Women have to make choices during different crossroads of their lives. They must constantly overcome societal, cultural, and economic barriers—as children, students, working professionals, and mothers. This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the #YearsOfHerLife by the inspiring stories of seven strong, independent, and empowered women from Microsoft India who have persevered, despite the odds.
She isn’t anyone’s asset
Like most women in India, Namrata Gupta, a Principal Software Engineer, was shackled by her gender. “Every Diwali, my parents would buy me a new dress. My relatives didn’t appreciate this. After all, I was paraya dhan (someone else’s asset). Why should they spend their hard-earned income on me?”
Namrata didn’t let paraya dhan define her. She knew boys were given first preference in education. But she persevered. Not only did she crack her engineering entrance exam, she also ranked third in the state of Rajasthan.
“No girl in my village had ventured out for studies before me,” she recalls.
Her moment of success opened a floodgate of opportunities for the other girls in her village. Parents started sending their daughters outside of their village for higher education and job opportunities.
She is a go-getter
Gender bias while growing up is not limited to rural India. Pooja Rastogi, a CMO Analytics Lead, experienced this during her adolescent years when she was constantly reminded that her birth was a burden and not a celebration. She wasn’t the same after this and retreated into a shell. She pursued MBA but never had the guidance or a mentor who could support her.
“It was heartbreaking. They dismissed me because I was a girl,” she says. “As a girl, you get advice about everything in your life but not your career. It’s challenging but I turned myself into my own mentor. I observed people, learnt skills, and applied them.”
Today, she’s a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law. But more importantly, she’s a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it.
She never gives up
Pragathi Neelaiahgari, a Service Engineer 2, lost her dad when she was in high school. As difficult as this was, she knew what her responsibilities were. She moved to Hyderabad with her family, started tutoring to finance her and her brother’s education, and began preparing for her engineering entrance exam. Her journey didn’t fit society’s expectations and everyone questioned her choices.
She worked tirelessly to clear her engineering exam, got placed in a Fortune 500 company, and had to leave her job because she didn’t clear her exam post her training. “I was told that I was fit for nothing…that I should get married and let my husband take up the responsibilities instead,” she recalls.
But she didn’t give up. She started working at a BPO to improve her communication skills and six years ago, she cracked the most important interview of her life—the one that got her placed at Microsoft.
Now, she’s giving back to society; especially, to young girls through a mentoring ring at Microsoft called Women in Software Engineering (WISE). Pragathi and her colleagues are responsible for grooming young women and getting them corporate ready from Tier 2 and rural colleges in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
“When I joined Microsoft I received an email asking for volunteers for mentoring college students. Guidance is what I needed the most when I was growing up. Young girls in our society don’t have this support. I want to be a part of this change,” she says.
She fights biases
Navisha Prabhakar, a Sales Development Specialist, is a testament to this. All she wanted was a career in journalism, but society had its qualms. The long hours, the exposure to a dangerous life, and the pressure—all of this isn’t ideal for a young woman they said. Being the only child, she had to reassure her parents that media is more than its portrayal. But she had to let go of her dreams and pursued a career in commerce instead.
However, early in her career she noticed an inherent gender bias. During job interviews, interviewers would direct their questions towards family planning. Her colleagues saw through her even though she was the smartest person in the room to solve a problem. She had to take up challenging projects just to prove she can do it.
“I wanted to break the mindset that you’re not limited to your gender,” she says.
Joining Microsoft was a turning point in her life. She was suddenly a role model, for young girls and boys. Relatives who never believed in her were now seeking advice. Peers who didn’t think she could make it were now in awe of her journey.
She has her own identity
The rules for what an ideal woman is supposed to be gets tougher as a wife and mother. The first day Geetha Lakshmi G, a Program Manager 2, dropped her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter at playschool, she cried on her way to work. “As a mother, it was an emotional experience to stay away from my child.”
Before she went on a career break, she was working with one of the best semi-conductor companies and making contributions to modules of mobile platforms. Her life was great. She had achieved work-life balance as a professional, a wife, and a mother. But life always challenges you, and a couple of personal emergencies later, Geetha had to take a career break.
However, during this break, one thought always lingered in Geetha’s mind—‘This is not retirement’.
She got the golden opportunity to play the second innings of her career through the Springboard program Microsoft had announced at its India Development Center. Several challenging interviews and study-filled days later, she started as Intern Program Manager and six months later, she was a Program Manager at Microsoft.
Through these phases, Geetha knew in her heart of hearts what mattered—her identity. And her identity is being a daughter, a friend, a wife, a mother, and most importantly, herself.
She makes her dreams come true
Even though Minu Singha, a Consultant, loved working in IT, she had to deal with her husband’s transferrable job, night shifts, and children. She decided to take a break and follow her second passion—serve in the Army Wives Welfare Association.
“I had to extend my break because of I was expecting my second child, but my desire to continue working never wavered,” she adds.
A stint in the stock market and a successful online boutique later, Minu found herself back in IT through the Springboard program. Taking care of her kids, staying up till 3:00 AM studying, visiting libraries, and taking power naps—that was her life during the program.
“It’s never easy restarting your career after a break, but because of Microsoft, I know that dreams do come true,” she says.
She makes her choices
Gandhali Samant, a Software Engineering Lead, was in a similar predicament too. There were many who told Gandhali she could never succeed at both roles—being a mother and a working professional. But she persisted.
It was a difficult choice for her, not only because it was painful to leave her kids behind but while she was on maternity leave, her job description had completely changed. This meant, she either had to upgrade her current skillset or find a new job.
“Making a comeback in a technical job is not very easy. I was a hardcore Microsoft developer but in my new role, I had to work with open source communities, of which I knew nothing,” she says.
Thanks to a supportive husband and an equally helpful manager she overcame all odds – not only did she upgrade her skillsets, she also won an award the same year. But the journey wasn’t easy.
“Juggling multiple roles isn’t easy. One day, it got to me and I asked my daughter if I should quit my job. She was befuddled. She told me that I should do what makes me happy. That’s when I knew I raised her right,” she exclaims.
What’s your story?
The years of her life were never hers until now. Gender, societal pressures, rules—they defined a woman’s identity. But these women are taking back what’s rightfully theirs. These torchbearers of hope are persuading young girls and women to dream bigger and climb higher.
Sharing these stories of the #YearsOfHerLife is a small step to towards encouraging, enlightening, and empowering other women. The time is now for you to share yours.