“In my personal experience, there are far fewer female mentors or role models in the US than what I was exposed to in India.” – Navneet Kaur
The GigSky team represents a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. 40% of our full-time employees are women. Our numbers across our offices in the US, Canada, Denmark and India, reflect our efforts to hire the best individual for the job, regardless of race, culture, gender or identity.
One of our Silicon Valley-based engineers, Navneet Kaur, has been with GigSky for eight years and serves as Project Lead/Principal Mobile Engineer. Despite GigSky’s strong diversity numbers, Navneet is the only female engineer on our US team, a fact indicative of the scarcity of women in technology fields across Silicon Valley. We tapped into Navneet’s experience to find out what led her to her current role and what challenges she believes exist for women in engineering today.
HOW DID YOUR INTEREST IN MOBILE ENGINEERING BEGIN?
I was born and raised in India and my upbringing was filled with the encouragement to do whatever I wished to do. I am fortunate in that way, my parents did not put expectations on my schooling or what I should study, and they did not tell me I needed to get married rather than pursue my education. I started my studies with lots of other young girls in areas like mathematics, but over time I saw those numbers dwindle as girls were either not supported in their studies or were encouraged to look for a husband.
The good news is that these expectations are changing in India, and today young women are experiencing a very different culture around schooling and careers. I am grateful that I had parents who valued my personal interests and strengths, and paved the way for me to pursue my own unique goals. That sense of freedom is how I ended up in college, studying electronics and communication engineering.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN YOUR CAREER, AND WHAT OPPORTUNITIES DID YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALONG THE WAY?
I started my career with Idea Cellular, one of the largest mobile operators in India. At the time the focus was at the operations level, how to implement new products from the marketing teams and how to deliver the best technical solution that improved the end user experience.
I found I was particularly drawn to what was happening in the black box – the IT infrastructure that allowed operators to keep up with the rapidly changing mobile landscape and allow for ever increasing mobile network traffic. After Idea, I had the opportunity to work with Nokia and focus on mobile integrations, which became one of my core strengths.
After a solid start to my career, I got married and ended up moving to the US with my husband. I took a break for three years and found it hard to dive back in, as everyone I spoke to wanted US experience. In many ways it is the same challenge that new entrants into the workforce face – everyone wants experience but until someone hires you, you can’t gain that experience. I eventually landed a job with Cricket Wireless before joining GigSky in 2011.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE FROM YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE IN INDIA VS THE UNITED STATES?
In my personal experience, there are far fewer female mentors or role models in the US than what I was exposed to in India. The companies I worked with in India has strong female representation in leadership positions, which impacted the working environment in many positive ways, including greater diversity of thought and unique ways of approaching challenges or opportunities.
In my current role at GigSky I never feel like I’m the token female engineer and have not been treated differently in any way. However, women are great mentors to one another and in this way it would be wonderful to have other women on the team to bounce ideas off of and bring new options to the table.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BIGGEST BARRIERS TO INCLUDING MORE WOMEN IN SENIOR TECHNOLOGY ROLES?
Everyone talks about how much of a challenge this is, but I believe if you only see it as a challenge it will never get fixed. Instead, we really should see it for the opportunity it presents.
I have a 3-year-old daughter who currently loves math, science and figuring out how things work. I recognize the many ways we could inadvertently steer her away from these interests and toward more ‘traditionally’ female roles or interests. This is where I go back to my own parents and remember that stepping outside of your comfort zone isn’t just about gender roles – my dad’s family were all farmers and he was the first to go into the field of engineering. That was as much an anomaly to him as it is for some girls to rise through the ranks of STEM fields, but it is those individuals who are willing to challenge boundaries who will make the difference and change perceptions. We’re already seeing that across industries and I am confident we’ll continue to see progress over time.
Companies can help this progression by adopting new attitudes toward work-life balance. It has been proven time and again that individuals – men and women alike – work better when they can have a more fluid engagement between home and office. Women often leave the workforce to have children, and in the tech world that is particularly challenging because technology changes so rapidly. Companies can, and should, offer programs or opportunities where women can continue to stay on top of the latest in their field even while raising young families.
I think it is also critically important for women to have support at home so they can better do their jobs. I have been fortunate that my husband shares equal responsibilities of both parenting and household duties to ensure I can focus on work when I need to. Without that, I do not believe it would have been possible for me to achieve everything I have to date. It is an important example for our daughter as well, who will grow up in a world with shifting attitudes toward gender equality, and we want her to see firsthand how it can and should work within families trying to manage so many responsibilities.
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D SHARE WITH OTHER WOMEN IN YOUR FIELD?
One thing I have learned in just the last few years is how critically important it is to step up and advocate for yourself. Women are often task masters who drive teams forward but the flashy end results might go to someone else on your team. Without your own advocacy, it may not be clear what you are doing to help the team achieve its goals.
Do not be afraid to shine a light on your strengths and talents and push for the opportunities, promotions or projects you deserve.
WHAT’S AHEAD FOR YOU?
I’m looking forward to greater opportunities to manage the team and challenging projects, and to work on new technologies that I’m interested in, as the constant change in this field opens the door to acquiring new knowledge and skills.
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