Rising into the C-suite as a woman of color

Urvashi Sheth is VP of Global Customer Care & Warranty Operations at Western Digital and SVP of Client Services at InterMedia. Below, she shares her journey to the boardroom, which began about 20 years ago when she emigrated from India to the US. Her career has been filled with interesting experiences as she worked with a variety of cultures and led global teams. Below, she shares some key moments in her executive journey that she hope will help other women leaders succeed, from being liked and embraced as a minority woman in leadership to how to leverage your unique strengths as a leader.

I came to the US from India from a humble background with an undergrad degree in business. There were plenty of challenges, but my interest in working with people and how they use technology landed me a job as a Technical Support Specialist in a mid-level start-up in San Francisco. The good: working with a variety of people from technology novices to experts throughout the country. The bad: “She speaks with an accent,” as heard from angry customers who had technology challenges (or just a bad day) calling me an idiot too because I was not from the US.

Even today, with my Sr. Vice President title and years of experience leading companies from Fortune 500 to startups, I still get interesting comments about my country of origin.

I learned two things from these experiences: first, in my profession of Customer Experience/Service, I will not be able to make everyone happy — but I will keep trying.

I stayed in that job in San Francisco for four years, progressing into a Sr. Manager role and eventually being asked to take over the company’s software quality assurance department. I received positive feedback that I have great ability to work with people and build relationships, and to spot where the problems exist and find solutions.

I decided I am going to pursue my MBA, which was a challenge while raising my then-7-year-old daughter. Despite the long hours and hurdles, my inner sense kept telling me that something was missing in terms of making bigger strides in my career.

A career changing moment came from my boss, who advised that I was focusing too much on my weaknesses and wanting to fix something unnecessarily. As an example, he said I was too worried about my technical knowledge of the software despite having an intuitive ability to understand how humans interface with computers and how to help them use it.

From this conversation, I learned to focus and “exploit” my abilities to their fullest extent, rather than what I was lacking. So, what are my abilities? This prompted me to sit down and take stock of those as well the ones I needed to develop. Problem solving, relationship building, decision making, people skills, communication landed at the top of my list.

In 2007, I joined SanDisk as Director of Global Customer Support. In this role, I learned how to work globally with a huge customer base, understand a variety of cultures, and how diverse sets of people work and think and what they expect from each other.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, I certainly faced my fair share of struggles. I was asked questions I was certain a man would never be asked. I overcame this by becoming a knowledge or subject matter expert, coupled with articulating my abilities and ideas. In my experience, people recognize your power and abilities when they see this combination

As I seek my first board seat, I continue to enjoy the myriad of invaluable experiences I am having along the way. The destination is important, but so is enjoying the journey. I hope my story shed some light on important lessons that may help you in the C-suite and beyond.

Activating the connections, knowledge, & opportunities women executives need to lead at their highest level of impact. Learn more: athenaalliance.com

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