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Getting Women to the C-Suite, with Archana Ravichandran

Getting Women to the C-Suite, with Archana Ravichandran

Episode 106: Getting Women to the C-Suite, with Archana Ravichandran

Less than 30% of key management positions are held by women. Archana Ravichandran is working to change that. After getting her MBA from Wharton, Archana decided she wanted to try her hand at management. She signed on as a manager with Google and led three different teams over the course of her seven years there. Now, she is using her people skills to help professional women get to the top through her very own podcast. In this episode, we talk with Archana about what it takes to be an effective manager, how to support women in leadership, and the value of taking career risks.

Episode Transcript

00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera, and we're having a great day, it's finally spring.

00:23 Maricella Herrera: Sort of.

00:24 KW: Sort of. Come on, I'm getting excited.

00:26 MH: It's not.

00:26 KW: I'm getting excited.

00:27 MH: It's not...

00:28 KW: I gotta believe. You gotta believe.

00:29 MH: It was pouring rain today, and it was freezing.

00:31 KW: But I was not in a winter jacket.

00:34 MH: Well, I was, and it got soaked.

00:36 KW: 'Cause you didn't have an umbrella.

00:38 MH: I know. My umbrella's here, and I believe someone has stolen in it, from our team or the other teams.

00:42 KW: There's like 300 umbrellas. [chuckle] There's 300 umbrellas in the front.


00:48 MH: I haven't found mine though. I'm sure I left it here, as I did my rain boots. And so, coming into work this morning was horrifying.

00:56 KW: Okay. Well...

00:57 MH: So not spring. [chuckle]

00:57 KW: It's now sunny, and I'm believing in spring. I'm believing it's happening.

01:04 MH: Yeah, I'm going to Mexico on Friday. [chuckle]

01:08 KW: So you don't care.

01:08 MH: That's all I can say. [laughter]

01:10 KW: Well, have fun in Mexico. We will miss you.

01:12 MH: I will.

01:13 KW: I know you're going for a wedding.

01:15 MH: Yeah, my best friend, she was my roommate in college and after, so we were roommates for about eight years.

01:20 KW: Woah.

01:20 MH: And she's getting married. So it'll be fun.

01:23 KW: Cool.

01:24 MH: Can't wait.

01:24 KW: Tequila.

01:25 MH: Lots of it. Tequila and delicious food. I shall be bringing back mezcal.

01:31 KW: Ooh, why thank you. So what did you think when Zoe was in the office last week?

01:36 MH: It was so good to see her. She's gotten so big, she's also incredibly well-behaved.

01:44 KW: Yeah, I think that's the third kid. She just knows how to just go with the flow.

01:49 MH: She was quiet, she sat there, entertained herself.

01:54 KW: She's been asking me to come to work. So this is for our podcast listeners that may not know, Zoe's my third kid, she's three, and she's been asking to come to work for a long time, and it just so happened Friday it worked out. So she came and she proceeded to eat all of the snacks in the office. It was just mind-blowing for her to see everything that we had. And she just had fun. She was a good work buddy. She was great.

02:22 MH: She's so cute, honestly. I remember her when she was an itty-bitty baby with us in meetings and sleeping on the desk.

02:31 KW: She went to her first Ellevate event when she was like six weeks old.

02:34 MH: Yeah, we made her a name badge...

02:36 KW: You did.

02:36 MH: And everything.


02:38 KW: I actually had a little business suit or something for her. It's so weird, it's so weird. Alright, so today's guest is Archana Ravichandran. She's a Senior Director at Medallia, and the founder and host of The Unstoppable Women podcast. We also just had Equal Pay Day.

02:56 MH: We did. What?

02:58 KW: Not a cause to celebrate.

03:01 MH: No, it is absolutely not. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Equal Pay Day represents the day, how far into a year a woman must work on average to make the same amount of money a man made the year before.

03:18 KW: And the on average piece is important...

03:20 MH: Very.

03:21 KW: Because we know that for women of color, it's much further.

03:29 MH: Right.

