Meet four women leading the charge at Gap Inc. on leveraging their power to win and innovate, creating with audacity, and paving their own path to success in a highly competitive, male-dominated industry.
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Transcript of Gap, Inc Girl Geek Dinner Panel Discussion
Angie Chang: Welcome, everyone, to the final Girl Geek Dinner of 2020. We are really excited to have an evening with Gap girl geeks!
Sukrutha Bhadouria: So let’s end this year on a great happy note.
Teniola Adedipe: Hi, everyone. I just want to thank you for joining us. So we have three female leaders from our technology team who are leading the way in innovation. We’re excited to really share with you how we’re leveraging the power of our tech platform. And how do we win in a challenging marketplace?
Suja Ramachandran: It’s such an interesting field to be in because it’s changing by the minute. And as all of you have seen this year, it’s changing even faster than that. So how can I learn the fastest, build my career, and be able to provide value? That’s what I was looking for, the connection. And then Gap called.
Shruti Merkhedkar: It’s very important to have good people at work because that’s pretty much your second family. I am a mom of two kids so I have two little ones. And I had both my kids while working at Gap. So having a good work-life balance was very important for me. And I would say at Gap, I was very lucky to have great bosses, great mentors who always supported me throughout.
Belisa Mandarano: In every team that I had a chance to be a part of, you really build a sense of community with that team. And it really feels like a family.
Teniola Adedipe: What advice would each of the panelists have for other females looking to grow their career in tech?
Belisa Mandarano: This should be an even playing field. And everyone has a voice. And you should feel empowered to use that voice.
Suja Ramachandran: Bringing your colleagues along in that conversation, going past the fear to speaking up and then bringing also other women along who you see are hesitating is a big piece of creating that change in the industry.
Shruti Merkhedkar: For me personally, it’s very important for me to learn something new every year. So every time I went to my boss and I was like, “I want to do something new.” And I got it. So the opportunities that were presented to me were so exciting.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is just meant to be another way for people to feel like they can meet other people who are like-minded. And sponsoring companies can meet these amazing people. And so this way you have an in into the company. And you’re not just waiting to be approached when you want to make that career change or that job change.
Angie Chang: Welcome, everyone, to the final Girl Geek Dinner of 2020. We are really excited to have an evening with Gap girl geeks. My name’s Angie Chang, I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been doing Girl Geek Dinners in the Bay area for almost for 14, 15 years now. But what we really love to do is keep coming back and going to different events and meeting other amazing women in tech and retail and biotech. And learning about all the new things out there, because we’re always on the cusp of something new. Like this year it’s vaccine or AI. And then the next year we’re always, I think, learning. And that career development part is really important. Especially when you’re going into your 10th, 15th, 20th year on the job. It’s really good to also give back and get to know the next generation of women coming up, as well as support those in our ranks. So here is Sukrutha who is my co-organizer and co-founder of Girl Geek X. And I’ll let her introduce herself.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, everyone. Welcome, just like Angie said, to our final Girl Geek Dinner for 2020. As some of you might know, this was something that–we live in a world now where it’s possible for us to turn our events virtual. So this has been wonderful. At least Angie and I, when we would be driving all around the Bay Area to get to a dinner, we’d reflect on what our wins had been. We’d give each other inspiration. And so this is just meant to be another way for people to feel like they can meet other people who are like-minded. And sponsoring companies can meet these amazing people like yourself. And attendees can get to know about a company before even joining the company or interviewing at the company. They get insight into what it’s like to work at the company.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: And so this way you have an in into the company. And you’re not just waiting to be approached when you want to make that career change or that job change. And so always, always be on the lookout for yourself. Build your network, build your knowledge base of what companies might be… the ones that you might want to work at. So whenever you’re ready for that change, you already know what your shortlist is.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: 2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone. Lots of blessings as a result of us working from home and not in an office, but also a lot of challenges. And so let’s end this year in a great happy note. Thank you so much to Gap for sponsoring. And as you all might have seen, we also do virtual conferences. And so if you’d like your company to participate in the conference, do reach out to Angie and I. Our contact details are on the website girlgeek.io. And we’d love to partner with you. That’s it. Angie, do you want-
Angie Chang: Yeah. So a little bit more. We have our annual virtual conference coming up on March 8th. It is going to be our fourth virtual conference. And the theme is resilience. And we’re really looking and reflecting and thinking about how we’re going to dig in our heels and stay in the game for the next 20 years. We keep hearing that a problem with women in tech is that we’re not retained. So we’re really working on how we can be more resilient ourselves, as well as continue to help mentor and support each other through our careers.
Angie Chang: And one more thing. Let’s see, we have podcasts, we have great schwag on our website. And we’re always excited to hear your questions. So please, please ask them of our panelists tonight, put them in the Q&A below. There’s a Q&A feature. You can submit your questions and chat with other attendees. So right now I’m curious if you can drop in the chat right now, where you’re Zooming in from, so we can say hi to you. Awesome. A lot of the West Coast.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: We see people who have dialed in from Pleasanton, LA, Menlo Park. I wonder who’s the furthest. Half Moon Bay.
Angie Chang: So we have a very strong Bay Area presence. It used to be called the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. But now we’re just Girl Geek X. X is a variable for all the different things that we’re doing. And we’re always listening and talking about what’s next. So please keep us in your minds in terms of what you’re working on next. We are always thinking about how we can best support all the girl geeks out there with events like this, our virtual conference, and other things to be developed in the future. So, I guess, we’ve gone on long enough.
