Clearly Blue is excited to launch “The Gaggle” – a series of tête-à-tête with women achievers – people who seemingly have done it all and have it all! What makes these people tick? How do they balance the demands of modern-day work while managing their families too?
Let’s learn about these superwomen and draw lessons for our own lives.
Neeraja Ganesh is a veteran from the software industry who now heads INKHer, a joint initiative between JobsForHer Foundation and INK. With prior tenures at Capgemini, ANZ and Manhattan Associates, Neeraja has a passion for developing people. She proudly remarks that each person who has directly reported to her has grown into a very capable leader today, effectively steering large teams in their respective organizations. She is keen to share her rich experiences, both personal and professional, to help other professionals grow. Neeraja is mom to a teenager and runs a busy joint family while balancing her demanding role at work.
We recently had a pleasant interaction with this powerhouse leader.
Clearly Blue: Which book (or books) have you gifted the most, and why? Or tell us about books that have greatly influenced your life.
Neeraja: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I read this book many years after it was written. However, I had seen the videos and stories that Sheryl had posted, and I could relate to many of them. At women-centric meet-ups, the speakers would quote speeches from this book, which really inspired me. So, I think this is a book which every woman should read.
Clearly Blue: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a favourite failure?
Neeraja: I have never considered anything that comes my way as a failure. Over the years, if I were to look at instances that could be viewed as failure, those have actually been huge turning points in my life, both personally and professionally, and the turning points have always been for the better.
Take action and move forward. That has always been the philosophy which has helped me move ahead.
Clearly Blue: How do you handle personal feedback?
Neeraja: I don’t have a big ego. I am a person who can get along with anyone and I can take feedback from anyone. I’m able to build relationships because I don’t have a big ego that makes me feel and say that I’m the best. I have a very open mind. I listen to people. Something that I’ve learnt is that if somebody gives you feedback, you should not respond immediately because it always sounds defensive. Whether it’s right or wrong, I take some time and listen. I go back after a day or two with facts that support my stance that what the other person is saying is not true.
Clearly Blue: If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph.
Neeraja: My philosophy to anything is “What do I lose by doing this?” If you ask yourself this question, and if what you’re going to lose is something you can live with, then go for it.
This has helped me take various decisions at different points in life, both professionally and personally, which has brought me to where I am today, and it has left me extremely satisfied.
Clearly Blue: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
Neeraja: Volunteering. I have volunteered my time and my experiences to a variety of organisations and initiatives. I have learnt a lot from all of these and have been able to impact many people as well. So even if it meant having to take calls at night, I did it – not because it was related to my job or gave me an additional bonus, but because I believed in that cause.
That’s how I am in this role today, heading the JobsForHer Foundation, after working in the IT sector for 25 years. It has definitely been very satisfying and the impact that I’ve been able to create has been great.
Clearly Blue: Where are the places in a city where a professional woman can volunteer her time?
Neeraja: Nowadays, there are lots of job portals for women which also post volunteering jobs. JobsForHer is also an online portal where both big and small organizations put up volunteering positions. Likewise, there are a lot of portals out there offering such positions.
There are also some startups offering the same. Go to their websites, look up their career section and you will find tons of opportunities for volunteers as well.
Clearly Blue: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Neeraja: I would say, There’s someone out there looking for some advice, some community, some place to find the “stuff” that they are looking for. And I know who can give that advice, or has such a community or has that “stuff”. Basically I have networked heavily in the last two years, both online and offline and some people called me “Google baba”. So, I have almost a ready-made answer or contact available for people. When one idea leads to another and a bigger picture emerges. That has always led to improvements.
Clearly Blue: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Neeraja: The only way is to calm yourself down, relax and start the next day with the same kind of focus. Every new day is a different day, it will not be the same as the previous day. Don’t treat it as a failure or a loss of opportunity, because there is something better that will happen.
Clearly Blue: What do you do to calm yourself down?
Neeraja: I try to reflect on similar situations that happened in the past, and see how things have turned around from there. That inspires me and I tell myself that I’ve been in a storm before, but things worked out well. So, that’s what I do – reflect and retrospect.
Clearly Blue: What does a typical day in Neeraja’s life look like?
Neeraja: I am one of those lucky women who have a lot of support around me at home. I live in a joint family, my parents live in the same city and my husband works from home. I’ve had a lot of support to help me out in household chores as well. I don’t have to juggle much between work and personal life because there’s not much of me required at home.
At work, I don’t make a to-do list and tick it off. I know my priorities and act upon them. At the end of the day, if I have pending work, I make it my priority for the next day.
Clearly Blue: How do you manage the information overload in today’s digital world?
Neeraja: I think I am quite disciplined in that sense. If I am working on an activity which I need to finish , I tell the person pinging me that I will revert later. I can keep a distance, but I don’t switch off completely as well. The information does keep coming and I do try to take it, process it and give the required outcome, but I also know how to say “No” to some people. Whoever that person may be, I don’t feel shy or scared and I state what I have to state and manage it that way. But at night, I switch off completely after a particular time for that day. So the information can pile in after that, but I will look at it the next day
Clearly Blue: Tea or coffee?
Neeraja: Coffee. Filter coffee anyday!
Clearly Blue: Vacation on the beach or at a hill station?
Neeraja: Depends on the weather.
Clearly Blue: Western or Indian attire?
Clearly Blue: What advice would you give to college students?
Neeraja: Follow your passion. It’s okay if it’s different from what the majority is doing, because if it is your passion, you will excel and grow. And take action. You have to do something about what you are really passionate about.
Clearly Blue: What advice would you give to women professionals, women getting back to their careers after a break and aspiring women leaders?
Neeraja: She needs to know what she really wants in life. One of the most important decisions in a woman’s life is the choice of a life partner. This choice makes or mars a woman’s career if it has not been thought out well enough
Clearly Blue: What advice would you give to young mothers?
Neeraja: Build responsibility and discipline your kids at the earliest. Children are never too small and young for this. As they grow, their sense of responsibility will grow too. But, you need to instill it in them.