03:30 KW: I think it's, for women of color, it's 'til August, and for Latina women, it is to November or something, correct?

03:39 MH: Yeah, so white women make on average about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, black women make about 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes, and Latina women make about 54, if I'm not mistaking, but it's bad.

03:57 KW: Well and I think it's important for us at Ellevate, we talk a lot about how do you ask for the raise, advocate for yourself, finding the right employers that value diversity and value... And really drive an equal and fair playing field. But something else that's really important to us is, how do you support your peers, the other women in the workplace, to ensure that we're all closing that pay gap? So, what are some of the ways Maricella, that women can support each other?

04:32 MH: Well, first of all, I think a lot of it is amplifying each other's voices. We talk about that a lot at work, especially when you're in meetings. If you have any social capital, if you're in a leadership position at work, make sure that you're bringing others up with you, make sure that you are speaking up. I think a lot of it is also just helping other people out through mentoring, or sponsorships, or trying to really help them get prepared. We talk about asking for a raise, help them get prepared to ask.

05:02 KW: I think that's all good. And we talk about women supporting women, but we love men too, so just, I think, support your... And it's not just women and men, important to note. So, I think support your fellow human beings in the workforce to have everyone reach pay parity...

05:23 MH: I agree.

05:24 KW: And equality. We did have a poll we wanted to share. So what's the pole this week?

05:28 MH: So we asked our community, "What do you think contributes most to the gender wage gap?" 43% said employer bias, conscious or unconscious; 28% said women are less likely than men to negotiate. So those are the two big responses we received. About 10% responded that women leave the workforce, or decrease their engagement when they have kids, sometimes called the "Mommy Tax." Would you know... Interestingly enough, research shows that that's really not as big as people think that is.

06:04 KW: I thought that there was just a study that came out on Equal Pay Day, there's tons of research in different reports that came out but one was that, in terms of closing the pay gap, if you have children, I think before you're 30, or after 40, potentially, you have a higher likelihood of reaching pay parity...

06:28 KW: Really?

06:28 KW: Where it's that sweet spot of 30 to 40, where you're high-potential and mid-career, hitting your stride. If you have children during that time period, it has a more drastic impact on your future economic stability, or your income.

06:48 MH: I did not know that. That's really interesting. I'll look it up. 11% said women tend to prioritize flex time benefits and mission, while men prioritize higher pay. Which you know, it's also sort of true, but not really. Women want more money. The reason...

07:05 KW: Show me the money. I want the money.

07:06 MH: The reason most women leave their jobs is because of the money. So yes, we tend to consider mission and benefits and other stuff, but we also focus on the money. And then 6% said men tend to seek out higher paying industries and position than women, which I think, again, I don't necessarily think that's true, but...

07:33 KW: Yeah. I mean but they're all valid, I mean everything in there. There's a lot of interesting and important insights into why the pay gap exists, and I think part of it is because it's so nuanced, there's many ways to tackle it and dissolve it. So...

07:50 MH: Of course.

07:50 KW: Each do our part. And I will clarify, The New York Times article said, "Women who have their first child before 25 or after 35, eventually closed the salary divide with their husbands. It's years in-between that are most problematic."

08:07 MH: Wait. Before 25, clearly, ship has sailed.

08:09 KW: And after 35.

08:10 MH: After 35, I'm getting close. [chuckle]

08:12 KW: Okay. So there you go. New York Times, look it up. It was a really interesting article. Alright, well, enjoy my podcast today with Archana. It is so much fun. Loved chatting with her, she's got a great story, and I know you're gonna love it, too. So enjoy the Ellevate podcast.


08:32 KW: Archana, thank you for joining me today on the Ellevate podcast.

08:42 Archana Ravichandran: Thanks for having me, I'm really excited to be here.

08:45 KW: I'm really excited to have you here today. We've got tons of things to talk about, so we'll get right down to it. We always love to hear about our guest's career paths and how they got to where they are today. So if you wouldn't mind sharing a little bit about your career path that we can get some inspiration from.