Angie Chang: And we are really excited to introduce you to a panel of Gap Inc. girl geeks tonight. So Teni is going to be our moderator. She is the head of operations for Gap special projects where her responsibilities include developing and implementing operational plans, leading and buying inventory, and much more. And before this, she was on the data and analytics team. Before she joined Gap, she spent time in the retail industry, both as a consultant with McKinsey and directly with retailers like Levi’s and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you so much for introducing me, Angie. So hi, everyone. I just want to thank you for joining us. As Angie mentioned, my name is Teni and head of operations for special projects at Gap. So just wanted to give you guys a couple of things about me before we introduce our three amazing tech leaders who are joining me. And I will introduce in just a couple of minutes. So just want to give you guys the reason why I’ve stayed in retail. And I’ll make sure each of our panelists also answer the same question. So you guys get an idea as to why we love working at Gap.
Teniola Adedipe: So for me, I love retail because it’s tangible. I think there’s very few industries that you can be in and actually touch, feel the product and what you’re working towards every day. I love going into the stores, talking to customers. And all of those reasons are the reasons I stay in retail. So, I think, particularly why I love Gap, one, is just the fact… the people. Everyone that you’re going to meet today is amazing. And all of my colleagues that I’ve worked with at Gap have just been awesome. So, I think that, in addition to the fact that Gap is one of the few places, I think, I can truly be myself. I can bring my whole self to work. And things that I’m involved in inside of work and outside of work, I can do at Gap.
Teniola Adedipe: Another thing that I do with a lot of my time is I’m actively involved in our employee belonging groups. And I’m actually the co-chair of our African-American network group. So I’m actually the chair based out of New York. And we have another one based out of San Francisco. So the fact that I’m able to do a job… used to be in data and analytics and spent a lot of my time there focused on customer analytics. But also spend a lot of my time really giving back and really trying to improve the community at Gap is really special to me. And that’s why I love Gap.
Teniola Adedipe: So I’m going to transition onto our three female leaders. So I will introduce you to them now. So we have three female leaders from our technology team who are leading the way in innovation for our global portfolio brands. So we’re deep in the holiday season right now. So everyone is super entrenched in their work. We’re just coming off Black Friday. So we’re excited to really share with you how we’re leveraging the power of our tech platform. And how do we win in a challenging marketplace?
Teniola Adedipe: We’re also going to spend some time with you guys really just getting their best advice on how to navigate a male dominated industry. So, really excited that we’re here to talk with you at Girl X Geek. And we’re going to kind of jump right into it. And then at the end of our Q&A, we will make sure that we leave time for all of us to answer questions and talk to you guys directly. So please drop questions in the Q&A. We’ll be taking them near the end. I’m looking forward to seeing all of your questions. So with that said, let’s jump right in.
Teniola Adedipe: Would love for our panelists to kind of show their faces. So we have Suja. We have Shruti. And let me make sure. And we have Belisa. So, I think, those are the three. So who wants to start first? I guess, Belisa you’re first on my screen. So why don’t you tell us about yourself.
Belisa Mandarano: All right. Can you guys hear me okay?
Teniola Adedipe: Yeah.
Belisa Mandarano: Awesome. Hi, my name is Belisa. I’m Director of IT Operations. I oversee the change management and IT service level management teams at Gap. I have been working at Gap for about 13 years, a little over 13 years actually. I started working in Old Navy’s online division. And then made my way over to the IT division about eight years ago. So some of the things that I’m doing in the day-to-day is overseeing the daily pipeline of technical platform changes that get made across all of Gap Inc. And so myself and my teams–they are the change gurus and folks who shepherd all of those changes through the organization to make sure that the changes that we’re making across the platform, that we are reducing risk as much as possible. And that we’re making sure that everyone is aware of what’s happening across the platform. That’s me.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you for introducing yourself. And, Suja, you’re up next.
Suja Ramachandran: Hi, everyone. I’m Suja. I lead the product team that powers our loyalty program at Gap. I love what I do at Gap. And I’ve been here about three years. And in that time I’ve worked both in the supply chain group, as well as the digital group. And loyalty has been in the digital group. What I primarily do is I look at both our credit card program and the program we have, where you can earn points and you use your rewards in the stores. And I try to make sure that the best experience comes to life in everything that you do. So I love what I work on. One of the biggest things that I love about it is very similar to what Teni talked about is how do you really connect with our customers? How do you find out what they want, anticipate it, and bring it to life? And how do we do that with technology?
Suja Ramachandran: So transitioning from supply chain to digital was a big change for me. But it really opened my eyes to we can do anything. So how do we take what we’re really good at and bring it to life regardless of the domain we’re in, and the industry we’re working in is what I like to do with mentoring those that I work with at Gap. One of the things I love at Gap is that I get to not just mentor girls outside of Gap, but mentor employees within. To figure out how do we get a career path for everyone? And how do we get people to be really curious about what’s around them and bring what they enjoy to life? So just a little bit about me. I’ve only been here about three years, but I’m really excited about what I’ve worked on and what’s to come.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you so much, Suja. And last but not least, Shruti, you’re up.
Shruti Merkhedkar: Thank you, Teni. Hi, everyone. First of all, super excited to be here. So thank you, Girl Geek, for giving us this opportunity today. Can’t see all of you, but just happy to hear so many voices after almost 10 months of lockdown. So this is a good change. And a little bit of background about myself. I’m originally from India. Did my schooling there, did my undergrad there. Came to US in 2006, came as a consultant for Gap. And then decided to stay here. So it’s been 14 years. So it feels like forever. I love working here. As Suja and Belisa said, it’s a great place to be. And I started my career in Gap as a systems analyst. And currently, I’m working as a senior director in the cloud strategy and services space. So, happy to be here.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. So let’s jump right in with our questions. So I know everyone mentioned how long they’ve been here. So let’s start with Suja who’s been here about three years. What made you decide to switch to retail and come to Gap?
