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Being an Advocate for Other Women

Company Culture
Diversity
Impact
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

2 September, 2021

Sudha Raghavan
Sudha Raghavan

VP, Software Engineering at Oracle

Sudha Raghavan, Senior Director of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure at Oracle, fosters a cultural spirit of inclusivity that permeates every organization that she joins.

Problem

As a woman in this industry, the principles of diversity are always on my mind. In regard to my current position and company, even during my interview, I was very upfront about this passion. I was looking for an organization where I would be able to find a community.

The division that I joined was a start-up within this much more established company. I was very blunt about asking them questions while I was being interviewed, such as how many women were already working in the organization. I wanted to make sure that the group I was entering valued these principles of inclusion.

In those days, we were very few and far between. They introduced me to the two senior-level women already on their staff. Together, we ended up forming our Seattle office’s charter of a national, company-wide women’s committee.

We figured that if we faced opposition of any kind coming into a start-up division part of a larger parent company, the women to follow would likely experience the same problems. They will have all of the same questions that we had. Who is here in the organization to support me and my growth?

Actions taken

A woman’s impression of the company does not begin on her first day, but, rather, on the day of her first interview. I recommend that all hiring managers have at least one woman or some other person of diversity on that board of interviewing employees. This should not be to simply mark a checkbox; having a woman, or any other diversity candidate, for that matter, in the room during an interview can make a world of difference.

Our interview process is very intensive, often lasting for an entire day. We would break often and invite the person being interviewed to share a coffee with one or more representatives of our organization, somebody who looks and feels like them. This is purely for them to connect. We do not continue the interview during these breaks; it is a chance for them to feel more at ease while they go through the process.

I did not have a female person in my loop, partly because I was one of the first few employees hired for this initiative. I did ask them why they thought that this was the case. Would I be the only woman hired? Am I the only one who’s going to be different?

Once I had established myself within the organization, I was able to help all of the new people coming in after me. As a child, I was very introverted. When I moved to the United States, however, everything changed. I wanted to have an active voice in the communities around me. I met many people who were a lot like me, struggling with all of the same issues that I did. This forum of cohorts provided space for them to share ideas about what was working and what was not.

This is how I became the person that I am currently. We recognized quickly that if we did not speak, nobody else would do so for us. People who are shy like me may not be as bold in how we showcase our accomplishments to those around us. The unfortunate truth is that if nobody sees your best work, they may not always consider you for the next big opportunity within the company. We saw this process at play and made a deliberate effort to change that in places where we could make a difference.

A community ended up flourishing. Learning to use that community to meet some higher calling is really important. The work that we do becomes much more fulfilling.

Lessons learned

  • They say that you should always bring your most authentic self to work. This is great advice, but only after you have established yourself in your role. Until you have some voice of advocacy in the room supporting you openly, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. It’s the same for men and women. You have to do what it takes to become a member of that inner circle of trust if you want them to listen to what you stand to contribute.
  • Earlier in my career, I would always make sure to walk into every meeting with a peer buddy. It could be anybody --- somebody from my team, a colleague from a different department, female, male, it didn’t matter. All that you need is one ally. The topic of the meeting would be set ahead of time; beforehand, I would present this peer buddy with everything that I planned on bringing up. I asked this person to be my safety net if somebody in the room tried to shut me down mid-thought. After people hear from you a few times, they will automatically start giving you that space.
  • Today, people are much more aware of these things. Half of the problem is recognizing what needs to change. All of us are capable of changing, but only after we know what we have to do. Have a retrospective with yourself; ask yourself why you’re not getting what you want or need. This type of introspection is just as important as correcting whatever problem that you have.

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