09:01 AR: Yeah, absolutely. I joined Google after Wharton, and for me, joining Google was about a couple of different things. I remember there was a lecture at Wharton where there was a healthcare CEO talking about his career path, and one of the pieces that he said, one of the skill sets that he focused on and encouraged us all to go get was people management skills. He said, "This is the skill set I rely on the most as a CEO, and one that you really can't learn in a classroom." And so if you're able to go out and get that skill and do it as early as possible, that's great." And so for whatever reason, that lecture really stuck with me. And so when I was looking for full-time roles, I was... Google was recruiting MBAs to actually come and be team leads right out of business school. So for that, that was appealing, 'cause that was a skill set that I could go learn, that I wasn't necessarily learning at Wharton.

10:00 AR: And then the second is, at the time, I was a huge Google fan. I grew up in the Silicon Valley. I went to the same high school that Steve Jobs and Wozniak did. So I've kind of been around technology my whole life, and the chance to work for Google, a company whose products I used on a day-to-day basis, like I was a total fan girl. [chuckle] And so, I used to go onto Google Labs and see what the latest and greatest was that I could test out, and it was great for me to be able to work for a company whose products I used and loved, and also, be able to get the skill set that I was looking to gain right after business school. So that's what led me to both tech and to Google.

10:38 KW: That's interesting. When I first started working in tech way back when, my parents had zero idea where I was or what I was doing. And so I can see the advantage of talking about a brand that was so well-known and relatable. You could be like, "I'm at Google," and everyone gets it.


10:57 AR: Absolutely.

10:58 KW: It's exciting. Talk to me a little bit more about people management, because we don't touch on it that much on the podcast, but it is so critical, not just to personal success in that ability to be a good leader and a good manager, but I think also to the success of others and having strong leadership and management who's guiding you.

11:23 AR: Yeah, it's... It has been a skill set that has been very, I think, challenging to get better at, but very rewarding to get better at it. Because at the end of the day, it is all about, how are you motivating others, how are you helping others become the best version of themselves, and how are you growing other people's careers? And when I'm able to do that, it's very gratifying to see folks who've reported into your team to really then leave and grow and kind of create their own fantastic careers from that foundation. At Google... So I spent seven years at Google, and I led three different types of teams; one was a strategy team that was working on the integration of double click within Google, and that was in my wheel house; I came from a strategy background, I knew how to work with data, I knew how to tell a story and build PowerPoint slides. And so for me, that was a very natural, almost easy introduction into people management because I was an expert. And so it was easy to coach others on a skill set that I was comfortable with and on a skill set that I had. And so that was a really great introduction into people management.

12:35 AR: My next role was a bit of a stretch; I was leading a global professional services organization for Google Analytics Premium. And so I went from managing a five-person team where I knew their day-to-day job and knew how to help them with their day-to-day job, to about a 20-person global team where I didn't know the product, I didn't know the day-to-day job, and the day-to-day jobs were different. There were at least five or six different types of roles within that organization, and I couldn't become intimately familiar with every single one of them. And so, building credibility when folks were experts in their own field, and yet still pulling together a cohesive team environment was incredibly challenging. And I think for me that was probably the most formative years of my people management training was leading that team, failing a lot in the beginning, kind of learning my mistakes, learning from my mistakes, and then really overcoming that, and then pulling together a very successful team at the end.

13:41 KW: Do you have any tips to share on strong people management? What are your top three tips?

13:47 AR: Top three tips? Know where you're falling with your team. So one of the... A critical tool that we used early on that I found very helpful was an upward feedback survey, and it was through that upward feedback survey where what I thought I was doing to help the team, was really de-motivating for the team; I was micro-managing, I was getting too involved in the details, and the team really didn't feel like I trusted them. And so, knowing that early on, and then being able to have an honest conversation with the team, saying, "This is what I heard, here are the pieces that are working, here are the pieces that are not working," and then committing to really work on those pieces, I think built a lot of trust between the team. It's a tool that I still use today where... And it's a very simple tool. You have your own manager leave the conversation with your team members and then walk you through the outcomes, and then you go back to the team with a committed plan of action on how to work on the areas that they're struggling with with you. And so that to me has been a really helpful tool from a people management standpoint.