Suja Ramachandran: That’s a great question. I would love to say it was a part of this master long-term plan that I’d charted out, but life doesn’t work that way. So for me, I was looking for, not just a challenge, but I wanted to connect the dots with what I was passionate about, what I was good at doing, and what I had never done yet. And my background is primarily in supply chain, but in the technology sector from a services perspective. So I’d worked in B2B technology. I’ve typically been the vendor. So a lot of you on the call know what that is. So you provide the services or software for others.
Suja Ramachandran: What I wanted to do is connect my background in product management, and supply chain, and solving problems, and get closer to the customer. And I knew where I could get exposure to something I’ve never really known before was in retail. It’s such an interesting field to be in because it’s changing by the minute. And as all of you have seen this year, it’s changing even faster than that. So how can I learn the fastest, build my career, and be able to provide value? That’s what I was looking for, the connection, and then Gap called. So when I came to Gap, I was really able to bring that to life. But that transition was something I knew I wanted to make. I just didn’t know how it would come to life. So I was so happy when it came to life at Gap.
Teniola Adedipe: Perfectly serendipitous, love that. So we’ve got someone who’s been here three years. And then we’ve got people who’ve been here more than 10 years. So, Shruti and Belisa, what’s kept you here all this time? Shruti, why don’t you go first?
Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. So for me, there are two main things. First, is the people. It’s very important to have good people at work because that’s pretty much your second family. I am a mom of two kids so I have two little ones. And I had both my kids while working at Gap. So having a good work-life balance was very important for me. And I would say at Gap, I was very lucky to have great bosses, great mentors who always supported me throughout. So that definitely, was priority number one.
Shruti Merkhedkar: And then second, for me personally, it’s very important for me to learn something new every year. So every time I went to my boss and I was like, “I want to do something new.” And I got it. So the opportunities that were presented to me were so exciting. It kept me current. And that’s what kept me here. So, love everyday working at Gap.
Teniola Adedipe: I love that. So, Belisa, what about you?
Belisa Mandarano: For me, it’s been a very similar journey. When I started 13 years ago, I started in the online division. And the job that I was doing there was related to bringing marketing content to life on the websites. And after doing that for a while, I was like, “I really want to learn more about what happens on the backend side of things.” And so every time I looked and jumped to a different role… because being there that long, you have the opportunity potentially to move to different types of roles. So for me, it was really about building new skill sets. And trying to figure out, “What’s the next challenge for me? How can I solve these problems?” And in every organization, there’s some sort of problem to solve. And that was something that was really exciting for me. I was able to find those opportunities at each step in the road.
Belisa Mandarano: And then of course, both Shruti and Suja, they mentioned people, the people is key. In every team that I had a chance to be a part of you really build a sense of community with that team. And it really feels like a family that you’re with. So being on the online side or being down in the tech side there are so many people who rally together to make you feel like you’re family. And that was something that was really important for me, as well.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Thank you, guys for all your answers. So want to make sure that we’re involving our attendees here. I’m going to ask you guys a question, so I’d love you guys to answer in the chat. How many times have you actually changed career paths or taken on a new role? So just put the number in the chat. It can be one, it could be five. Would just love to get an idea how many times you guys have changed. All right. We’ve got five. Five, two, four. All right. So we’re kind of in the five range. We’ve got a six. Okay great. So we have a huge range of people on the call with different… they’ve taken many different roles. Because clearly people have changed from all the way up from zero all the way up to six is what I’ve seen kind of the highest in every few years.
Teniola Adedipe: I think, the thing that’s great is that we’re a big company at Gap Inc. And there’s a lot of opportunity to take on new roles and career paths. Even myself, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to go from data and analytics, which I love, doing customer. And then actually, switching to an operations role. So I’m able to actually stay at the same company and take on a completely new career path. So I wanted to make sure that we gave Shruti and Suja the opportunity to tell us about Gap Inc. and how it’s helped to foster their own growth and development. So, Shruti, would you like to go first?
Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. As I said, I started my career in 2006. So I started as a systems analyst in Ohio supporting the warehouses. And as I said, every year I wanted to do something new. Gap gave me all the opportunities that are possible whenever I thought, “I want to get trained on a certain technology to stay current.” That opportunity was given to me. In fact, I did my MBA staying with Gap. So it definitely, helped foster my growth.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s amazing. And even myself, I actually learned how to code when I was at Gap. So able to take part of a bootcamp. And then actually, was able to apply my knowledge. And I work with data scientists every day, or used to. And they were even very surprised at the fact, they were like, “When did you just learn how to code?” And they were like, “How are you so good at this?” And I was like, “See, this is what you can learn at Gap.” So just with that story, we’d love to hear, Suja, how has Gap Inc. helped foster your own growth and development?
Suja Ramachandran: It’s a great question. One of the reasons I also came to Gap is Gap is not afraid to take risks. And that was something I was looking for from a career perspective, a company to go to that be at risk taking on me, my career, as well as the technology I’m working on, investing on different things. How can we take those risks? Because I was working at a startup at one point, too. So I wanted the startup mindset, but the risk taking an investment of a company like Gap. Because there’s a safety net there too.
Suja Ramachandran: So when I came to Gap working in supply chain, being able to invest in different robotics and automation, and supply chain is something I was very interested in. And it was one of those things where you could dive right in. And it wasn’t that, “You’re new and you can’t be a part of it.” It’s, “What ideas do you have? Bring it to the table. Be curious, bring your ideas, talk about the business case, tell me what investment you need. Let’s try it.” That is what I wanted to hear. And it opened up my eyes to what you can try, because Gap is all over, it’s huge. So you can try a lot of different things. And there’s multiple brands as well. So you can try different flavors of what you want to do.
