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Stages on the Way to Equality

In 1955, my grandma looked out from her stage — an arena filled with patched up living room furniture, acquaintances guzzling their sixth Goan beer, and party streamers flowing like the drapes of velvet stage curtains.

Her voice rang out, dropping down and then soaring high, full and then whispery soft. As her last note faded, she took in the trembling passion with a huge inhale, promising herself that living room performances were enough, that they had to be enough because Papa had shot down her pleading for a musical degree as fast as he was now shooting down his tangy beer. 

Living in India, I could not understand why being female made you less of a person, and yet I was constantly hit by painful reminders that it did. I saw my grandma’s reality echoed across the country with women I knew, women in hospitals after being attacked with acid, women like my mom who had to stand up for herself as the only woman in her engineering college.

“The world is changing,” my dad assured me.

Is it? If it was, it was changing too slowly. The unfairness of it left me with the deep seated conviction that something was wrong. 

The next few years I stood up as often as I could, my voice ringing with cries of change.

The first time I took the stage — my arena filled with a hundred girls sitting on overgrown blades of grass under a makeshift hut roof — I launched into a what-would-soon-be-weekly English class I taught to underprivileged girls in Goregaon, India.

Two years later, I took the stage — my arena filled with chipped tables, fidgety eight-year-olds, and the stifling heat of Mumbai summers — and I delved into a lesson on gender inequality that I had been recruited to teach at an Indian government school.

A few years later, after moving with my family to the US, I launched FEdream, an organization dedicated to sending underprivileged girls in India through college, hoping to fill a gap I believe has the potential to change lives. Today, FEdream has funded and cultivated a community of over seventy-five women, hosted career fairs, and partnered with large organizations and companies like Schlumberger who see the value in our mission. 

About a year ago, I took the stage once more — my arena, a machine design class I found myself the only female student in. This disparity rang true across the training institute hosted by IMTMA, the 65-year-old Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers Association. Filled with trepidation about challenging authority (and god forbid, seeming ungracious), I set up a meeting with the six male directors of IMTMA to explore the possibility of proactively including women in their programs. To my elation, they acknowledged the disparity, and together, we created a production and design program for underprivileged women engineers, funded by FEdream. A couple months later, a cohort of women made history as the first female class and the most women the institute had ever seen. 

When I was given the opportunity to get involved with Laddrr, I said yes immediately. For me, the fight for equality has always centered around education and I have seen the impact it can have. Laddrr’s mission to empower millions of women with educational resources and organizations resonated. 

In late August the Laddrr team took the stage — its arena, the podium at the New York Stock Exchange where the closing bell would chime in honor of Women’s Equality Day. Listening to speeches at the restaurant before walking over, I was struck by what one of the male speakers pointed out. We women so often question and discount ourselves — we tell ourselves we are not qualified, our ideas are silly, our efforts are small. We swallow our words, desperately afraid of seeming incompetent. I realized that in a world where women are still fighting for equality, I need to stop cutting myself down. I vowed to pay attention to the way I behave in the future. 

As the closing bell clanged, its ring filling the room, TV screens, and our hearts with hope, I thought back to my grandmother’s silenced voice and smiled. The world is hearing us now. 

Rachel Pontes is the founder of FEdream, Laddrr’s Young Adult Advocacy board member, and a freshman at Dartmouth College.

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Web3 Stories: Unicorns beside me

When I joined Twitter as a mom of three in my mid-thirties, I was hardly expecting fireworks. The pandemic was in full swing, and I’d found myself forced to return to work after taking a few years off to be with my three young kids. So here I was, back at work full-time in EdTech, with my oldest two trying to adapt to online learning amidst a global shutdown. My littlest, 5, not yet in school, remained glued to my side, drawing on her iPad, while I attempted to work from home.  

I initially created that Twitter account to learn about digital collectables, or NFTs, which seemed like the perfect distraction from my Covid reality. My first love is the arts, and I was excited at the prospect of collecting these beautiful, digital creations — and directly supporting the artists who made them. Traditionally, if an artist sells an original work of art, they do not continue to profit from that work if it’s sold again in the future. But NFTs are different. The secondary sales of these pieces can continue to support the original artist via royalties set in a smart contract. As little as I understood at the time, I could tell this was something revolutionary. So I set out to learn more about the blockchain technology that enabled it.

