Interview with Sunitha Vikram for the Women in STEM, Reimagined masterclass.
Sunitha Vikram comes from a dynamic background mixing the best of both the international and local experience. Her strong academic track record which includes completing degrees from two colleges from the top 100 in the world led her to dive headfirst into her professional journey which spanned over two decades in a multitude of countries and divergent industries.
In the last decade, her culmination of experience in Senior Leadership roles has given her a deep conviction of the urgent need for dialogue around women’s empowerment having had an up-close and personal view on the struggles of women in the workplace, especially in the Leadership pipeline.
Sunitha feels the need to build a sisterhood of support to help first identify, and then overcome self-limiting beliefs and narratives around current women’s leadership perspectives.
A lot of Sunitha’s work involves changing women’s mental models of success.
What are mental models of success?
Mental models of success are our preconceived notion of what success looks like, what do successful people believe, how do they act, how do they talk, what gender are they, etc. Here’s an example. Close your eyes and picture a nurse. Most likely you thought about a young woman. Now, picture a cardiologist. You likely pictured a middle-aged or elderly man. This matters because when people are promoting a role, they promote and hire what they think looks like success. They did a study at Apple, and found that success looks like a caucasian or South Asian man. That was not acceptable to them, so they worked to change that mental model of success, and instead, success started looking like anyone with the skills or capability.
The mental model of success is what you personally see as success. It’s different for everyone, depending on what you have seen and experienced. The mental model of success is a story based on past experience. If you grew up in an environment that defines success by certain attributes, you’ll have trouble stepping outside those arbitrary lines. “If you aren’t matching, how do you apply to those positions?” asks Sunitha.
The mental model of success affects what roles you dare apply to. That’s important to know, because you may be holding yourself back unnecessarily. So, how do we recognize these models in ourselves so we can step outside them?
3 questions to ask in order to change your mental model of success:
- What is your story?
Awareness is the first step to change. You can’t change something you don’t realize you are doing or thinking.
- Do you know anyone who can break that stereotype?
If one person can break the mold, so can you. Who do you know personally or who have you heard of breaking the stereotype you believe?
- If you shift your perception, how can you change your experience?
Look for evidence of your capability and potential, and then act on it. Prove your mental model of success wrong. You just need the skills and capabilities, not a certain skin color, gender, or career path.
Sunitha draws from her training in neurolinguistic programming, which is a system of thought that states that if one person can do it, then anyone can do it. Sunitha explains: “I never talk about one gender versus the other. It’s all about your experience only.”
How does this relate to Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the word for that voice in your head that says, “I just got lucky,” “I don’t think I really deserve this”, “I don’t think I have the abilities,” “I was hired to fill a quota”, etc. “We assume we know less than others,” Sunitha states. “But the truth is that you know just as much.” A thought to help you move from a limiting mindset to a growth mindset is “I’m not perfect, but can I see failure as feedback.”
“No one is going to hand you empowerment, you have to want it really bad,” says Sunitha. Are you putting yourself out there? To do so, we have to acknowledge our achievements and that’s not braggy.
What is the first step to taking ourselves more seriously?
“We all have an inner voice,” states Sunitha. “But the dominant narrative for women is that we are not enough.” The secret? Self-love and self-acceptance. A place of self-love and self-acceptance is the only place you will know your strengths and challenges and be able to work with them.
“I don’t think there’s a glass ceiling,” says Sunitha. “It’s where we think it is. We have to do the inner work in order to breakthrough.”
Missed Women in STEM, Reimagined?
Sunitha Vikram. Sunitha comes from a dynamic background with a vast amount of international experience. Her strong academic track record led her to dive headfirst into her professional journey which spans over two decades in divergent industries.
Her experience of Senior Leadership roles has given her a deep conviction of the urgent need for dialogue around women’s empowerment — having had an up-close and personal view on the struggles of women in the workplace, especially into the Leadership pipeline.
Sunitha feels the need to build a sisterhood to help first identify, and then overcome self-limiting beliefs and narratives around current women’s leadership perspectives.
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