Suja Ramachandran: A part of that growth… another thing I really appreciate about Gap is my leadership teams were thinking about my growth before I asked about it. So even before I could say, “What’s next?” They went, “How about digital? How about leading the loyalty team?” And I said, “Let’s go, let’s do it. Let’s try.” So I love that that risk taking component is not something that requires me to step up. But the company comes forward and says, “How can we help you take those risks?” So that’s something that’s helped me from a career development. Because there’s always a little bit of fear there on what’s next and how am I going to cross that next boundary? But being able to do that with the community that’s there at Gap has helped me a lot.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s a great kind of call out. I’m sure so many people who’ve switched careers or changed roles understand that fear that comes with trying something new. So, really great for you to highlight that, Suja. So I’m sure everyone here doesn’t necessarily think of technology when they think about retail. So what makes working in tech in the retail industry so exciting? So, Belisa, can you help answer that question first for us?
Belisa Mandarano: Sure. What’s exciting for me is learning all about what happens behind the scenes when we implement technologies that help out the customer. So some of the technologies that we have are like ship from store where we’re basically utilizing our stores as little mini DCs, or distribution centers. Other things like buy online, pickup in store, these are technologies that are across the industry. But when we look at how we implement them at Gap it’s so interesting. And being in the IT service management team I get to see how it starts right from the beginning all the way to the end, which is super, super cool.
Belisa Mandarano: So from the moment that we actually procure hardware that’s going to run the applications that these live on. That’s a part of the pipeline in getting this to deployment. And then also working with all of the teams behind the scenes to make sure that when those final deployments are getting ready to go, that they go as seamless as possible. So for me, that’s what makes it exciting for me.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. So would love to shift gears a little bit and talk about our favorite topic of 2020, the pandemic. So as you can imagine, everyone’s shopping online, we’re all shopping online. I shopped online yesterday. And you just can imagine we’ve seen a huge growth in the number of online customers. So it’s about literally 165% is what we’ve been seeing already. So would love to get your thoughts on how has the pandemic shifted the work you’re doing? And I would love the panelists to even talk about how has the pandemic shifted the work you’re doing? And just how things are changing for you? Just as our panelists are answering the same question. Shruti, would love your thoughts on how the pandemic has shifted the work that you’re doing day-to-day.
Shruti Merkhedkar: Absolutely. I would say the whole retail industry is going through a major transformation with this pandemic. There are certain features that Belisa talked about ,ship from store, buy online pickup in store. All of these are new features that were introduced. And given that I’m primarily in the tech space, the biggest shift for us was that this year 40% of sales were comprised on our online platform. And that’s a big shift. When we started the online platform, it used to constitute 10% to 20%. Now it is going neck to neck with the stores so that’s a major shift. A lot of emphasis is being given to tech. And being in cloud strategy, I’m just super excited about all the innovation that we are planning to do in the coming year. So very, very exciting times for tech, I must say.
Teniola Adedipe: Love that. So speaking of tech, I think, all of our panelists have wonderful, amazing careers in tech. But we all know, as I’m sure all of our panelists know, tech is a very male dominated industry. What advice would each of the panelists have for other females looking to grow their career in tech? I want everyone to answer this question because I feel it’s super important. So let’s start with you, Suja.
Suja Ramachandran: Sure. No, it’s a great question. I would say a couple of different things. What’s helped me a lot… and I go back to, I think, this theme of resilience. There is this concept of being careful with what you say, being careful about speaking up. And it being challenging sometimes in a room of looking around you and it’s all male. That’s happened in every role I’ve ever been in. At some point, it makes you pause for a minute. And I don’t know why. It’s not something I’ve ever looked at going, “Why should that stop me from asking a question?” The challenge is always powering through it and just asking it. In the end of the day, if you can speak up regardless of the audience, regardless of who’s in the room, regardless of the fear that you may feel about speaking up, that’s always going to move you forward. But you have to get past that feeling.
Suja Ramachandran: And what you should also recognize is that when you look around the room and you find that you are the only one, always be thinking about, “How do I change that status quo? And how do I make sure you’re not the only one thinking that?” So something that opened my eyes is I’m speaking to a male colleague one time about it. And sharing that I was thinking that way. And he said, “That never even occurred to me.” He said, “I’m sitting in a meeting with 50 men and one female.” And never did he look around and say, “Wow, that’s odd. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way,” but I did. And I thought that in every meeting I’m in.
Suja Ramachandran: How do we also change the conversation where it’s not the lone female thinking that, but it’s every member of that 50 person meeting that thinks that. And says, “How do I change the status quo?” So bringing your colleagues along in that conversation, going past the fear to speaking up. And then bringing also other women along who you see are hesitating is a big piece of creating that change in the industry that’s helped me along the way. I’ve had other women who’ve paused and said, “Suja’s trying to say something, let her speak.” And that’s been something that’s opened my eyes to how much it matters. So those are a couple of things that’s helped me along the way.
Teniola Adedipe: It’s great. Let me see, Shruti, why don’t you go next?
Shruti Merkhedkar: Sure. That’s a very good question and a very important topic. I’m sure all of us women go through this through our journey. So my advice based on my experience too all my girlfriends here today. First, the fact that probably you are the only woman in a room full of men, do not let that affect you. Why should it matter? It just should not matter. In fact, you should feel empowered that you are driving the show in a room full of men. So use that to your advantage.
Shruti Merkhedkar: And the second piece of advice that I have, which is more important than the first one is help other women. Help them grow, help them learn, hire more women. And I practice that personally. So we need to look after each other. And that’s what my advice would be.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. It’s a great answer. I think looking after each other is super important. And, Belisa, what about you?