I began my Web3 journey by discovering different artists in the space and carefully dipping my toes into the NFT waters. But it wasn’t until the emergence of women-led NFT projects that I really found my place and my people. I was ecstatic to find projects with diverse female artists and founders creating art that celebrated women! These projects had carefully thought out roadmaps, admirable goals, and large charitable components benefiting causes I believed in. As I explored the different collections, I saw how each project had cultivated its own unique community. And immersing myself in these different Web3 communities was truly transformative. The support and love we gave to one another during this difficult time was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. The world around us was crumbling, but here we were, learning, growing, exploring, and traversing this new technological terrain together. We were listening to and uplifting one another, often chatting day and night, and excitedly sharing any new knowledge or skills. It was exhilarating connecting with women from all over the world over our shared values and passions, all within the context of this groundbreaking art. 

My littlest, who was right by my side during this time, was just as excited by this whole process as I was. We would spend hours exploring these digital collections together, basking in their tremendous beauty. Meanwhile, she had been spending her days creating her own works of digital art on her iPad — a collection of magical unicorns holding their favorite sweet treats. Of course our online explorations sparked ideas for new traits she could draw for her unicorns. “Look at the rainbow teeth on that Bored Ape! I want to make something like that for the unicorns. Check out the astronauts in the Women Rise collection. They’re ALL girls! And so are the Boss Beauties! Wow, all of the World of Women are soooo beautiful, Mommy!” It was magical seeing the collections through her eyes, watching the art inspire her, and then witnessing what she would create. Before long, she had drawn hundreds of traits for her unicorns — a similar number, we learned, to those featured in the large collections we’d been following. As we explored together how these collections were made, we learned about the process of generative art, where all the traits are imported into a system which randomizes them and spits out a collection made up of individual pieces that are similar, yet unique. Then one day the idea just clicked: these sweet unicorns with their hundreds of traits would become their own generative art collection. 

Since that time, my daughter’s characters have evolved even further — they’re now the foundation of an early childhood educational media company with the goal of educating and onboarding more parents and kids to Web3. We break down the technical concepts so they’re easier to grasp, and we help families explore Web3’s incredible potential. Never in a million years did I see myself founding a company, but the opportunity to build something impactful, together with my child, feels like a dream come true. Who knows what will come from this new venture, but it has solidified for me that we are never too old (or too young!) to start something new. 

Ariel Rosen is Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at LawShelf and founder of SweetCorns. You can find her on Twitter at @SweetCorns_NFT.

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Web3 Stories: Newborn inspiration

I’ve always embraced change. Brought up in Spain, I got my MBA in the UK, worked as an intern for a real estate company in Miami and then in private banking in Geneva before launching a fashion brand in Los Angeles. But by the time I became pregnant with my baby girl in March 2021, I was working in Madrid as COO of Medcap Real Estate, my family’s business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and my mom always taught me to be independent and to work hard to create a life I am proud of. 

I’d been investing in Crypto since 2016 and discovered NFTs and Web3 four years later. But for whatever reason I became enthralled with it during my pregnancy. I started learning about blockchain technology, minted my first NFT, and then decided to rescue my forsaken Twitter account so I could follow people prominent in the space. On December 18th I gave birth to Ginevra, and I distinctly remember asking my husband about the floor price of my NFTs from my hospital bed. Crazy? Absolutely.

I took advantage of Spain’s standard 4 months of maternity leave. I was super tired and also sad and sensitive all the time — postpartum depression is real. Web3 provided a needed distraction, and the process of learning felt good, as if I were nurturing myself and the baby at the same time. 

Somehow, becoming a mom with all of the related hormonal disruption plus my deep dive into Web3 provoked another change in me. I realized I had an easy life. I was comfortable and very lucky. My baby was healthy. I had an amazing family, a great job and good friends. But I also realized that I needed more. I felt compelled to pursue something bigger, to create something important for my daughter. I needed to prove to her that women are strong. That we can do anything.

As I gained more and more followers on Twitter, I began working as a Web3 advisor, helping friends launch their NFT collections and acting as an ambassador for NFT communities. I started posting motivational quotes and advice to help other women in the industry. And I credit Ginevra for all of this, because as I was breastfeeding, I was also working, chatting, and learning. It was a moment for us to be together, and also for me to work on my future career. And since I was nursing every 3-4 hours around the clock, I was able to meet and chat with people from all over the world — and I loved it.

Having promoted music festivals in Spain on and off as a fun side gig, I was very familiar with the flaws of the ticketing industry. I found a solution to those problems in blockchain technology, and soon after quit my job as COO to work full time on my startup. 

I’m not going to say that working from home with a baby is easy. It’s not. But somehow when we become mothers, we gain power and strength we didn’t have before. Freedom in motherhood begins when you let go of the mom you think you should be and embrace the mom you are. 

