This week’s Daring Woman is Akhila Tadinada, chief technology officer of Xemelgo, an industrial internet of things startup launched earlier this year.
Read about the challenges she’s faced in her industry, her mentors and her proudest moments.
1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.
I have achieved several professional milestones in my career. But one I am proudest of is when I questioned our company’s maternity policy and then fought to make them change it. I realized most women before me had just taken for granted that you really cannot ask a company to change the maternity policy as it was the woman’s decision to have a kid and so the company was not obliged to pay them anything for the time they took off or support them during the transition back. What they did not realize was that it makes tremendous business sense for a company to support women and men both as they transition through this phase of their life. Happy families make happy employees, which helps with increased retention and productivity. Also acknowledging the man’s role in parenting by giving them a paternity leave leads to more gender equality.
2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?
Being a brown woman in tech, I am typically the smallest minority in the room. People usually tend to ignore what I have to say for the first couple of times unless I persist, at which point they realize I have something important to say. Being a woman leader is tougher as most men and sometimes even women would rather take directions from a man than listen to a woman. Persistence and belief in self are the only things that have kept me going.
3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?
My father. My dad never once mentioned to us (my sister and I) that we were girls and that some things were beyond us. He continuously pushed us to aim really high in life and not get carried away by what people around us have to say.
4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?
Ask. Ask for help, ask for promotions and ask for the next new role. If you don’t ask, people will never know what you want or are capable of. Observe. You can learn a lot if you deeply observe leaders around you and then work on embodying the traits that you admire.
5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?
Women need to create communities at work to create a safe space for women to talk about their issues and learn from each other. I think men and women both need to accept that we all come to the table with inherent biases and the only thing that can break that is an open, two-way communication channel where both parties can talk openly about biases.
6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It is the first handbook of its kind that focuses on issues that women face in today’s corporate world and how to overcome them. Other than that, I love NPR’s How I Built This podcast as it talks about first-time entrepreneurs and the challenges they had to overcome to build successful companies.
7. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
My family, band of girlfriends and my team mates. Networking to me is about creating deep relationships with people who can open up my mind to newer ideas and possibilities. Given that, I am deliberate about who I network with and what channels I use. I prefer building my network by connecting with friends of friends. I also have met some amazing people in places where I volunteer. Some of my best professional contacts are through people I have worked with in the past. I strive to maintain relationships with them, which then leads to more valuable connections
8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?
Empathy and self-awareness are the two biggest traits a good leader. A good leader’s job is that of a coach; they help discover each person’s superpowers and then push them to reach their maximum potential. Aggressive management, which is a power-male trait, is overrated and not needed in today’s knowledge economy.
9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over?
I would ask around more and say “yes” more and “no” less often.
10. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Lead the Way!
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.