Originally published at mastercard.com. Rama Sridhar is the Executive Vice President, Digital and Emerging Partnerships and New Payment Flows, Asia-Pacific at Mastercard. Mastercard ranked No. 5 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.
Growing up in India in the 1980s, I quickly learned that, as a girl from a modest family, I needed ingenuity and determination to achieve the tech career I craved.
My resolve helped launch a 33-year career that led me from technology to banking to creating a doomed startup to now leading the Digital and Emerging Partnerships and New Payment Flows unit for Mastercard in Asia-Pacific, based out of Singapore. It’s been a wild ride, but I wouldn’t change a moment.
Today, young female tech professionals are heading into a strange new world tinged by the pain and anxiety of the pandemic. Many, rightfully, worry their careers will be delayed or even derailed by COVID-19, with women bearing the brunt of childcare, eldercare and household work. And even though young women have more opportunities to let their leadership style shine than when I graduated, they still must overcome reams of unwritten challenges around equal pay and opportunities. The obstacles are that much greater in lower-income countries where girls lack access to education and women sometimes lack jobs in safe workplaces.
These challenges can be overcome only when companies, institutions and governments understand the collective opportunity for growth that bringing women into the workforce and keeping them there represents.
On the upside, with each new twist, this generation is learning how to adapt to uncertainty. They will emerge more resilient and mature, better equipped to navigate the workplace.
And the keys to success have changed little since my early years. That’s why when I share my experiences with young women starting out in tech, I encourage them to dedicate their energy to three key pursuits: building a professional network, establishing credibility and creating their own brand of leadership.
1. Seek Power in Connections
When I started my first job, I wish someone had told me that diligence and hard work alone are never enough. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the importance of developing relationships with people who can share their knowledge and help open doors. Remote working has done away with the relationships nurtured during coffee breaks and hallway encounters — at least temporarily — but that just means finding and keeping new connections has become even more important.
As in all relationships, it’s vital to show up (even virtually), be dependable and be willing to learn. People often forget that networking is a two-way street: Be there to help your boss and teammates and they’re more likely to return the favor when you need it.
2. Invest in Credibility
Influence is not direct authority. It is a much more subtle kind of power over people you have no real authority over. It is a skill just as critical to someone early on in their career as it is to someone 20 to 30 years into their working life. Even today, every day I must think about who I need to influence and strategize how to do so. At the heart of building influence is your credibility. Boiled down to basics, credibility means being consistent and honest and backing up promises with results.
3. Become Your Own Style of Leader
All successful leaders have their own approach, but clarity is the common thread that pulls them together. If people know what to expect from you, they will respect your actions more. That persona must come through in every interaction you have, be it face-to-face or virtually. Of course, you can have an original or unconventional style, but a wishy-washy approach will land you with unsatisfactory outcomes and stall your growth.
While there is no blueprint for dealing with adversity, I have discovered that each new challenge offers a new lesson. My hope is that the pandemic has taught young women to find balance in their lives, to support one another and to remember that experience is the best teacher.
My own experience with resets taught me to accept ambiguity and challenges and made me comfortable with building myself over and over again. Even if you slow down in your career for a few years, you are not losing out — you are gaining new experiences and perspectives, which will be useful when you accelerate again professionally.