My daughter is my motivation. She gives me courage and determination to make anything happen. I’m working hard now so that as she grows, I can spend more time with her and show her what her mom built. All I hope is that years from now, when she sees the life I’ve created for her, she’s proud I am her mom.

Mireia de Andrés Puyol is the former COO of Medcap Real Estate and cofounder of Reveler. You can find her on Twitter at @missnft91.

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Top Three Resume Tips for Moms

At LessonsUp, I’m pretty hands-on in supporting our cohorts of job seekers — which means that I answer plenty of questions from moms looking to transition their careers. The most common concerns I hear, especially from those who have taken any kind of career break, are about resumes. 

  • “What do I do when my most relevant paid work experience happened a while ago?” 
  • “I’ve been working for a long time. How much of my background do I include?”
  • “I shouldn’t mention volunteer roles, should I?” 
  • And of course, “How do I hide my career break?”

Resume fears make it hard to move forward. We tend to compare our career history to a golden standard, but this is our own fear speaking. There is no golden standard. We all have unique lives, and hence unique career paths. To build the best resume to show your strengths, use my top three resume tips for moms pivoting careers:

1. Focus on key results 

In my classes, I talk a lot about key results, or brief statements that show the impact of work you did. Your career experience on your resume should lead with results first. It goes like this: Results – Action – Context. The bullet points in your work history (which CAN include volunteer work!) should first quantify the value of your work. Then you can explain the action you took and the context. 

For example:

● Ran email marketing campaigns using Hubspot, developed copy, analyzed analytics, and advised marketing leadership

becomes

● Increased website traffic by 6% within 3 months by developing and executing email marketing campaigns. 

See the moms’ resumes below for more examples of key results. To develop your key result bullet points, avoid talking about busy work and ask yourself questions like:

  1. What did I own?
  2. Why did I do the work I did?
  3. What was the impact of my work?

2. Keep it to one page

Your resume will get better results if it’s all on one side of one page. Essentially, you’re providing a summary of your selling points to entice the recruiter to contact you. So you only need to show the best of your work, not the whole story. 

Also, recruiters scan each resume for only about 5 seconds before going to the next one. So it’s definitely most effective for you to have all of your important information — contact information, skills, work history and education — visible at a glance.

3. Own any time you’ve taken off to spend with your family

Don’t hide it! Time you’ve spent away from work does not dictate where you go next in your career. Give it a name and a job entry, and if appropriate, populate it with key results. Here’s how some of the moms in our programs have done it:

The mom in this first example states her skills and achievements before her work history to make a strong impression before people see her career break.

This mom, who homeschooled a special needs child, defines her career break in terms of key results that she achieved as a homeschool mom deeply involved in the community.

If you’ve had special circumstances that called you away from your career, be clear about them. This could be medical, caregiving, or other unique family circumstances. This mom couldn’t work because of immigration processing and stated it clearly on her resume.

Regardless of the details surrounding your work history, you can own and promote your experiences, skills and accomplishments on your resume using key results. People are hiring you for the value you bring, and time off — or any other anomaly in your career trajectory — does not take away from that. If you’re still not sure how to frame your work history, come join us and we’ll do it together!

Malinda Coler is Cofounder and CEO of LessonsUp, helping underrepresented people pivot their careers.

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A Working Mom’s Guide to Rhythms and Routines

I recently proclaimed to my family, “I’m not cooking dinner at all next week.” Although this may seem a bit dramatic and maybe even a little harsh, a few predictable life factors contributed to my decision: 

1) My daughters would be out of school. 

2) I had a number of important work deadlines that I was looking forward to meeting.

3) My prior experience tells me that my girls need me to be more accessible during the empty weeks between school and the start of their summer activities.

4) I knew that something needed to give for me to feel that I could have quality time with my family while also being present for professional responsibilities.

While the content of this scenario will vary between individuals, the crux of this example is a common theme for working moms who are trying to simultaneously juggle multiple responsibilities and do it all.  

Throughout my work as a licensed psychologist with parents, young adults and children for the past twenty years, I talk a lot about the rhythms we have in both our personal and professional lives. A rhythm is like a vibe or preferred way of navigating life events and while not tangible, it is something you can literally feel in the air. Within households and in offices, I frequently hear about and see individuals with different rhythms. Some like constant back-to-back activities and multi-tasking and others need bursts of a singular activity followed by downtime to decompress before starting something new. Oftentimes, people with different rhythms are asked to get things done together or they may be family members living under the same roof. To add to this complexity, for some individuals and situations, rhythms are consistent and reliable and for others they are less predictable. Overall, these situations can lead to stress and conflict in relationships. 

