“I Have Always Found Inspiration and Motivation in Mentors and Role Models”

Aarti Ramakrishnan, the Co-Founder, and COO of Crayon Data says many women are raised to believe that they must put family over career

Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you at work is like?
I’m the Co-founder and COO of Crayon Data, a leading AI & Big Data company. We work with large enterprises in the Banking, Fintech, and travel sector across India, APAC, and MEA. As the COO, I’m responsible for the smooth inter-functional and intra-functional functioning of the company, especially as we grow and scale, while also ensuring that Crayon is also an eclectic and diverse workplace.

A typical day for me always starts with ensuring I have my to-dos and agenda for the day in place. I also ensure that I have one daily meeting with my immediate team and with my co-founder and the CEO. And depending on the day of the week – the rest of the day plays out. For instance, Mondays are for weekly leadership reviews, Tuesdays are for all catchups and Fridays are for company-wide meetings.

Did you always know that working in the industry you represent was what you wanted to do? How did you decide on it?
My career has actually been a series of serendipitous events, all connected in some way. And something has always pulled me toward uncharted territory. I started my career in the Banking & credit cards industry with HDFC Bank when they were setting up their Credit Cards business.

I had my first exposure to analytics there (which was in a nascent stage 20 years ago). This led me to my next stint in the Banking analytics space with RedPill (a boutique analytics services firm). This led to my association with the team who then later set up Crayon Data. We wanted to move beyond analytics services with structured data to build out a big data and AI platform. Crayon currently sits at the intersection of data, technology, and banking (our most mature domain).

What first got you interested in the industry you work in?
At HDFC Bank, I had a chance to transition to the credit cards division when they were just setting it up. This ignited my interest in product management, marketing, and analytics – the intersection of data, technology, and marketing. And the impact that it can have on operational efficiency and the influence it can have on consumer behaviour. I have always found this fascinating. The onslaught of digital and the immense possibilities that this has thrown up while ensuring a balance of data privacy has only served to deepen this interest.

Do you have a role model?
I have always found inspiration and motivation in mentors and role models. Be it women on international forums like Indira Nooyi and Michelle Obama who have detailed their journeys with honesty and vulnerability. Or fellow women entrepreneurs like Upasana Taku, Pramad Jandhyala, and Aswini Asokan, who have built amazing companies.

Closer home, I have been fortunate to have grown up in a family of strong women who has always been confident about their choices –both personal and professional. And progressive men who have actively supported these choices.

What obstacles did you have to overcome?
In a cultural context, especially in India, many women are raised to believe that they must put family over career. Life events determine their career trajectory. When a promotion comes up, they’re getting married. Take on a bit more responsibility at work, then find out they’re having a baby. They become the primary caretaker for aged parents. There are many situations where women are at a crossroads and make the decision to give up their careers entirely.

I too have faced these situations. When Crayon Data came into existence in 2012, I was a mother of young children myself and understood some of these challenges first-hand. Very often I’ve pushed against ingrained biases of the external world. The lack of ability to make choices seemed natural for men but seemed special for women.

When I was in college, it was about asserting my independence – in how I travel, at what time of day or night, and what I choose to wear. Moving into the workplace gave me a different perspective. It was about having a voice. In the early parts of my career, I jostled for that. As my career progressed, I realized that neutralizing inherent biases wasn’t as simple or straightforward as just pushing women ahead blindly. It was about creating a space for equal opportunity. And giving them a platform to succeed.

What advice would you give to women considering a career in the industry you represent? What do you wish you had known?

  1. Be curious. And always look for learning. And some of the best learning happens when you ask questions and when you listen.
  2. Accept that priorities can change. That there can be a ‘swerve’ in your career. And that many roads can lead to the same destination.
  3. Finally, develop a support system for people and processes. It’s about being transparent and asking for help (and likewise, offering it) when needed whether it is with family, friends, or with the team at work.

What do you do to unwind after work?
A couple of things help me unwind – one, ensuring I get some alone time reading, walking, or watching something on TV. And second, catching up about our day with my family (usually over dinner). And yes, playing with my dogs.

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