15:00 AR: I think the second is, it's really about how... I think it's really about understanding what are your team's strengths, and how can you really tap into them, and make sure that they're getting the projects based on what they're good at and also what they're looking to develop. So if you've got a team who's great functionally and looking to build strategic skills, are there different projects that you can put them on to really help them grow in that area? Because if folks feel like they are growing with you, that's when they will stay. I think they'll stay more loyal and you can see more output and get better output when individuals feel like they're able to grow and be challenged within your team.

15:39 KW: That's great, thank you. I love hearing good tips and feedback. I think to the first point you mentioned about providing the opportunity for the upward feedback, and then listening to it is so critical. And so I'm always interested in hearing from others in the professional space and trying to learn from that and kind of knowing that you always have room to grow, right?

16:07 AR: Absolutely.

16:08 KW: I know you also have experience leading some customer success teams, and that's another area of business where it can be very easy to think about maybe the product or the revenues or there's things that always take precedence, but it's ultimately at the end of the day, the customers. What are some thoughts you have on the importance of that and how to keep the customer top of mind in business?

16:35 AR: Yeah, it's been really interesting to see how the customer success space has really exploded in the last four or five years. I think, traditionally, you had a professional services organization that really worked on high-touch services with customers, especially for on-premise software, and then you had a sales organization that was focused on selling both new products and selling expansions for an existing product. You're seeing those two worlds converge especially within enterprise SaaS these days, into a term called "customer success". And effectively, the way that I like to think about customer success is, is the customer adopting your product? Are they using it? What percentage of the product are they using? Are they using just the 5%, in which case, you're probably not sticky and you're probably not in their day-to-day? Or are they using all of your tools and all of your features? And is your product really critical in their workflow? And a customer success organization, I think, can really help take a customer from using 5% of the product to 100% of the product. And I think that's why it's become more important, especially in a SaaS world, where a customer can decide to go with another product at any time, because it's an ongoing revenue stream, where I think in the past, you paid upfront, and then it didn't really matter whether or not you were using the product.

17:58 KW: How much of what you do is driven by metrics and data, and how much of it is driven by gut?

18:05 AR: It's both. I do think that metrics and data are very important; what are you targeting, what are your goals, especially if you are an organization that has thousands of customers, you need to rely on the data to tell you how customers are truly using your product, and where there's room for improvement. I come from a data-driven background, so that's always top of mind. I think the gut and the judgment element comes more from just the individual interactions that you're having with people. What are they saying with their words, what are they saying with their tone of voice versus what are their actions telling you? And the judgment piece comes in; how can you take all three of those and then really understand what's happening at the customer that's kinda above and beyond what the data is telling you?

18:52 KW: So let's get back to Google. Exciting time that you were at the company. There's a lot going on. How did the networks that you built there, the people you met there, and further, other areas of your life, how has that helped you to continue evolving and growing as a personal and a professional?

19:13 AR: Yeah, the networks that I made at Wharton and at Google have been critical, I think, from a career perspective. Especially when I was looking to potentially leave Google back in 2015, and wanting to understand what was out there, what other job opportunities and career opportunities were there outside of Google, I relied heavily on my Google network both in terms of folks who had left Google that I had made connections with, as well as folks who had remained at Google, but had a lot of connections outside in talking to folks about their own career path. So, having similar conversations that we're having today about why did you decide to leave Google? How did you think about the job search process, how did you decide when you had multiple options, how did you make those decisions? And that network was just, it was an incredible source of information, and I had a lot of fun. It was actually probably the most fun part of the job process which is talking to all these incredible leaders and really understanding how they thought about their own career and their own career paths. It actually led me to start the podcast, the thing we can talk about in a minute, but that network was very strong and very, very generous. I think people were very generous in both their willingness to connect and also with their time to talk to me about that.

20:28 KW: Are you also a generous networker?