Consider the following as you think about the rhythms around you: How would you describe the rhythm at work a week prior to a project launch or deadline? How about the day before? What is the pace you like to have at work? And at home? What is the rhythm of your family members regarding task completion? 

Parents often share with me how rhythms in their households can vary between family members, which makes it difficult and frustrating to get out of the house in the morning and transition, unflustered, to work and school. Furthermore, several clients report that while they can appreciate that people have different rhythms, they feel less skilled in knowing how to listen, read, and respond to the rhythms experienced. So how can you figure out how to work with the rhythms around you? 

  • Describe the rhythms you are sensing in yourself and others. Are they slow and steady? Shut down? Rush, rush, rush? Or something in between? Naming them can help you prepare for them. The important point here is not about accuracy, but about getting in touch with your perception of each rhythm.
  • Take a pause and think. How have I reacted to this rhythm in similar situations in the past? What was successful for me? And what was not as helpful?
  • What can I do differently this time to improve the outcome? 

Reflect on your answers, trust your gut, and consider your options for responding. In some situations, you may only have a few moments to run through these steps, but in others, like my “no cooking” example, you can prepare in advance. And if I had to name the rhythm in my house this week, it would be “slow it down,” describing the current shift to a less predictable summer schedule and the need to take some additional time to think through and process what lies ahead. 

So why is it important to consider rhythms? Understanding our rhythms allows us to gain a better sense of ourselves and our needs. When we read others’ rhythms, we can more thoughtfully respond so that the other person feels understood and appreciated, which provides the foundation for trusting relationships. 

Listening to and trusting your assessment of these rhythms can also be helpful in building routines. So what exactly is a routine? A routine is more like a play-by-play of events. Routines happen both at work and at home. In some instances, routines are expected, such as a weekly team meeting, and in other cases, the routine can feel like a moving target, such as a kid’s sport schedule. 

If you find yourself struggling when routines shift during transition times, you’re in good company. My professional colleagues and I often discuss how surges in outreach to our offices may be related to different rhythms and changing routines. In fact, we’ve all noticed that we typically receive an influx of calls just prior to and after weekends, in the days leading up to vacations, and in anticipation of major life transitions — which are all valid and common changes to acknowledge and consider. 

While there are several wonderful resources for time management, being productive at work, and establishing routines with families at home, I believe you can understand your own rhythms and routines by thinking about the following: 

  • What are the circumstances that allow me to get work done? (Consider time of day, duration of focused time, need for breaks, physical space, personal/family commitments)
  • What are the demands of my job? (Commuting? Virtual meetings with kids at home? Travel? What about the pace?)
  • Are my circumstances and demands in alignment? 
  • How do I like to schedule time?
  • How does each member of my immediate household like to structure time? In other words, how are your rhythms different from those of your family members? 
  • What are the external demands that we depend on and that dictate how we spend our time (e.g., work meetings, sports schedules, etc.)? 

In my case, I felt proud of myself for realizing how and why I needed to add time to my week and also confident that I’d be able to follow through on what I’d promised to myself both as a professional and as a mom. We all have within us the power to not only perceive, but to trust and react to what we see and experience. Take a moment to watch, listen, and learn the rhythms in your life and how you can use that information to build routines that work for you and your family. 

Elyse Dub is a psychologist and founder of Insight Onsite, a life wellness company that helps people build human connections at work. 

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Real Talk: Balancing work and family

When asked how she strikes a balance between her roles as a mom and a career woman, Liza Meak laughs. “There is no balance,” confides the mom of three, a former TV news producer, a documentary filmmaker and currently a senior communications manager at Nutanix. “Some days you’re going to be an awesome employee, awesome at your job or career, and an awesome boss — and you’re going to be a horrendous parent. And that means that you come home and you’re giving them Cheerios for dinner as opposed to a well balanced meal that has a vegetable, starch and a protein. And they may not get showered and they may go to preschool or school the next day in dirty clothes just because you can’t do it all.” 

Such is the sort of wisdom that Team Laddrr has gleaned though our video interviews with working parents. So if you’re struggling to juggle it all, know that we see you — and that you’re in good company. But perhaps the trick is to accept that striking a balance on a daily basis may not actually be the right goal.

Liza explains that when she worked in broadcast journalism, she used to produce the station’s Olympics coverage. As the games approached and her travel increased, she knew that work would be a priority for a set amount of time. “But when there are things going on in your kids’ lives, like say, for example, health issues, then at that point, your kids will come to the forefront for a period of time.”

