This #WomanInTech Is Acing The Game Even Without Being A Techie!
We all have many dreams and aspirations that are connected to our careers, personal lives and beyond. Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy is one such individual who not only has multiple aspirations but has managed to turn several of them into actionable goals.
A Product Evangelist at ZOHO Corporation, Kuppulakshmi made the the jump from being a soft skills and communications trainer to playing a lucrative role in a company that literally transformed Chennai into a SaaS hub. Affectionately known as Kuppu, we caught up with this multi-faceted personality to understand her thoughts across a spectrum of issues close to her heart.
At SHEROES we always advocate a #TakeCharge attitude to help women craft their own destinies. What are some of your own #TakeCharge life and career mantras?
Some of the mantras are my own and some from the many inspirations around:
To take charge means to live life in your own style. To be able to do that, it is important to find that “anchor” called passion. And to identify what one is passionate about, it is important to explore, ask questions, seek knowledge, meet more people and to *not* settle down in a routine.
Take charge of your time. Having time for yourself helps in gaining clarity of who you are and what you want.
Take charge of your thoughts. This helps in having lesser complaints in life.
Always question. Most of the time the answers to finding a purpose in life, lies in these questions.
Declutter – things, people, thoughts.
Actively seek knowledge. Never stop learning.
Any change that's close to your heart can be brought about only with a lot of inconveniences. Be comfortable with such inconveniences.
Plan and act. Remember to start. Remember that you don't have to do everything - there are things that the Universe takes care of too. You just have to want it badly enough. (hint: Paulo Coelho!)
Statistics indicate that the percentage of women working in the IT sector is about 17%. According to you what are the reasons for skewed numbers in India?
There are a lot of reasons for these skewed numbers. One, mindset. Right from childhood, gender stereotypes come into picture - both invisible and visible ones. The most common gifts that are bought for girls are tea sets, barbie dolls and other soft toys. In general, girls are encouraged and expected to be kind and nice, while it is very natural for boys to be tough and ambitious. This practice is unfair for both and such stereotyping and generalization also leads to diminishing numbers of women in the workforce, eventually.
Two, environment. Poor infrastructure, absence of standards of safety and the average emotional intelligence of people, play a key role for such pathetic numbers. The balance between work and life can be drastically improved if there were better roads, transport facilities that are safe and a deeper sense of understanding of the vital roles that women play at work and at home. Because of the absence of "collective responsibilities", women tend to give up on grit and passion, succumb to guilt and also choose to not choose career.
Three, skillsets. Every year, it is girls who make it to the news for topping the board exams, and yet we do not see many of them on a board of directors. Though there is a steady increase in the number of stay-at-home dads, it would prove good for any sector, if the smarter and ambitious person at home becomes the default breadwinner, and that necessarily may not be the man of the house.
"What if career was not a choice but a can't-do-without for women too?", I remember a co-panelist thinking out loud, during a tech conference. That left a profound effect on me, leading to several questions and thoughts.
Does Zoho have any initiatives to bridge this divide?
There are no special initiatives at Zoho to bridge this divide. However, there is no stopping anyone who has passion and is ready to grab opportunities that come their way. I have shared this story many times before and I’m sharing it again: I wanted to resume work when my daughter was eight months old and all I had to do was ask for a space for my daughter.
I took along the babysitter to work and she had access to all the facilities at work, as much as I did, including lunch. Owing to that, now there are a lot of my colleagues too who have gotten back to work earlier, than they would otherwise do, with their kids babysitters. Not only that, Zoho has facilitated admission for the employees' kids to a school near the office and this has helped balance work and home in many ways.
Tell us a bit about your role as a Product Evangelist at Zoho - for instance, what is the most exciting part of what you do? What is your typical day like?
My role is to make technology less overwhelming to those businesses and people who want to adopt it. There are two parts: one is the suite of apps from Zoho; the other is the various challenges faced by a rapidly-growing business. There is a gap that needs to be bridged - the hows and whys.
I am a Microbiologist turned Copy-Editor turned Soft Skills and Communication specialist turned Evangelist, and hence, I don't speak jargons from the tech world. So, though it is challenging at times to understand how a certain feature in a product can solve a certain issue or enhance a business workflow/ automation, learning it myself makes it easy for me to talk about it to customers.
No two days at work are the same for me and this makes me look forward to work every day. I talk to customers, host webinars, speak at events on behalf of Zoho, share tips on effective communication with my colleagues, share internal feedback on UI and UX of products and I’m also designing a web page for an upcoming project.
The work culture at Zoho is quite informal and very transparent. We believe in a flat hierarchy and that means everyone brings ideas to the table.
Our own apps, for example, Zoho Connect, Zoho Mail and Zoho Chat help facilitate conversations across the teams. With flexible work schedules and mobile applications that help get work done on the go, there are days when I find myself doing personal chores at work (parent-teachers meet; schedule car wash; pay those bills), and there are days I work from home and am more productive.
From the CEO to the others at the top management, everyone is approachable and available for constructive conversations. The entire campus of Zoho at Estancia is very spacious, is green and the in-house gyms, canteens/pantry, dorms, meditation hall, etc. help strike a healthy work and life balance.
