A Thread of Independence
Reshma Deshpande is a Director – PMO at Blue Yonder in India and has recently stepped into a Chief of Staff role. She shares what it was like growing up in India in a Maharashtrian family where she was taught to be independent from the start. That independence has been a thread throughout her career as she talks about the importance of raising your hand and practicing getting out of your comfort zone.
Tell us a little about your childhood and what growing up was like.
I grew up in Mumbai in a middle-class family. As my mom was a working mother, my sister and I were brought up as independent kids – for one because there was little domestic help at the time in India and secondly because we always saw our mom as a career woman who taught us the importance of having a career and being financially independent.
From that upbringing, we were more disciplined, grew up taking care of ourselves and focused on our studies, especially compared to kids growing up now (including my own – a son, age 14 and daughter, age 8).
I got a degree in Engineering and moved to Bangalore after getting married.
Can you tell us about your role at Blue Yonder? How has it progressed over your 20+ years here?
I joined the company in 2003 when it was i2 after moving to Bangalore. I started as a consultant in support when the support function was just being set up in India. I had roles such as senior consultant and product specialist, later on I took a role of a support manager and got into management. Over a period of time, my focus was gaining domain knowledge, customer management skills, and customer centricity. While growing from manager to director, I also had opportunities to run multiple department level/global initiatives as additional responsibility, and I program managed those successfully.
Last year, I took this role of Chief of Staff in India to Umesh Guar (GVP, Managing Director of Blue Yonder India). At this time where Blue Yonder is undergoing a SaaS pivot, I wanted to learn and contribute to strategic initiatives and this role gave me that opportunity.
What has your role as Chief of Staff been like? How did you get this role?
It has been a really exciting role where I get to learn a lot. This role gives me an understanding of organizational priorities, how different departments align to those priorities, and how India is contributing and delivering some of these. It’s also given me a chance to work with all the leaders in India, giving me great exposure to a variety of thought processes and working styles.
This opportunity came about by raising my hand. When I learned about this role, I had spent enough time in my previous role and wanted to learn, contribute and grow in my career. It also made me get out of my comfort zone and do something different. I discussed the opportunity with some of the leaders and decided to go for it. I’m glad I did that.
What is most different about Blue Yonder today, than when you started here?
When I started, the operations function was just being formed in India. Today, the pace at which we are changing and growing and evolving is awesome. We are pivoting as a company – be it our journey to SaaS, industry solutions, focus on Luminate Commerce, focus on next-gen talent, product modernization, customer experience and value – you name it! These yield a lot of opportunity for growth and variety of roles; the growth trajectory is bigger and faster now resulting in more avenues for development.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career and how did you tackle them?
Raising my kids while juggling my career was a challenge when they were youngest. It’s a phase of life where you need to balance your family, too. Those were challenging times, and it was not easy, but at the same time, I managed to create a support system to help take care of my home life. I am also thankful to my then managers and colleagues giving me flexibility when I needed.
When I look back, I am glad that I didn’t give up. Now my kids have grown up and they can manage themselves better. But you must be determined and know you’ll get through it. Talking with your manager and team helps, because people are understanding. I also learned that it’s completely okay to temper your pace according to your life situation without feeling defensive about it. The priority is balancing both work and home life at that time more than anything.
That points to the importance of empathy in a situation like that. How has empathy been important during the pandemic? Any lessons learned or words of advice?
In the early pandemic days, it was such a sudden change. We were all trying to get through the new ways of working. Here in India, our houses typically aren’t built for long-term work from home or for kids to take their classes from home, so that was something we all had to adjust to.
Our managers and leaders showed a lot of empathy and not setting meetings early or at odd times when you know the home life takes priority. It felt like a great relief. Everyone was just trying to help, but it was new for everyone. Generally, the heavier workload at home tends to come down to the women here in India, culturally. So, I felt a bigger sense of needing to balance my responsibilities for my family and my job, but everyone really came together.
Can you point to a critical moment in your career that really made a difference in your path?
Many years back, when I got that role as a manager, I asked to take on two teams when they were coming together. I raised my hand and asked for the opportunity. And this role I am in now, it has made a difference in my path, as a person, in my profession and to fuel personal growth.
Has anyone pointed out a difference about you? How did you react?
I got feedback that I need to be more assertive. I thought about it and my point was, I don’t think I am not assertive, and as long as I am getting my point across, it shouldn’t matter. I have heard from other female colleagues that this type of feedback isn’t uncommon. But it’s a bit of a stereotype and an unconscious bias. We need to constructively confront that to ensure we get things done.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I have a couple for everyone based on my experience and inputs from folks I have worked with.
Let go! You can’t be everything to everyone and need to prioritize. And sometimes things on your list may be doable by someone on your team. I started implementing this advice to get my ‘me time’ for hobbies or exercise time.
It’s not possible to be perfect in everything. And it’s okay to be imperfect. Just do your best and prioritize.
Raise your hand. Whether it is to talk about your problems or challenges, to ask for help or to ask for a new opportunity.