This concept of shifting priorities to meet changing needs is echoed by other moms we interviewed. Erin Brenner, Chief Product Development Officer at Pear Therapeutics thinks of work-life balance as something to strive for over weeks or even months. “My philosophy is that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything all at the same time,” says the mother of two. “You want to be thinking about how to integrate these things together, but knowing that there are times when you need to flex a little more toward work and other times that you need to flex a little bit more towards home, and hopefully it all balances itself out over time.” 

She acknowledges that there will be occasions when things feel out of whack. “Be kind to yourself because there are some days when the balance just doesn’t feel right one way or the other, and you’ve got to just work through those and hope that over time those balance out — or if they don’t then hopefully that can be a signal that maybe you need to take a look at why it’s feeling that way.”

Mauria Finley, mom of two and Vice President of Google Store at Google, describes the same concept in mathematical terms. “Life is a pie chart. You have work, you have family, you have your hobbies, exercise, whatever it is for you,” she says. “Be intentional about the time you give and how you allocate it. It’s not going to be perfect day-to-day, but when you think about it in terms of weeks or months, you do need to make sure it’s balanced and course correct it when it isn’t.”

To lessen the tugs that working moms feel on a regular basis, Mauria practices what she calls “intentional dropping of perfection.” Instead of trying to be and know everything, as was her tendency before children, she chooses what’s really important to her and lets the other things slide. “My husband and I sat down when the kids were quite little and we made a list of what matters to us. And we both love working so our jobs mattered a great deal to us and our family mattered.” What didn’t matter? “Our house is far from perfect, I was never the mom with the cute treats at the birthday party, my husband’s car just stopped working in San Francisco one night because he hadn’t maintained it in 18 months… but it didn’t matter. The big picture was right.”

Mauria takes it a step further, asserting that intentionally dropping perfection not only makes your load a little lighter — it also makes you a better parent and manager. “It helps you be more balanced and have room for your family, and frankly also makes you a better executive because you leave room for other people.”

Achieving a consistent balance between work and family is never easy and may be downright impossible. Setting your sights on the big picture, embracing imperfection and adjusting as you go not only allows you to be kinder to yourself — it may actually make you more effective. Now doesn’t that sound perfect?

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Preterm to Part Time

I left my laptop open on my desk at work and called the elevator to take me downstairs to my car. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, I’d had plenty of experience with routine OB appointments and knew I’d be back at the office shortly to finish up before heading home for the night. 

“So how long have you been having these contractions?” The doctor asked me. 

“Contractions? You mean the Braxton Hicks? They come and go, I guess. I don’t really pay much attention.”

“No. Those aren’t Braxton Hicks,” she said sternly. “You’re well over 2 cm dilated.”

I didn’t make it back to the office that day. Instead, I was strapped onto a bed, rolled into an ambulance and driven straight to a hospital 20 miles away that was well known for its preterm labor care and level 3 NICU. The experience was surreal. And frightening when I realized that at thirty-one weeks, the baby’s lungs were not fully developed. In my new hospital room, the nurse put bands around my belly, hooked me up to all kinds of monitors and gave me intravenous magnesium and terbutaline to calm the contractions. And there I stayed for 4 weeks — often working on the laptop that my husband had managed to retrieve for me — while the baby grew.

At 35 weeks to the day, our first child — a daughter — was born amidst a team of personnel on full alert, scurrying frantically under the high risk birthing room’s siren and flashing lights. Five weeks early and weighing in under 4 lbs, she was immediately whisked away for testing and then to the NICU, where she stayed for 11 days until she was back to her original weight and stable enough to come home. My extended hospital incubation and birthing experience were undoubtedly traumatic for both me and the baby. But as far as preterm labor goes, mine was a success story.

Strict bedrest plus the birth had left my muscles feeling like jello, and our tiny, colicky newborn rarely slept, instead wanting to nurse constantly. When my maternity leave ended just 10 weeks later, I was absolutely exhausted. I first asked for additional time off, which was flat out refused. But my subsequent request for a part time arrangement was miraculously approved.  

It seems I wasn’t alone in my desire for extra time off and part time work within the first year of motherhood. In fact, Laddrr’s survey of moms revealed that 84% would have wanted at least 3 extra months of leave, even if unpaid. And 69% desired flexible part time work during their break from full-time employment. It’s important to note, however, that these numbers indicate what these women wanted and not what they ultimately chose.

LinkedIn and Censuswide poll of 3000 working parents found that almost half of working moms took an extended break after the birth of their children. That’s substantially fewer than the 84% who wanted to do so. And per the US Department of Labor, about 23% of working moms with children under 3 work part time — a far cry from the 69% of women who want part time opportunities. 

