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One Step at a Time

In August of 2014 I went back to work for the first time in eight years. Over the course of my tenure as a stay-at-home mother of two young girls, I had been wanting to go back to work, but struggled with taking the first step. Getting divorced and going off to live on my own for the first time in my life, and with two children part-time, I felt that I had no choice but to go and work —anywhere. So I got a job at Nordstrom in Palo Alto, close to home, working as a sales associate in the Men’s Furnishings department.

I was excited, scared, and embarrassed all at the same time. I was excited to start doing something new. I was excited to work. I was excited to get dressed up every day and meet new people and learn new things. I was scared because I had never worked in retail before. I knew nothing about men’s furnishings, and I had read some pretty scary reviews about the cut-throat, back-stabbing, competitive world of commission-based retail. I was embarrassed because at the age of 34, with a college degree from UC Berkeley, work experience at Stanford and a social circle of middle to upper class friends in the Bay Area, I was going to work at a job that most anyone could get without much in the way of qualifications. There was no prestige in a retail job at Nordstrom. In addition, I knew that the customers I would be interacting with would be that social circle that I came from. Now, instead of joining them at their homes for playdates, meeting for lunch or coffee, or taking a class together, I would be “waiting on them” the way I waited on customers when I was a waitress putting myself through school.

But it had to be done. Excitement, fear and embarrassment were no excuse to not take that step. I remember my first day on the floor very clearly. Before I was let loose, so to speak, to go and sell on my own, I had shadowed another employee and spent a few hours getting to know the products in our department. Let’s see, I was supposed to sell socks, underwear, pj’s, dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, cologne and more. While I felt $45 for a pair of socks was steep, when I realized how much commission I made from each purchase, and the average amount a customer spent on one transaction, I didn’t know how I was going to make any money.

The reason I remember my first day so clearly is that the fear and embarrassment took over as I was let loose to go sell. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was embarrassed because I didn’t know the products very well, let alone that register I was to use to ring up each sale. In training they taught us the basics, and sped through the order of operations at the register:

  • Count the items
  • Check them for sensors
  • Remove sensors
  • Put a UPC sticker on every price tag
  • Enter your seven-digit employee number in the POS
  • Select sale
  • Start to scan, every item twice, once for the price and once for the UPC
  • Once you have scanned all the items, select total
  • And on and on and on

But it was never that easy, ever. There were problems with the price not reflecting advertised prices, there were returns, price adjustments, employee discounts, split payment with cash and credit card, payment by check, etc. And then, when we didn’t have something in the size a customer needed we were to look in the system and check every store and online to get them what they wanted, and of course, the procedure for that was entirely different. I would say that at that time, learning how to use that register was one of my biggest challenges. Over the past 14 years I had shied away from any opportunity to learn how to use technology. And it showed.

So in addition to the fear and anxiety I had at the register, there was still the insecurity and embarrassment I felt interacting with customers. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize small wins along the way, which would boost my confidence and propel me to do more. Although I don’t recall specifically, I know that with every new customer I knew more, I felt more comfortable, and relaxed. Soon I wasn’t just ringing up items that customers came in for, I was helping them make better choices, and offering more options. I learned where items were made, how they were made, and why they cost more. I also realized that interacting with customers came naturally to me. I loved helping. Soon I couldn’t wait for a new customer to come on to our floor so I could help them. I loved knowing all about the products on our floor. I loved listening to what the customer came in for, hearing the “problem” so to speak, as I began to conjure up a solution for them.

It wasn’t long before customers came back to shop with me. They asked for me. They looked for me. I felt on top of the world. I loved my job. I would go home after a full day’s shift running around on my feet and wishing I could go back and sell some more. And then they began to ask if I could help them with items in other departments. I noticed the happy melodies in my mind went away as I froze on the border of my department and looked to the other men’s departments that neighbored us — shoes, suits, sportswear and denim. OH DEAR. OH DEAR. How was I going to learn about ALL of that product and feel confident and comfortable helping my customers?