Belisa Mandarano: What I would like to say about that is sort of piggybacking off of what Shruti and Suja already said. But I tend to look at this from this should be an even playing field. And everyone has a voice. And you should feel empowered to use that voice. Because what you’re thinking at a particular time, if you’re sitting in a meeting. Regardless if it’s a meeting full of men or a meeting full of women or co-ed you should feel empowered to put your ideas out there. Because that is how really great things happen is when you put new ideas out on the table that maybe other people haven’t thought of. Or maybe other people in the room have thought of the same thing, but they’re too afraid to speak up. So feel empowered to use your voice is what I would say.
Teniola Adedipe: No, I think that’s great. And actually, it’s a great transition into our next question, which is about self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is an important skill to develop a career. What’s your advice for others on that topic? Belisa, I’ll start with you because your answer just kind of transitioned perfectly into that.
Belisa Mandarano: What I would like to say about that is… so when you’re using your voice to get what your ideas are out there… I’m sorry, can you repeat the question one more time?
Teniola Adedipe: Sure. Self-advocacy.
Belisa Mandarano: Oh, self-advocacy. So what I was going to say about that was that there was a time when I was not going to be able to make it for a meeting. And it was a really important meeting with leadership that I really had some ideas that I wanted to put out there. And some feedback that I wanted to give about how we were operating. And I wasn’t going to be able to make the meeting. And I was so upset about not being able to make it. And, I think, Shruti was one of my partners during this timeframe. And so I started brainstorming about how I could potentially get my feedback into that meeting so that my voice could be heard. And what I did is I wound up making a video expressing all of the things and the feedback that I wanted to be able to present. And the video actually got wound up being played in the meeting. And there was some really great stuff in discussion that occurred as a result of me bringing my feedback to the table. So that’s what I would say about that.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. So, Suja, I’ll pass it on to you. Do you have anything to say about self-advocacy?
Suja Ramachandran: Yeah, I had a mentor once tell me that, “There is not ever going to be another voice marketing you, other than you that’s better than you marketing yourself. There’s just not, it’s never going to happen. So you’ve got to be the first person in line knowing how to market yourself. And there’s a certain power in that.” And so one thing I encourage everyone to do is know how to market yourself. And be very prescriptive to the audience you’re marketing to. Because the other thing is, from a self-advocacy having the same statement on how I present myself to everyone doesn’t work. Having a great pitch line, one liner pitch line about myself doesn’t work. It has to be very specific to what I’m trying to get across in terms of a point. Am I trying to get a role on a project? Am I trying to develop my career? Am I trying to get a new mentor? Do I want a pay raise? Do I want a promotion? Depending on what I want, my pitch might be a little bit different. But I have to know how to advocate for myself in these different roles.
Suja Ramachandran: One of the things I did find just from a professional growth perspective is, there weren’t a lot of tools out there to tell me how to do that. What there were tools on is, there’s a lot about how you market yourself from a resume perspective on interviews, et cetera. But once you’re in a company, how do you network and advocate for yourself in the right fashion with the different people? It’s something you learn almost yourself or you have to learn through mentors and network, especially your female network. And that took a long time for me. But once I was able to do it, you start finding the pattern that it works. And when it works, you find out how it works and you grow on top of doing that. But self-advocacy, incredibly important. And not relying on others, just others, to advocate for you, it’s so powerful in terms of your career.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Thank you so much, Suja. And, Shruti, anything you would like to add about self-advocacy?
Shruti Merkhedkar: Suja, you took the words away from me. I just want to say that if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. So go ask for it. And I have a very funny but interesting example to share based on my personal experience. So when I was working as a systems analyst in Ohio so my ex-boss, who wasn’t my boss then, he visited me from San Francisco in Ohio. So I was very excited to meet this cool team who has come from the headquarters. And I was like, “Tell me what’s happening.” And I wanted to learn all about what happens in the headquarters. And then I didn’t know how to tell him that I want more work. I want more interesting work.
Shruti Merkhedkar: So I just went to him and I said, “I have nothing to do. I need more work.” And he till date uses that as an example. And he’s like, “This is the first person in my life who has come to a person who’s senior to her and told him that she doesn’t have anything to do. She wants more work.” And as a result, I got promoted. I got a team. So the team that I was working in, I started leading that team. So I don’t know if it’s self-advocacy, but whatever it was just be honest and just ask for it. Go get it.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s amazing. We actually have a question in the chat saying, “Do you have good women role models in your current roles?” I think this is a good kind of segue talking about mentors. So mentors have been a huge part of my career. And they’ve helped me as I’m transitioning and thinking about what I want to do next and how do I get there? And I’m sure a few of you also have mentors. Would love to kind of hear from Belisa about mentorship. So why do you think mentorship is important? And what have you gained from it?
Belisa Mandarano: I’m actually a really huge advocate for having mentor and I’m going to make that plural mentors because I’ve had a few in my time. And I’ve found that the best mentors are folks who are not in the same industry as you are. And the reason that that is, is you get really caught up in the day-to-day work of what you’re doing. And the folks that you’re working with also are sort of in the same environment. But if you have someone who is maybe from the outside or from a different industry to talk to and discuss some of the things that are happening in your space, they can provide an unbiased perspective that can really help you think in different ways about how to tackle maybe an issue that you’re dealing with. Or maybe even how to maneuver career wise where you want to go based off of their experiences in other areas.