These discrepancies could be due to any number of factors. A woman may need the extra income or healthcare benefits that often accompany a full time role. And when childcare can cost as much as a part time salary, working reduced hours may not seem to be worth the effort. Women pondering part time work or an extended break may also fear career repercussions — and with reason. Besides the sad truth that benefit-carrying part time positions in line with a mom’s previous career path are extremely difficult to find, women who take as little as one year off see their annual earnings diminish by 39%

These are things that Laddrr is working to change.

As for me, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work at that company for another year. Being in the office only three days a week gave me more balance, a little less stress, less time pumping milk in the women’s restroom, more time with my daughter, and — since my responsibilities changed along with my employment status — a slightly different skill set. For this new mom whose baby still wore preemie clothes at 4 months old, a part time job was just what the doctor ordered.

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One Step at a Time

In August of 2014 I went back to work for the first time in eight years. Over the course of my tenure as a stay-at-home mother of two young girls, I had been wanting to go back to work, but struggled with taking the first step. Getting divorced and going off to live on my own for the first time in my life, and with two children part-time, I felt that I had no choice but to go and work —anywhere. So I got a job at Nordstrom in Palo Alto, close to home, working as a sales associate in the Men’s Furnishings department.

I was excited, scared, and embarrassed all at the same time. I was excited to start doing something new. I was excited to work. I was excited to get dressed up every day and meet new people and learn new things. I was scared because I had never worked in retail before. I knew nothing about men’s furnishings, and I had read some pretty scary reviews about the cut-throat, back-stabbing, competitive world of commission-based retail. I was embarrassed because at the age of 34, with a college degree from UC Berkeley, work experience at Stanford and a social circle of middle to upper class friends in the Bay Area, I was going to work at a job that most anyone could get without much in the way of qualifications. There was no prestige in a retail job at Nordstrom. In addition, I knew that the customers I would be interacting with would be that social circle that I came from. Now, instead of joining them at their homes for playdates, meeting for lunch or coffee, or taking a class together, I would be “waiting on them” the way I waited on customers when I was a waitress putting myself through school.

But it had to be done. Excitement, fear and embarrassment were no excuse to not take that step. I remember my first day on the floor very clearly. Before I was let loose, so to speak, to go and sell on my own, I had shadowed another employee and spent a few hours getting to know the products in our department. Let’s see, I was supposed to sell socks, underwear, pj’s, dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, cologne and more. While I felt $45 for a pair of socks was steep, when I realized how much commission I made from each purchase, and the average amount a customer spent on one transaction, I didn’t know how I was going to make any money.

The reason I remember my first day so clearly is that the fear and embarrassment took over as I was let loose to go sell. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was embarrassed because I didn’t know the products very well, let alone that register I was to use to ring up each sale. In training they taught us the basics, and sped through the order of operations at the register:

  • Count the items
  • Check them for sensors
  • Remove sensors
  • Put a UPC sticker on every price tag
  • Enter your seven-digit employee number in the POS
  • Select sale
  • Start to scan, every item twice, once for the price and once for the UPC
  • Once you have scanned all the items, select total
  • And on and on and on

But it was never that easy, ever. There were problems with the price not reflecting advertised prices, there were returns, price adjustments, employee discounts, split payment with cash and credit card, payment by check, etc. And then, when we didn’t have something in the size a customer needed we were to look in the system and check every store and online to get them what they wanted, and of course, the procedure for that was entirely different. I would say that at that time, learning how to use that register was one of my biggest challenges. Over the past 14 years I had shied away from any opportunity to learn how to use technology. And it showed.

So in addition to the fear and anxiety I had at the register, there was still the insecurity and embarrassment I felt interacting with customers. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize small wins along the way, which would boost my confidence and propel me to do more. Although I don’t recall specifically, I know that with every new customer I knew more, I felt more comfortable, and relaxed. Soon I wasn’t just ringing up items that customers came in for, I was helping them make better choices, and offering more options. I learned where items were made, how they were made, and why they cost more. I also realized that interacting with customers came naturally to me. I loved helping. Soon I couldn’t wait for a new customer to come on to our floor so I could help them. I loved knowing all about the products on our floor. I loved listening to what the customer came in for, hearing the “problem” so to speak, as I began to conjure up a solution for them.

It wasn’t long before customers came back to shop with me. They asked for me. They looked for me. I felt on top of the world. I loved my job. I would go home after a full day’s shift running around on my feet and wishing I could go back and sell some more. And then they began to ask if I could help them with items in other departments. I noticed the happy melodies in my mind went away as I froze on the border of my department and looked to the other men’s departments that neighbored us — shoes, suits, sportswear and denim. OH DEAR. OH DEAR. How was I going to learn about ALL of that product and feel confident and comfortable helping my customers?