When we first separated and I moved out of our shared home, I bought my own car. It was a used Toyota Prius. I ordered a specialized license plate frame that read “One Step At A Time.” This was a very important message that I needed to understand and live. And in every area of my life, I wanted to be mindful of it.  I would whisper to myself when I was scared, “Take the first step. Just do it.”  I had to learn to be gentle with myself too. To acknowledge the small wins and to also embrace the challenges and defeats. I needed to be kinder to myself. To allow myself to fail or to struggle. And I needed to be there to learn from each of those opportunities, wins, losses, or ties.

And so I said YES to every opportunity to help someone outside of my department — outside of my comfort zone. And every time I took another step I was met with success of some sort. I knew more than I gave myself credit for. I was capable of more than I thought. I learned something new. I began to see and understand connections and associations between products. I was able to learn faster and to make good guesses on the spot. Soon, oh so soon I was flying around the entire men’s department at Nordstrom in Palo Alto. I didn’t walk, I glided at a fast pace. I knew what I wanted for each customer, I knew where it was or how to get it. For the first time in my life, and I mean this, I felt proud and truly satisfied with my job. It didn’t feel like work anymore. It felt like life.  It was happiness. It was fulfillment. It was natural.

After about three months of working at Nordstrom and getting my stride, I began to notice this woman watching me. I didn’t really know who she was, but I knew she worked at the store because I saw her at the Friday morning rallies. It felt like every time I looked up she was there watching me. At the time I didn’t understand why, but I knew it was me that she was watching.

Around that same period of time I made a new acquaintance at work.  She was a veteran salesperson with Nordstrom and offered me some great wisdom. What I carried away from that conversation was that there was a type of salesperson called a Personal Stylist, the role really intrigued me, and I was encouraged to go knock on the manager’s door. Ordinarily the thought of knocking on someone’s door would make me nervous and I would end up shying away from the opportunity, losing that moment.

Maybe it was that I was riding a wave of confidence from my accomplishments at work, or maybe it was that I had grown just enough to push myself out of my comfort zone, but whatever the motivation was, I marched myself straight to this woman’s office and knocked on her door. The door opened, and I was greeted by a friendly smile and familiar face. The woman who I had noticed watching me so many times before while I was working, smiled and said hello! 

I asked her politely if she had a moment to chat. Without hesitation Christina invited me to sit down and talk. She was beautiful. She too had a friendly smile. I asked her if she could tell me more about the personal styling program, and just like that she told me all about it. I listened intently, eyes wide, smiling. I was envisioning myself as a stylist as I heard her describing the role and responsibilities. When she was finished talking I inched myself to the edge of my chair and leaned in and asked her if I could be a stylist too.

I couldn’t even believe that those words had left my mouth. I had just put myself out there, made myself vulnerable. Told someone what I wanted. She said yes. She asked me to go back down to my department and told me she would contact me within 10 minutes because she needed to speak with the store manager. I did as I was told, but I couldn’t work. I was nervous and exhilarated. Then I heard my name on the intercom. I had a phone call. It was her. She asked me to come back up to her office.

Christina had a conversation with the store general manager and the outcome was in my favor. They had both approved my promotion to becoming a personal stylist at Nordstrom. But there was more. This wasn’t an every day promotion she wanted me to know. I had only been working at Nordstrom for just over three months and had never worked retail before. There was some kind of policy that employees were not eligible to move departments, let alone get promotions any sooner than six months. In addition, the fact that the promotion was approved in 10 minutes, Christina said, could very well have been “the fastest promotion at Nordstrom. Congratulations and welcome to the team!”

In the spirit of my One Step At A Time philosophy, I embraced the promotion and all that would come with it. There would be more to learn. Women’s, children’s, jewelry. There would be more to do. Phone calls, emails, follow-ups, room set up, clean up. Beginning in December of 2014 I was officially a personal stylist at Nordstrom in Palo Alto. I remained in Men’s Furnishings, selling, while managing appointments and taking the initiative to turn walk-ins into styling appointments.