Belisa Mandarano: And what I would say about that in addition to that is that a good mentor for me, has always been someone who asks you questions to help challenge your thinking. And also gives you homework. So every time I have a session with one of my mentors, they usually ask me to take something away and go figure out a particular thing. If it’s something that I’m struggling with they’ll give me some homework. And then the next time that I meet with them we sort of have that conversation. And they are also learning from you because maybe the things that you’re dealing with in your particular area is not something that they’ve dealt with. And so it’s really great to have that connection, and you’re sharing back and forth with each other.
Teniola Adedipe: I love that. Thank you so much for that response on mentorship. It seems you’re very passionate about it and very involved with it with your own mentors. So I know we’re running up against time. I’m going to combine our last two questions for you guys into one. I’d love every single person on the panelists to answer this. So the first question that I’d like you guys to answer is, what piece of career advice that someone has given you that’s really stuck with you that you would like to share with all of our attendees today? And because everyone I’m sure wants to know, are you hiring? And what do you look for in a candidate? So if each person could answer those two questions. We’ll just go in a round robin. And then we’ll open it up to Q&A. So let’s start with, Suja.
Suja Ramachandran: Great. I think, what’s helped me it’s when I’ve been concerned… I’ve had about five or six career shifts that have come through with different companies, different things where I’m trying to seek, “What do I want to do?” I’m always striving for figuring out a challenge that I’m passionate about, but that I want to continue learning. And that I feel like I can keep growing in. When I start connecting the dots to say, “Do all of these make sense together? And am I doing things that are too disparate from each other?” I had a mentor give me advice that really helped. That said, “It’s not about connecting the clear dots, it’s about connecting the passion.” Figuring out you may have done a disparate number of career choices. But figuring out what you loved about every single thing you did should help you get one step closer to the next thing that you love doing.
Suja Ramachandran: And at one point you might find a position you want to be in for 20 years, but you also may not. And you might want to keep shifting. And both directions are okay. And that opened my eyes because at some point I would waver between, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I changing roles too many times or too many companies?” And that made me not just feel great, it made me feel like I had a plan all along, and this was what it was. So I try to connect those dots.
Suja Ramachandran: In terms of hiring, I do want to say, I love curiosity. I’m a just innate curious person, but when I’m hiring, it’s not necessarily I’m looking for someone who has skill one, two, three. I’m always looking for passionate, curious people, because that is really hard to teach someone. You can’t teach someone curiosity and drive. You can teach someone a lot of other things. But that thing when it comes to being curious and trying anything to try to get to a solution or to the next step, that’s really hard to teach someone. So that’s what I look for, that passionate curiosity and drive. Bring it to the table, we’ll hire you. It’s less about the skills and that you’ve got exactly what Gap needs. You’ve got curiosity we need you.
Teniola Adedipe: Perfect. So I want to be on Suja’s team. I think I’m passionate and curious.
Suja Ramachandran: You’re hired.
Belisa Mandarano: I think I want to be on Suja’s team.
Suja Ramachandran: Fine, we’ll do it.
Teniola Adedipe: Exactly. Great. So, Shruti, you’re up. So would love to get your piece of advice that you would like to share with our attendees today.
Shruti Merkhedkar: Yes, absolutely. And it ties back into what Suja said. So two advice. One, knowledge is power, so keep learning, keep growing. Never get comfortable with status quo. Always challenge it. And second piece of advice that has helped me grow as well in this company is don’t be a problem spotter, be a problem solver. Get things done. That always makes you stand out. Because believe me, it sounds very simple, but there are not many people out there who want to make it happen. They just want to play the victim card. And that’s where, I think, women have that strength. That’s where women stand out. So get things done. So that’s my career advice to all of you.
Shruti Merkhedkar: And in terms of hiring, I’m not hiring right now, but I will be hiring in the future. So I am looking for cloud strategy specialists. Someone who’s trained in Azure, preferably, GCP would be a good plus to have. So any cloud exposure that you have, interested in all cloud experts out there, reach out to me.
Teniola Adedipe: All right. So if you’re interested in the cloud, Shruti’s your gal. And last but not least, Belisa.
Belisa Mandarano: Hi. So for me, I think, I would say a couple of things. Don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. So one of the things that’s really helped me along the way is I really want to get into trying to figure out how things work. And being down in it with my team. Because it’s really hard for me to lead a team if I don’t really understand the struggles that they’re going through. And so, typically, what I’ve done is come up, I’ll come into a team, and if it’s something that’s related to managing a project, I’ll manage a project on my own just to see like what it really means and what they’re going through. And so that’s what I would say. I would say don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and get right in it.
Belisa Mandarano: In terms of hiring, I’m not hearing at the moment. I hope to be hiring. If I were hiring, I would be looking for folks in the IT service management space. With folks who have a change management experience and service level management experience. In the service level management space, there’s a lot of data analysis that happens and coordinating and communicating with multiple business partners across the organization. And so if you have those skills, would love to hear about it.
Teniola Adedipe: Love it. So just want to thank our panelists for the lovely questions they’ve answered and the energy they’re bringing to this. So we’re not done yet. So we have our last 15 minutes. So what we’re going to do is actually answer your questions coming in through the Q&A. So I’m going to read through the questions and anyone who wants to answer feel free to jump right in. So our first question is from Kat. So she says, “What kinds of tech challenges do your sales associates and store managers experience? How does your team address them? And do you provide training to help them?” Would any of you guys have any experience with the store teams?
Shruti Merkhedkar: Yes, I managed the team for five years, so probably I should take that. So one of the most common issues that we used to get from stores is disconnects network issues. Because every store has a local network. And we were in this process of transitioning from the… Belisa, help me here? What were those… 4690s, the big giant… the point of sales IBM 4690s. We were transitioning from those to our cool mobile devices. So the majority of issues that we had were network related where the associates were complaining about app not loading, app getting disconnects on the 4690s or on the mobile devices. So that’s the most common complaint. And what was the second question? I think there were two.