When we first separated and I moved out of our shared home, I bought my own car. It was a used Toyota Prius. I ordered a specialized license plate frame that read “One Step At A Time.” This was a very important message that I needed to understand and live. And in every area of my life, I wanted to be mindful of it.  I would whisper to myself when I was scared, “Take the first step. Just do it.”  I had to learn to be gentle with myself too. To acknowledge the small wins and to also embrace the challenges and defeats. I needed to be kinder to myself. To allow myself to fail or to struggle. And I needed to be there to learn from each of those opportunities, wins, losses, or ties.

And so I said YES to every opportunity to help someone outside of my department — outside of my comfort zone. And every time I took another step I was met with success of some sort. I knew more than I gave myself credit for. I was capable of more than I thought. I learned something new. I began to see and understand connections and associations between products. I was able to learn faster and to make good guesses on the spot. Soon, oh so soon I was flying around the entire men’s department at Nordstrom in Palo Alto. I didn’t walk, I glided at a fast pace. I knew what I wanted for each customer, I knew where it was or how to get it. For the first time in my life, and I mean this, I felt proud and truly satisfied with my job. It didn’t feel like work anymore. It felt like life.  It was happiness. It was fulfillment. It was natural.

After about three months of working at Nordstrom and getting my stride, I began to notice this woman watching me. I didn’t really know who she was, but I knew she worked at the store because I saw her at the Friday morning rallies. It felt like every time I looked up she was there watching me. At the time I didn’t understand why, but I knew it was me that she was watching.

Around that same period of time I made a new acquaintance at work.  She was a veteran salesperson with Nordstrom and offered me some great wisdom. What I carried away from that conversation was that there was a type of salesperson called a Personal Stylist, the role really intrigued me, and I was encouraged to go knock on the manager’s door. Ordinarily the thought of knocking on someone’s door would make me nervous and I would end up shying away from the opportunity, losing that moment.

Maybe it was that I was riding a wave of confidence from my accomplishments at work, or maybe it was that I had grown just enough to push myself out of my comfort zone, but whatever the motivation was, I marched myself straight to this woman’s office and knocked on her door. The door opened, and I was greeted by a friendly smile and familiar face. The woman who I had noticed watching me so many times before while I was working, smiled and said hello! 

I asked her politely if she had a moment to chat. Without hesitation Christina invited me to sit down and talk. She was beautiful. She too had a friendly smile. I asked her if she could tell me more about the personal styling program, and just like that she told me all about it. I listened intently, eyes wide, smiling. I was envisioning myself as a stylist as I heard her describing the role and responsibilities. When she was finished talking I inched myself to the edge of my chair and leaned in and asked her if I could be a stylist too.

I couldn’t even believe that those words had left my mouth. I had just put myself out there, made myself vulnerable. Told someone what I wanted. She said yes. She asked me to go back down to my department and told me she would contact me within 10 minutes because she needed to speak with the store manager. I did as I was told, but I couldn’t work. I was nervous and exhilarated. Then I heard my name on the intercom. I had a phone call. It was her. She asked me to come back up to her office.

Christina had a conversation with the store general manager and the outcome was in my favor. They had both approved my promotion to becoming a personal stylist at Nordstrom. But there was more. This wasn’t an every day promotion she wanted me to know. I had only been working at Nordstrom for just over three months and had never worked retail before. There was some kind of policy that employees were not eligible to move departments, let alone get promotions any sooner than six months. In addition, the fact that the promotion was approved in 10 minutes, Christina said, could very well have been “the fastest promotion at Nordstrom. Congratulations and welcome to the team!”

In the spirit of my One Step At A Time philosophy, I embraced the promotion and all that would come with it. There would be more to learn. Women’s, children’s, jewelry. There would be more to do. Phone calls, emails, follow-ups, room set up, clean up. Beginning in December of 2014 I was officially a personal stylist at Nordstrom in Palo Alto. I remained in Men’s Furnishings, selling, while managing appointments and taking the initiative to turn walk-ins into styling appointments.

Not slowly this time, but quickly, I was growing my book of customers, and I was getting appointment after appointment. My first women’s customer turned into my second, and from there I began to split my time on the men’s floor and women’s floor equally. I was the only stylist in the store at that time to be scheduled permanently in both men’s and women’s. Eventually, I left men’s to work exclusively on the women’s floor. I still booked many appointments with men, but I wanted to be upstairs in women’s.

The first few months of my time as a personal stylist flew by. My days were filled with appointments, walk-ins and fun sales experiences on the floor. My pace was fast. My heart was full. I was so completely satisfied and happy with the experiences I was having as a stylist that on my drives home, rivers of tears would flow from my eyes. There were times I couldn’t see the road because I was crying so hard. These were tears of joy; pure joy. I had never felt this before.