Not slowly this time, but quickly, I was growing my book of customers, and I was getting appointment after appointment. My first women’s customer turned into my second, and from there I began to split my time on the men’s floor and women’s floor equally. I was the only stylist in the store at that time to be scheduled permanently in both men’s and women’s. Eventually, I left men’s to work exclusively on the women’s floor. I still booked many appointments with men, but I wanted to be upstairs in women’s.

The first few months of my time as a personal stylist flew by. My days were filled with appointments, walk-ins and fun sales experiences on the floor. My pace was fast. My heart was full. I was so completely satisfied and happy with the experiences I was having as a stylist that on my drives home, rivers of tears would flow from my eyes. There were times I couldn’t see the road because I was crying so hard. These were tears of joy; pure joy. I had never felt this before.

Eventually it came to my attention that my name was being called quite regularly at morning announcements. Usually names are mentioned for some kind of recognition or for being in the top 10 for sales the previous day. In my case it was often both. Customers were taking the time to either call in or write a personal letter to the store manager letting them know how much they valued their styling appointment with me and how highly they thought of me. I was also often in the top 10, and as time went by, in the top five of daily sales by employees storewide. Eventually I held a spot in the top 10 for overall sales in the entire store for the year to date. I was on track to being a million dollar seller; a status that’s rare and hard to come by.

But after a year and some months working at Nordstrom I left for another job. In those 15 months at Nordstrom, at that job with no prestige that anyone could get, I soared. I found happiness. I found myself. I faced my fears and I learned that I could fly on my own.


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Exit and Reentry

When Divya and I had our son Ayaan in 2018 in India, Divya decided to quit her job so that she could spend time with him in his early formative years, beyond the standard maternity leave given to mothers. We were privileged enough to not have to think about the financial impact, which made it easier for her to make this decision. 

As a father, I will be forever grateful to Divya for making that choice. As her husband, I was very worried about how she would reenter the job market once she was ready. 

In 2019, I was asked to lead global operations for Udacity, a change from my then-role as the managing director for Udacity in India. This was a great role for me but would require us to move to the US. Divya, a true life partner, immediately told me that I should take the new role, while she would focus on getting us settled and looking after Ayaan during the transition. This enabled us to relocate to the US in late 2019. 

In 2020, COVID hit and Divya took an even greater role of managing the home while I was working there as well. The days for me got busier — the edtech world was getting headwinds from the pandemic as more people turned to online learning. Our son was growing up fast and Divya kept on holding fort. When Divya decided to go back to work, I was firsthand witness to the challenges that she faced. 

During my career I have had the privilege of working with very impressive women. The conversations that I have had with them about their struggles in leaving work for their maternity break and coming back to work afterwards have been deeply troubling. I have often heard that when a mom returns she is expected to either show up in exactly the same way she showed up before she was a mom — or it is assumed that she will not show up the way she did before she was a mom. While in the former situation it is ignored that the mom also now has children to take care of, the latter situation denies her equal opportunities at work. Both of these biases make it difficult for moms to be their authentic selves in the workplace. 

As a leader, when I reflect on such stories, I can’t help but think about how much we could scale our teams with this incredibly capable pool of talent. But it will require us to make it easier for expectant moms to prepare for their maternity breaks and for moms to return to work afterwards. They were all great partners at work before they took a break to raise a child. And that does not change just because they took time off. Here are some questions we can think about: 

  • What are the practices to help more women stay in the workforce? 
  • Are managers trained in hiring and supporting young adults as they begin to consider and embark on the parenthood journey?
  • When parents-to-be in the organization tell their managers that they are having a baby, is it an easy and celebratory conversation?
  • Are there part time options for returning moms to ease their reentry?
  • Does the company have specific roles that are structured in a way that’s attractive to returning moms?
  • Can we normalize that moms returning to the workforce also have to take care of their children?

