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Breaking Stereotypes

Breaking Stereotypes

Who am I? It’s a question that I often ask myself. Sangram and Alok thought that I was a breaker of stereotypes.
A fascinating journey of stories ensued followed by thought-provoking and heart-wrenching questions alike from the audience who had tuned in from all parts of the world. If I had to summarize in one word what I felt – it’s GRATITUDE
Sometimes you just live your life and realize how far it has taken you. Here are a few notable things I have learned along the way.

NEVER TAKE NO QUIETLY
I got my first job as a salesperson by indignantly storming into the office of the Co-Founder of Microland, demanding an explanation for why I was being denied a job in sales, on the basis of my gender. It’s important to selectively show your emotion at the right place, at the right time. You must have the courage to stand up for what you think is right.

WE ARE ALL HUMAN
My first encounter with Bill Gates was when I was introducing him at an event to mark his first visit to India, to a packed audience of the Who’s Who of the Indian industry. Nervous and intimidated as I was, I walked up to him, and said – Don’t be nervous, we are all just human beings at the end of the day. He repeated my comment on stage, and remembered my name. I got to be the girl who told Bill to just chill.
When I was bullish about India’s demand for premium computers, I had to present the business case to Steve Jobs in order to get supply diverted to India. He simply said – Badge on the Table. I happily accepted the challenge, not knowing it was a challenge until later. When my boss said – What have you done? I told him to relax too. My forecast was accurate, we sold everything and I got another word email from Steve. Nice!
So let’s get power distance out of the way, because we are all just human.

BUILD DEEP CONNECTIONS
Networking without purpose has served me well. I have worked for the world’s best tech companies and all of them happened through my network. At Intel, I asked our sales head whether I could buy him coffee one morning, and that led to a series of coffee chats. A couple of years later, when I wanted to relocate back home as I was pregnant with my first child, I couldn’t find an opportunity to transfer within Intel. He generously introduced me to his friend at Apple who was looking for someone to open the Apple office in Mumbai.
Be helpful to everyone. You have no idea of who might open doors for you one day.

FAMILY AND CAREER, DON’T CHOOSE
Support Systems are important both at work and at home. You have to be helpful first. But when you need it, you have to ask for help too. At work, I asked and got a huge people management opportunity. It meant I had to pack my bags to go live in a new city, with a 4 year old. My grandma came to live with us. Another time, my boss asked me to get an MBA. I took night classes. My husband looked after our 2 year old. When he had to be away for a few months, my parents and in-laws took turns to help out. It meant they had to put their own lives on hold. But that’s what your support system does.
Conversely, when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I changed roles to allow myself to stay close to him in his last days. My old and new team helped me get through those dark days. At the cost of repeating myself, that’s what your support system does.

BE INSPIRED AND LEARN
Your sources of inspiration can come from anywhere. Someone I know got a PhD while working for Google and being a mom to two kids. She just moved countries with her 2 kids, without her husband, and decided to pause a 14 year sales career, to come work in my CX team for a short term assignment as an individual contributor.
Learning never stops. We are surrounded by incredible stories of courage and passion to change the status quo. Find the stories that inspire you and learn from them.

WE CAN ALL BE ALLIES –
All of us have some sort of privilege. We can all be allies for those who were not as lucky as we were. I’ve had great mentors, both men and women who have stopped me from burnout, protected me from wrong career moves and been advocates for me when I am not in the room. I have learnt from their experiences.

BE LIMITLESS
Convincing the Bond franchise to change the storyline by getting the Bond heroine to detonate the bomb and save James Bond’s life, just to get my product placed in the movie – The World is Not Enough. Looking back, that movie changed the stereotypical representation of women in spy thrillers, not just Bond movies. Who could have thought going way beyond my job description would help me change the world?

In conclusion, I did not go about planning to break stereotypes. I said YES to opportunities and gave myself freedom to figure it out later. Most times, my experiments succeeded. Sometimes they failed. But if you don’t fail, you are not trying hard enough.
The boundaries of what’s possible is only in our heads. Unshackle your mind, the rest is easy.

– Anuprita Bhomick

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