Eventually it came to my attention that my name was being called quite regularly at morning announcements. Usually names are mentioned for some kind of recognition or for being in the top 10 for sales the previous day. In my case it was often both. Customers were taking the time to either call in or write a personal letter to the store manager letting them know how much they valued their styling appointment with me and how highly they thought of me. I was also often in the top 10, and as time went by, in the top five of daily sales by employees storewide. Eventually I held a spot in the top 10 for overall sales in the entire store for the year to date. I was on track to being a million dollar seller; a status that’s rare and hard to come by.

But after a year and some months working at Nordstrom I left for another job. In those 15 months at Nordstrom, at that job with no prestige that anyone could get, I soared. I found happiness. I found myself. I faced my fears and I learned that I could fly on my own.

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Exit and Reentry

When Divya and I had our son Ayaan in 2018 in India, Divya decided to quit her job so that she could spend time with him in his early formative years, beyond the standard maternity leave given to mothers. We were privileged enough to not have to think about the financial impact, which made it easier for her to make this decision. 

As a father, I will be forever grateful to Divya for making that choice. As her husband, I was very worried about how she would reenter the job market once she was ready. 

In 2019, I was asked to lead global operations for Udacity, a change from my then-role as the managing director for Udacity in India. This was a great role for me but would require us to move to the US. Divya, a true life partner, immediately told me that I should take the new role, while she would focus on getting us settled and looking after Ayaan during the transition. This enabled us to relocate to the US in late 2019. 

In 2020, COVID hit and Divya took an even greater role of managing the home while I was working there as well. The days for me got busier — the edtech world was getting headwinds from the pandemic as more people turned to online learning. Our son was growing up fast and Divya kept on holding fort. When Divya decided to go back to work, I was firsthand witness to the challenges that she faced. 

During my career I have had the privilege of working with very impressive women. The conversations that I have had with them about their struggles in leaving work for their maternity break and coming back to work afterwards have been deeply troubling. I have often heard that when a mom returns she is expected to either show up in exactly the same way she showed up before she was a mom — or it is assumed that she will not show up the way she did before she was a mom. While in the former situation it is ignored that the mom also now has children to take care of, the latter situation denies her equal opportunities at work. Both of these biases make it difficult for moms to be their authentic selves in the workplace. 

As a leader, when I reflect on such stories, I can’t help but think about how much we could scale our teams with this incredibly capable pool of talent. But it will require us to make it easier for expectant moms to prepare for their maternity breaks and for moms to return to work afterwards. They were all great partners at work before they took a break to raise a child. And that does not change just because they took time off. Here are some questions we can think about: 

  • What are the practices to help more women stay in the workforce? 
  • Are managers trained in hiring and supporting young adults as they begin to consider and embark on the parenthood journey?
  • When parents-to-be in the organization tell their managers that they are having a baby, is it an easy and celebratory conversation?
  • Are there part time options for returning moms to ease their reentry?
  • Does the company have specific roles that are structured in a way that’s attractive to returning moms?
  • Can we normalize that moms returning to the workforce also have to take care of their children?

These are some of the questions we’re thinking about at Laddrr. If you’d like to help out, or if you’d like to share your own story, we’d love to hear from you.

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Moms and Careers — A paradigm shift

As a man, it never occurred to me to plan my job changes to coincide with the births of my kids. Two months after starting Eightfold, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our second child. While she suffered through nine miserable months of pregnancy (it was a particularly difficult one), I continued with my life. While she worried about things like iron deficiency anemia, gestational diabetes, depression and anxiety, fetal problems, high blood pressure, infections, hyperemesis gravidarum, and nausea, I was busy working and building Eightfold. As I reflected on the last few years, it became very apparent to me that there is a massive imbalance in our society — one that is preventing women from achieving true equality. Women are the primary caregivers and are expected to both take care of family and manage their careers at the same time.

Providing a few months of maternity leave is not enough. And neither is saying that paternity leave should be the same as maternity leave. What women endure through pregnancy, childbirth and nursing is just not the same as what their male partners do. And societal expectations of primary caregiving are not the same. How often have you heard of “soccer mom” (15M results on Google) vs “soccer dad” (just 1.2M results)?

Our commitment can’t be limited to maternity leave and some returnship related services. We need to do much more so that women in every stage of motherhood can thrive in their careers. So we couldn’t be more proud to introduce Laddrr — a platform providing holistic support across all stages to enable moms to climb higher in their careers. Stay tuned!