These are some of the questions we’re thinking about at Liftery. If you’d like to help out, or if you’d like to share your own story, we’d love to hear from you.


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Life Goals: Enabling 10 million moms to climb higher

Moms and Careers — A paradigm shift

As a man, it never occurred to me to plan my job changes to coincide with the births of my kids. Two months after starting Eightfold, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our second child. While she suffered through nine miserable months of pregnancy (it was a particularly difficult one), I continued with my life. While she worried about things like iron deficiency anemia, gestational diabetes, depression and anxiety, fetal problems, high blood pressure, infections, hyperemesis gravidarum, and nausea, I was busy working and building Eightfold. As I reflected on the last few years, it became very apparent to me that there is a massive imbalance in our society — one that is preventing women from achieving true equality. Women are the primary caregivers and are expected to both take care of family and manage their careers at the same time.

Providing a few months of maternity leave is not enough. And neither is saying that paternity leave should be the same as maternity leave. What women endure through pregnancy, childbirth and nursing is just not the same as what their male partners do. And societal expectations of primary caregiving are not the same. How often have you heard of “soccer mom” (15M results on Google) vs “soccer dad” (just 1.2M results)?

Our commitment can’t be limited to maternity leave and some returnship related services. We need to do much more so that women in every stage of motherhood can thrive in their careers. So we couldn’t be more proud to introduce Liftery — a platform providing holistic support across all stages to enable moms to rise higher in their careers. Stay tuned!



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The Business Case for Child Care

Moms can’t work without child care – period. And yet, child care too often is seen as an individual problem for families to solve. With original data developed by our knowledge partner McKinsey, we released a new report that shows amid the Great Resignation, expanded child care benefits can help companies attract, retain and advance women in the workforce.


Life Goals: Enabling 10 million moms to climb higher

This Mother’s Day, I am grateful for the gift of motherhood. I feel blessed by the inordinate support I’ve had that allows me to pursue both a thriving career and deeply meaningful family goals. My mother did the unimaginable for her — flying solo from India to the US to help with my first-born when I was a year into my MBA at Stanford. Dev, my husband, booked a room near the offsite location of my Touchy Feely class and brought my daughter Ashna over for nursing breaks. After my second daughter was born, time off from my career wasn’t a choice, both because of financial reasons as well as personal drive. Dev has often been more than the 50-50 parent.

The stats show that this is an exception, not the norm. In India, there is 42% female enrollment in colleges, 32% in entry level jobs, and less than 1% at senior CXO levels. In the US, women increasingly outpace men in college graduation but at the top we still see mostly men. ~15% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women. While in society, women are not the minority, in our corporate world, they are. Even in the 21st century, becoming pregnant or taking time off can end a woman’s career — even just a year without employment can result in 39% lower pay. And a woman with a flourishing career and great potential has to start all over again once she takes a break of 2-3 years.

This Mother’s Day, as I define the pillars of the impact I want to make over the next decade(s), one goal is to build a transformative, high-growth company serving creators in the web3 world – more on that over the next few months. The other is to make it my life’s work to partner with the ecosystem to enable ten million moms all over the globe to climb higher in their careers. Once we achieve that, we’ll get to the next ten million, and then the next. 

This is not a women’s problem. It impacts society & economies at large. I am thrilled to join forces with Ashutosh Garg, CEO & Co-founder,, and the father of two adorable boys, in this social impact mission. Plus, founding team members, Cindy, Deepika, Emily, Ishan and Parul. 

One of the leaders I admire, Carolyn Everson, taught me to define a big bold vision and share it. It’s 42% more likely to happen if you write it down. The odds are even higher when you share it. This Mother’s Day, I’m committing to enabling ten million moms across the globe to climb higher in their careers. More to come on this over the weeks. 



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Moms and Careers — A paradigm shift

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