companies to build programs that don't play into these unconscious biases, like women-only programs that are built to help them get "better" (speak confidently, lean in, be assertive). I think women struggle with associating themselves with some of these initiatives, and it's often why they fail. I believe the future needs to be more positive and inclusive. How can everyone learn to hold space for fellow employees, to advocate for themselves and others, and to ask hard questions?
Who or what helped you believe in yourself and gave you the confidence to rise into this role? And how do you pay it forward?
Rena was a huge help to me in my first job at Standard Chartered. I deeply aspired to her confidence and poise. She made me realize that I wanted to be someone who rose above it all and didn't react to negative people who didn't want women in jobs like ours. Over the years, I've done my best to find and support other women. There's this notion that women don't help each other, and I've never found that to be true. In my experience, women want to help other women. Right now, I'm helping someone negotiate for more money and working with someone else to navigate their next career move. I try to be a support, someone you can call before you make big choices.
How do you hire?
I have been lucky to have people in my life who took a chance on me and gave me roles that I wanted and could do but didn't really have the right experience for. I try to do the same when I hire and look for the right attitude and willingness to learn and grow. At Capital One, we often talked about the concept of applied integrative thinking, the ability to bring learnings from another experience or job into the current one. I look to hire people who look and think differently than those around them. I look for someone who doesn't work just like everyone else. As I've grown in my career, I've felt the need for people with strong experience and people with a trajectory. More often than not, I look for people who will step into an experience and a role rather than someone who's done it before. I try to hire for attitude and train for skills. It's something we forget too often, that skills can be learned. I try to give people a chance.
What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
Buy bitcoin. Just lots and lots of bitcoin. Seriously. Buy as much as you can.
Other than that, I've learned a lot over the years. When I was 25, I moved to this country and approached the job search very differently than I would now. I think it's important to tell your story based on where you want to go rather than what anyone else wants to hear. Be in control of your narrative and comfortable in your skin. It's easy and natural to want to belong and blend in, but it's important to stand out and be your true self. It sounds cheesy, but you can be yourself at work. You don't need to be anyone else.