Teniola Adedipe: Hold on. The second question is, “How did your team address them? And did you provide training to help them?”
Shruti Merkhedkar: We have a great support framework. So we have level one store support teams. So the stores call in the issues into the level one store support teams. And then so they have their run books. So they do the first level of triage for any store issues. So just to reduce the meantime to resolve an incident. So they are trained. They are very well trained on all the day-to-day issues, so they help out. If they are not able to triage and resolve issues, then they escalate it to the level two or the product teams. So the necessary advice is given to the stores, and then if they need any specific trainings they are enabled with all of that cool stuff.
Teniola Adedipe: Perfect. Thank you for answering Kat’s questions. So next question we have up here is from Jill. Her question is, “Is there a formal internal mentorship program at Gap?” Anyone want to take that? All right, I will take that one. So, I don’t believe there is a formal mentorship program. I know some of our actual equality and belonging groups, similar to the African-American network group I’m a part of have mentorship programs that they’ve built out. But they’re pretty informal. It’s really just kind of matching people who are interested in being mentors with mentors who are kind of volunteering their time.
Teniola Adedipe: I would say the thing that I’ve learned about mentorship is that it works best when it’s organic. So sometimes you don’t even know who’s going to become a mentor. It could be someone you worked with. It could be someone that you collaborated with on a project and all of a sudden, you’re getting advice from them or asking for their input. And that kind of relationship evolves over time. What I will say is that as I’ve continued to grow in my career, it’s really just having like my spidey sense of just when that’s happening. Because when that’s happening, you start to realize like, “Hey, is this someone I can kind of continue to get to know? How do I make sure I continue to nurture this relationship?” Because, I think, without nurturing it and trying to invest in it, that’s really where you start to see the fruits of mentorship. And also reverse mentorships. There’s a lot of senior people that can also learn a lot from you.
Teniola Adedipe: So while there might not be anything formal at Gap, I think, a lot of people find mentors at Gap through the way that we work collaboratively across teams, across different functions. And I think there’s lots of opportunities to find people who will help you throughout your career as you continue to grow.
Belisa Mandarano: Teni, what I would also add to that is there is a Mentorloop program that I’m actually a part of. And you can find more information. We can get that information out, right? To folks if we need to?
Teniola Adedipe: Yes, absolutely.
Belisa Mandarano: So it’s mentorloop.com. That particular program is a formalized program. And there are some folks within the Gap who are a part of that program. But the program pairs folks up with people who are out all over the United States.
Suja Ramachandran: There’s also a new tech mentorship program that’s going to be launching. It’s still early in the planning stages, but I’m very excited to be a part of that. So that’s going to be new. But we will be having a formal tech mentorship, a part of Gap as well.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. Thank you, guys for adding to do that. So I have a question for you, Suja. So we have someone who asked, “What specific challenges did you face while transitioning from product? And how did you overcome them?” It’s similar to a question that’s in the chat talking about transitioning from supply chain to PDM team. So I would say answer the challenges for both.
Suja Ramachandran: Sure. I’ll give a little bit of background there. So when I worked in supply chain originally, prior to Gap, I was in consulting. So when I worked in consulting, I worked for a company that provided product software and services to clients. So I was a consultant as a part of that. What I didn’t know at that point, I didn’t know what product management was. I’d never heard of it. Didn’t know anything about the industry. I went from supply chain to a digital shop, and I did product management there.
Suja Ramachandran: And then you start connecting the dots because in the end of the day, what comes first is your customer. What you’re trying to do for your customer is solve their problems, and then ultimately, making it the most amazing experience that they can go through. That is the job of product management, is figuring out what are the right problems to solve at the right time and providing the most value when you do it. And that process when I was able to connect those dots I went, “That’s right. I can do product management.” It’s something I’d never done before that I was able to connect the dots between a world of supply chain, that I didn’t know what product management was there. To a world of product management that I thought only meant software in the digital world.
Suja Ramachandran: And when I came to Gap, how I could connect those dots is product is the software used to power anything. So if that product is powering your supply chain, your logistics. For us, that product was the tools and automation that made boxes move in our warehouse. That got those boxes to your door. All of the software and automation that made that happen, that’s all that product management helped own, manage, prioritize, strategize, and get out the door.
Suja Ramachandran: So once you connect those dots and you realize those bolts to make that happen is the same. Anybody can do product management. Anybody can do supply chain. Anyone can do digital. You just have to connect the dots to understand how that process works. And of course, there’s mechanics to make sure there’s standardization and consistency of process, but everybody can learn that. So when I was able to transition from a domain to a specific technology, to also a specific role, it was figuring out the basics of what I knew and learning what I didn’t. And then becoming a leader in that field. So it’s something I really do encourage.
Suja Ramachandran: And I want to also circle back to, we’re hiring in product management. So please do come join product management. We are hiring product management across multiple domains within Gap Inc. And those will be posted online. But looking again for strategists, technologists, solution-oriented curious, passionate people to come join at multiple levels of experience. But product management is something you can learn, but bring curiosity and passion to the door.
Teniola Adedipe: That’s great. Great answer, Suja. So we have a question from Tiffany. “What are some things you look out for before making a career switch? How do you know if you’ve learned enough from the current position that makes you think it’s time to move on?” So we’ll open up to the group. Who would like to answer that one?