You are a woman of multiple interests, including having a green thumb! How do you manage to turn interests into actionable goals, and in turn, create an impact? Can you share any tips on this?
I am eternally thankful to my parents for this. My father and I used to spend most of our Sunday mornings in the little patches of soil around the house to grow vegetables and flowering plants, and this continued even as we moved houses. My mother was kind to every living being around her - from ants to sparrows and pigeons. My sister and I grew up in very different socio-economic conditions than we are in now and this has helped us to be kind, compassionate and brave.
I also love interacting with young minds and I turned this interest into teaching and training them on various life skills. Since I am also a mom to a super-active 5-year old, time management is the key to unlock productivity and to achieve some everyday goals. I am also very keen on giving back to Mother Nature for all the abundance she blesses us with - so I am working on being plastic-free. I make compost out of my kitchen wastes and use that to grow a few plants in my kitchen garden. I read extensively. I also immensely enjoy cooking (and eating!). I also work with a couple of NGOs in training school-going children on life skills. I am a self-proclaimed workaholic.
Only one tip: To constantly look for an answer to this question - (How) do I give as much as I receive?
You are very passionate about improving soft skills and communication skills in particular. What prompted this particular interest? Was it because you felt the lack of soft skills hampers careers?
I am an ambivert. That can loosely be translated to - I can choose to be talkative. Most of what I have learnt so far is by silently watching people - how they talk and walk, sit and stand, stand and eat, eat and burp (or not), how weak or strong their handshake is and how they say what they have to say.
This is the era of communication and I believe that storytellers are always going to be in demand. Twitter, Facebook and every other social media channel is here to aid each of us to build a brand for ourselves, and hence these soft skills are very essential.
The kind of questions we ask during a conversation, the duration of eye contact, our capacity to listen intently, the skill that is required to follow-up after an intensive networking event, the ability to make the most important pitch of your life when all you have is just one minute, how we share and receive feedback, how do we present ourselves consistently, how do we manage a difficult situation - ALL of these are important parts of communication and it isn't just about how well one speaks in English or any other language.
I quite like Seth Godin's thoughts and perhaps it's time we stop calling these as "soft skills".
Any specific soft skills you advocate to help #WomenInTech ace their game?
Notice successful people around you. Make mental notes on how they communicate their ideas. Copy a few of them that would suit your personality. Listen actively. While talking/networking, be completely present and focus. If you are an entrepreneur, look for communication experts that can help in improving your communication skills.
Let go of your hesitation and take steps to be involved in conversations.. Find happiness in your passion which helps in gaining confidence. Be fearless. Sheroes is the perfect platform to do and be all of this.
On the brand new SHEROES app, we get a lot of queries from women in tech wanting to work from home, because they have had to choose between a career or motherhood. Are there any tech-based roles that can flourish in this work mode? For instance, can technical writing be one of them? A perspective.
There are many tech-based roles that can be done from home - technical writing, customer/client relationship management, technical support, app reviews, social media management. We are talking about getting work done on the go, about applications on the cloud and there are enough examples of geographically distributed teams and companies. Also, there is already so much in the news about the future of work, where there will be more freelancers and lesser physical spaces called offices and more co-working spaces. As the future gets more and more translated to present, the roles will broaden and open up too.
You recently tweeted that giving women employees the support they need for growth is a “collective responsibility”. Can you elaborate your thoughts around this?
"If you want to know how civilized a culture is, look at how they treat its women." - Bacha Khan
I think that meaningful progress can be made only if all of us have equal opportunities to grow and contribute. Giving women employees the support they need for growth is indeed a "collective responsibility".
For example, like I have already stated here, the number of girls who top schools and colleges is significantly higher than those who have a steady career. Marriage, pregnancy, parenting, taking care of the elderly at home - all of these play a significant role in the life of a woman and we are aware of the number of talented women who drop off the workforce.
A man and a woman who start off their careers with similar talent and skillsets, do not always experience the same growth curve at work. Women have a lot of catching up to do and they also find it difficult to get back to work - with less job opportunities and the citing of "break in career" due to above-said reasons. Times are changing, of course; however, change is pathetically slow.
The pressure of marriage, motherhood and getting back to work is almost like a tug of war, and women should not be made to feel alone in this journey. The same people who do not want to hire women back because there was a break in their career are a part of the same society and culture that would question a woman if she isn't married/chooses not to marry or doesn't have a child/chooses not to have one.
Both men and women should complement each other to make progress meaningful and complete and it's time we stop quoting biological differences that only slows down progress, and I know I’m not even being completely inclusive here.
Daycares should be present in every office premises. Organizations should think of flexible paternity leaves and this should be availed to best support the mother. There should be periodic sensitization programs for people at all hierarchical levels.
We are all responsible for a healthier, smarter and more compassionate next generation.
We are very excited to have you at the upcoming Mia SHEROES Summit and so is the SHEROES community. Any parting words of advice on galvanising Indian women into following their dreams?
Never settle down for anything less than what you deserve. Demand. Be kind to yourself and others. Be fearless. Just BE.
Catch the awe-inspiring Kuppulakshmi at the Mia SHEROES Summit in Chennai on 19th August, i.e this Saturday. Register for the event here: Mia SHEROES Summit - Chennai.
P*****Perfect world for today's world working women
D*****Very inspiring interview.