Artech Information System's co-founder and CEO Ranjini Poddar knows firsthand the challenges of being an executive woman of color in the male-dominated tech business community.
“I'm of Indian origin, a woman and I'm 5 feet tall,” Poddar said. “If I'm in a room full of people who have not interacted with me before … They may form an impression of who I am based on that.
“In a way, it's up to me — with confidence, intelligence and my voice — to dispel that and get the results I'm looking for. … That is what ultimately determines your success in the workplace.”
Artech — the largest, women-owned staffing firm in the U.S. with revenue of more than $400 million and over 7,500 employees — has since grown into one of the Top 10 IT staffing companies in the country after Poddar founded the Morristown-based business with her husband, Ajay, in 1992.
As a Staffing Industry Analyst’s Top 100 Influential Person in the Staffing Industry this year, as well as having been awarded the Outstanding Women’s Business Advocate award by the Women President Educational Organization, Poddar has continued to pave the way for women leadership in both the staffing and information technology industries.
Enjoy this Q&A with Ranjini Poddar:
NJBIZ: What were the attitudes toward women in your industry when you first started?
Ranjini Poddar: I started out in the legal industry and transitioned into information technology over the last 16 to 17 years. When I first started out, there were fewer women in both fields. When women start their careers, there tend to be a good number of other women — however, as women progress through the ranks of management and leadership, that gender gap becomes much more apparent. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s changed a lot. Yes, today, one in three businesses in the U.S. is owned by a woman, so there has obviously been some change, but, in my opinion, not enough.
NJBIZ: What advice would you give to parents of younger women in grade school or college today?
RP: I have an 18-year old daughter; I believe it’s very important for parents to parent in a gender-neutral manner instead of pigeonholing their children into gender-specific activities. Let their children figure out what they are interested in as opposed to steering their sons toward STEM and their daughters toward liberal arts.
NJBIZ: What advice would you give to young working women today?
RP: Be realistic. Unfortunately, both the workplace and society do not treat women as being equal to men. Young people may think that they can have it all, and it is possible, but not all at the same time. You have to at different stages of your life prioritize what you’re going to focus on. Unfortunately, societal pressures expect more of women than they do men — women are still expected to be the primary caregiver at home as well as the backbone of the family. They are also held to higher standards in the workplace. For example, multiple studies show that when women are assertive, that quality is perceived much differently than a man with that same quality. But be confident and speak up for yourself. I think it’s very important for young women to look out for themselves and other women by speaking up to their bosses.
NJBIZ: What should younger women continue to remember or learn about the gender gap as it becomes less obvious today?
RP: The gender gap will naturally evolve and narrow due to time. More women are graduating college, business and law school than men today, so at the entry level, it will become equal. … But when I was a young woman, I really did not have visibility into what the right path was or female mentors to help me find and achieve that path of growing into a leadership position. I was balancing a family and long hours, and ultimately, it made more sense for me in an entrepreneurial environment. I think that is why women so often end up starting their own businesses — at least you are the captain of your own destiny.
NJBIZ: What is your business doing to foster women’s growth in the industry?
RP: We, as a company, contribute to causes related to STEM-initiatives in education as part of our community initiatives. And as far as Artech is concerned, we’re very cognizant of identifying and mentoring women in the workplace.
NJBIZ: What mistakes do women often make at the workplace that may keep them from gaining leadership positions?
RP: I think it’s very important for women to find mentors in the workplace, whether they be women or men. Men seem to better understand the value of that. When I was younger, I did not fully comprehend the value of it.
NJBIZ: What would you say are the Top Five things that successful women always do well?
RP: They find their voice. They do not take gender-based issues personally but persevere, set their objectives and work hard for them. They also keep their eyes out for women around them to inspire and lift up. Also, you also have to be an independent thinker and a risk taker.
NJBIZ: Break up your average 24 hour weekday into a pie chart, what percentage do you devote to work?
RP: My lifestyle has changed in the last few months as I have become an empty nester. I wake up around 6:30, try to work out every day, typically get to work by 8:30 and work on average about 10 hours. In the evening, I like to relax and go out to dinner with friends or to events. Sometimes, I catch up on work later in the evening if needed.
NJBIZ: What are you hobbies and interests outside of work, and how do you balance them?
RP: I love to travel so I am trying to take more opportunities to do so, even if that means scheduling travel into a work trip. I also love reading so, whether its business related or not, I love reading good stories and non-fiction. Also, I’ve gotten into reading about politics — this is the most bizarre election I’ve ever witnessed and I’m reading up on the historical genesis of it.
NJBIZ: Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
RP: I am really proud of our team, of the growth and development of our employees. They are very committed to the organization and work a tremendous amount. I am happy to have been responsible building such an organization that supports so many families. It is a huge source of pride.