20:31 AR: Yeah, I absolutely am more than happy to make connections for folks, and do so all the time. It's one of those things where if I can help someone find their dream job, then that makes me extremely happy. I'd absolutely do that.

20:47 KW: Yeah, I don't think... I mean you and I probably think about this a lot, but you don't make the connections for the ROI, but there's certainly the impact from making those connections and from helping others will always come back and support you in a million different ways.

21:05 AR: Absolutely, I think they say the valley is really small and I think that's sometimes a negative viewpoint, but I agree. It is... You always make the connections, not expecting anything in return, but knowing that as you help someone, they're much more likely to help you in the future.

21:21 KW: And pay it forward.

21:22 AR: Exactly.

21:23 KW: Alright. I wanna hear about your podcast. As a podcaster myself, I love podcasts, and I love finding new and exciting ones and you've got a pretty fantastic podcast. So can you talk to our audience a little bit about why you started it and what it is?

21:41 AR: Absolutely. So I think a couple of things, one is I think we've all seen the stats that show that women enter the workforce at 50%, at a 50% rate but only hold 30% of VP roles. And then it just keeps dropping off from that, and that's the stuff that makes me really upset. And so, I've been wanting to do something about that, but wasn't sure how I could help influence it or what my role was to play in all of this. When I was doing the job search and looking to leave Google, I had a really fun time interviewing different people about their own career paths and so that kind of stuck with me in the back of my head. That same year I attended a Dreamforce panel, it was a Women in Leadership panel and it was a fantastic set of women on that panel, very accomplished, very senior, had done incredible things and a great moderator. But what I was finding that after 45 minutes, I was really only hearing the sound bites of almost what happened after they had achieved their success and really wanted to dig in with each of them around how did they get to where they were? What were the skill sets they really focused on? And especially for some of these more nebulous skill sets, how do they work on that, how do they improve and what were the very specific tactics that they used in order to do that?

23:07 AR: And so these two ideas, were kind of coming together in my head, I was listening to a lot of podcasts at the time and they were getting tactical, on things like diet and nutrition and the gym and I wasn't really as interested in that and wasn't finding as many podcasts out there that really dove into the tactics at a meaningful level around how women can improve on these skill sets. And so that's really how it came together. I think it was also looking, I was also at a time and place where I was wanting to take more risks. I left Google but I left Google in a way that I was able to mitigate some risk and so it was a kind of a safe company that I went with, which has been fantastic. But for me, it just didn't feel like I was pushing myself enough, and really taking enough risk in my career and launching a podcast was something I was terrified of doing. And so all three of those came together in something that could hopefully help influence the percentages of women at senior roles within different companies, push me in kind of new and interesting ways and then do something that I really found that I loved to do, which was interview individuals about their stories and about their career paths.

24:22 KW: Have you seen any themes arise that have been a surprise to you?

24:27 AR: I don't know, that themes have been surprising, but there are, I have three lessons that I think are kind of, they're starting to emerge as some of my favorite lessons from the podcast. The first is that you don't get what you don't ask for. I have numerous examples of women who went in, asked for what they wanted, really advocated and then got it. And I think that's a great story of you just... It won't happen. No one else knows what you're wanting. I think my favorite story was with Kellie McElhaney, who's a professor over at Berkeley, who one of her colleagues was a senior executive at Bank of America, who was a single mom and when she went back to work, she had a job that required her to travel quite a bit and asked that whenever she had to travel for work that both her nanny and her daughter could come with her. And hearing this from Kellie and I was like, "Oh you can ask for that?" Like I didn't know you could ask for that. But she was an incredible leader and Bank of America didn't wanna lose her, so they didn't even blink an eye and they were like, "Absolutely whatever you need, just come back."