Suja Ramachandran: I can answer that. I would say when you feel like you’ve stopped learning, that’s a big thing. Also culture fit. You’ve got to feel a part of the culture of that company. If you don’t feel that you’re a part of it or can grow with it, then it’s not a match. And it’s okay if that’s what you find. And I’ve been to this part in my career where you feel guilty about leaving. I’m someone who I just get loyal to a company. I get loyal to projects and teams and people, but sometimes I forget myself. And that’s something always to remember, does the career path you want, the culture you’re looking for, and the passion and the learning that you always want to be a part of, is it there? And if it’s not there, put yourself first. Exit, if you need to. Move to what you want to do and what you’re happy doing. But make sure you have a pulse on that. Don’t just put your projects and the deliverables first. Have a pulse that you’re happy. And that you’re doing what you want to be doing. And you fit the culture.
Teniola Adedipe: And, I think, I’ll build on, Suja’s answer. I think, really what I look for is, “Am I happy in my day-to-day?” If I’m no longer happy and I’m not like, “All right, I’m ready to crank in the mornings.” I’m a morning person. And I get my best work done there. If I’m not excited to do that work, or it feels monotonous and I’m not feeling jazzed about solving the problem, for me, that’s when it’s time to start thinking about something else. Because that means I’m not growing. I’m not learning as much. And I’m really looking to continuously do that. So I’m really all about continuously learning. And the curiosity to drive that. So if any of those things start to wane, that’s really when I start to be like, “All right, maybe it’s time to do something else and do something new.”
Teniola Adedipe: And, I think, this is going back to what we talked about earlier when we were asking the panelists questions, this is why Gap is so great. Because there are so many opportunities to do that within one company. Instead of always having to feel like, “I have to go someplace else in order to get something new.” A lot of companies may not have decided to say, “Hey, we’re going to take someone who is in data and analytics and trust them to be in operations.”
Teniola Adedipe: But the mentors that I’ve worked with were just like, “Hey.” I told them, “I’m looking for something new and thinking about it.” And they said, “Why don’t you think about this?” Things that I’ve never thought about before. So being able to have people that kind of ask you the questions. I think, Belisa mentioned that earlier about having people who ask you the hard questions, and you take away the homework. I think that’s super helpful. And when you’re trying to look for a career switch.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. All right. Let’s see, we’ve got three minutes left. Let me see if I can do anything… I like this question. So there’s a question here. “How do you set yourself up for excellence for your next role?” That’s an interesting one. So would love anyone’s answer on that one.
Suja Ramachandran: I have to think for a second.
Shruti Merkhedkar: How do you set yourself for excellence for your next role? I would say from my personal experience, I would say do not limit yourself. So when you are in a role, do not limit yourself by thinking that you cannot do what the person at the next level is doing. Always work towards that next job. Always work towards that. Because it’s not just going to come to you one day without you working towards it. So that’s my advice.
Suja Ramachandran: I think that’s great. I would even build on that further. I would say identify your transferable skills. So figure out excellence in your next role. If you have certainty on what your next role is, great, you can prepare yourself from every angle. If you’re not sure what the next role is, the next company is, the next anything, concentrate on your transferable skills. What are those? Regardless of domain and industry, whatever those are, which may be that you’re a great… you may be great at collaboration. You may be great at strategy. Maybe you’re great at organization. Whatever they are, double down on it.
Suja Ramachandran: Something I tell my mentees, I’ve told my teams before, “You have a choice whether you can go from a skill that you’re okay at, to great. Or you can sometimes double down on something that you’re good at and make it excellent.” It takes a lot more momentum to go from something that you’re very unfamiliar with to great. But it doesn’t actually take as much time, but you can become from good to great much faster. So find out what those things are. Find out what you’re good at. Find out what are transferrable, double down, and make them excellent. So that when you go to the next role, it’s the first thing people look at you and go, “I love it. I’m so glad I hired you for this role because you brought XYZ to the table.”
Suja Ramachandran: So figure out what those things are. And it almost goes back to that self-advocacy. When you’re marketing yourself, you’re talking about your pitch on what you’re really good at, know what those skills are that are transferable. That you can pitch to others. And what you truly are excellent at. You want to be able to work backwards from that. And figure out how to get there.
Teniola Adedipe: Love that.
Belisa Mandarano: And one last thing that I would add is, does it excite you? Like Suja said, if it’s something that you’re good at, but you could potentially be great at, it’s best to have that if you’re excited about what that opportunity is. Because that’s really going to show when you go to try to sell yourself. If it’s something that you can put your whole heart into and really believe in, that is going to show when you present yourself out. So that’s what I would add.
Suja Ramachandran: Great call out. I’m so glad you brought that up. That’s good.
Teniola Adedipe: Great. So, you guys, we are at time. So I know this hour has flown by. I want to thank all of our panelists for taking the time out. And thank you for all the great questions that you guys submitted in the chat and Q&A. So I know Amy just dropped in the chat, “There is a breakout rooms for networking.” So please feel free to click the link and go to the breakout rooms and kind of meet each other. And some of our panelists may join those as well. But just wanted to say thank you all for joining us. And I will pass it back over to Amy, if you have any parting words.
Angie Chang: Awesome. I learned so much. Thank you, Gap girl geeks for giving us such amazing advice on career mentorship. Our spidey sense, I really liked that. I’m going to listen to my spidey sense in 2021. We are going to be going over. And yes, Gap is hiring. We have an email coming out after this event. We usually do surveys. And in that survey, there are the jobs that Gap is hiring for. And they want to hire you. So please check them out. And if you want to hang out with us for the next hour, we will be doing networking in small groups. So it’s great for introverts like me, where we get into groups of four to six Girl Geeks. And we chat for about 20 minutes in each room on a topic that we set. So for example, a career challenge advice. So click on the link in the chat. And then I’ll see you on the Zoom meeting where we’ll be have having those breakout groups. Thanks for coming.
Teniola Adedipe: Thank you guys.
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