25:31 AR: And so those are the kinds of stories that for me is, whatever you need to make it work for you or if you're struggling with... I think one of my latest podcasts with Heidi Williams, she really wanted more scope and she thought she was ready to be promoted to the next level and her manager didn't think she was ready, and so she kind of went and created her own 360 process, created her own VP rubric and showed that she was ready. And so for me, I love those examples, because they're very clear around, look you can't expect anyone just to hand you something, you've gotta ask for it, you've gotta go get it. And more often than not, you'll actually, you will get that. So I loved that one. And that's a great reminder. The second is something that I think you talked about in the beginning which is, there are so many different paths to get to the senior level and I think oftentimes when you're graduating from college and you're graduating from business school, it can feel like there's only one or two, or that this path has to be linear. But I've spoken to women who've spent 15 years at the same company and made it to senior levels that way and then left to kind of go work in a start-up or go work on their own idea.

26:43 AR: And other women who every few years have had different experiences, whether it's different roles or different companies, different sized companies, and have really grown and learned that way. So there really is no one career path and you don't have to have it figured out. In an interview, I'm really seeing in about a few weeks with the senior leader at Salesforce. She was a punk rocker, in her 20s and now she's SVP of Technology at Salesforce. So if you really can start anywhere and still get to where you wanna get to. And then lastly, I think it ties to the personal board of directors comment that you'd asked me, is that almost every single one of these women had someone, a mentor or sponsor who was looking out for them, who gave them their next opportunity, who took a chance and enabled them to really grow. And I do think that that is critical. I think who you work for, and following strong people who believe in you and will give you those next opportunities, is really, really important and so being able to identify those individuals is critical for your career.

27:50 KW: That's fantastic. So, last question, which is a little bit of a loaded one, but I think an important one is, we talk about women getting to the top, right? And changing that ratio of 30% women VPs or 17% women as senior leaders, less than 4% of women as CEOs and I think the advice you've talked about these non-traditional career paths, about asking for it, about getting support and having that network and mentors is all very, very important but there's also this aspect and it gets back to when we were talking about people management earlier of having strong managers who really support their team in growing and moving up within the company and a culture that really embodies the value of diversity and of all different skill sets, and backgrounds. And so how do you see kind of the ways for not just women to move forward, but for companies to help lift them up?

29:01 AR: Yeah, I think that's a great question and it's one I'm thinking through, and I don't know that I have a great answer. I think a couple of things or a couple of responses that I've heard, one is manager training. I know that the valley's been doing a lot of unconscious bias training. I think with mixed results, but I think it's something that's still important and still needs to happen just so that we're all aware of the biases that we hold and how that can sometimes show up at work and it's even more important if you're a manager to be able to be aware of that and understand where those biases can be influencing the decisions that you are making. I think companies should hold senior leaders to a much higher standard of a diverse workforce, and potentially even tie compensation to it. At the end of the day, unless you are incentivized to have a diverse team, I don't know that, unless you yourself are diverse, are you really thinking about it? And that can be a fairly cynical view. I'm just basing it, you know based on the numbers that I see out there, is that there's really no skin in the game, there's no reason to.

30:13 AR: There's numerous studies that show that having a diverse team actually helps the bottom line, helps top line revenue growth, helps profitability, it helps companies be better. Regardless of that, it doesn't seem to be changing and so I think, unless it's affecting the individuals in a very meaningful way. And I think I've read articles that said Intel did this, eBay did this, and when they put razor focus on the percentages and on the percentages and on the growth rate of women in senior leaders and tied it to compensation, that's when they saw things change. And so it's not a pipeline problem, it's not a problem that we don't have enough women out there. I do think it's a problem of incentives and I think companies could do a better job of aligning those incentives to having a more diverse culture. But I think that's also a controversial view. So, [chuckle] unclear if we're gonna get there.

31:10 KW: I think we need more conversations like that and starting to really think about all of the ways it's not... Like you said there's not one magic bullet answer but there's I think many things that can happen in harmony or in conjunction with each other to really start to see the statistics change and part of it is certainly the work that you're doing to really share these stories and to provide inspiration and insights for women who are asking for it, and wanting to get ahead in career. So thank you for all that you do. It's been fantastic talking to you today on the Ellevate Podcast.

31:47 AR: Oh, thank you so much.


31:49 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member, you can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website,, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E network dot com. And special thanks to our producer, Katherine Heller, she rocks, and to our voice over artist, Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much and join us next week.


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