S02E31: Ritu Mohanka, Syndio

This is the fourth episode of our DE&I series. In these conversations, we want to explore issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and our hope is that these help build a world in which people from all backgrounds and with different views can thrive. Our aim with these series is to chat with inspirational guests who can encourage us all to look at the industries we work in (media, comms and tech) from different perspectives. 

 Our guest for this episode is Ritu Mohanka, Managing Director for EMEA at  Syndio, a technology company that helps companies measure, achieve, and sustain workplace equity. Ritu is passionate about making workplaces more diverse, inclusive, and fair.  She joined Syndio with over 20 years of experience in senior leadership roles with HR and talent-focused businesses, including leading business development and strategic growth efforts in EMEA at Glint (now a LinkedIn company). 

Prior to Glint, Ritu worked at Kenexa/IBM Smarter Workforce to drive rapid revenue growth across the EMEA region. At IBM she was a highly regarded and lauded Diversity Champion and an Executive Sponsor for several diversity groups. Winner of multiple awards, our guest has been recognised several times on the Empower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Senior Executive rankings. 

Tune in to learn about Ritu Mohanka’s incredible journey from a conservative Indian background to having spent over 20 years in the tech industry, in leadership roles. Syndio’s MD highlights the importance of representation and how to encourage businesses to make it happen, as well as what the company is doing to help others offer opportunity equity in the workplace. In the interview hosted by Tyto’s Associate Director Shamina Peerboccus, Ritu also discusses imposter syndrome in women and how to help overcome it by “identifying allies and advocates in the workplace who believe in you and who are supportive of your work.” Recognition is a powerful motivator, and breaking barriers for women and acknowledging the professional achievements of the BAME community is something Ritu is hugely passionate about. 


Shamina Peerboccus: Hello everyone. Thank you for listening to this new episode of the Without Borders podcast. Today’s episode is the fourth of our series of conversations with inspirational speakers coming from the world of technology, communications and media. And we have those conversations to challenge us, um, and ourselves, and to look at our industry from different perspectives. My name is Shamina Peerboccus. I am an Associate Director at Tyto and I will be the host for today’s show. I am delighted to have a conversation with Ritu Mohanka who recently was appointed as the managing director for Syndio pay equity software for Europe, um, really is passionate about making workplaces more diverse, inclusive, and fair. She joins the company with 20 years of experience in senior leadership roles with HR and talent focused businesses. She previously worked for Glint, a LinkedIn company, where she was leading business development and strategy growth efforts in Europe and prior to Glint she used to work for IBM and she drove rapid growth, rapid revenue growth across Europe as well. She was a highly regarded diversity champion and an executive sponsor for several diversity groups. Winner of multiple awards, our guest has been recently listed on the Empower Role Model list for the second year. Welcome Ritu.  

Ritu Mohanka: Thanks, Shamina, for having me.  

Shamina: How are you today?  

Ritu: Uh, little bit nervous, but very well otherwise.  

Shamina: Uh, tell us where you are. Are you, um, in London?  

Ritu: I am in London and in my house and hopefully there’s gonna be no background noise that my children join.  

Shamina: No worries. Um, so I gave a, I gave a brief introduction of your professional experience. Tell us, um, a bit more about your personal journey.  

Ritu: Absolutely. Thank you, Shamina. Um, so I, of course you can see, as you can see, I am Indian. I am originally from Kolkata in India. And as you suggested, I have over the last 20 years, worked in studies in many cities across Europe, including London, Paris, Munich, and Vienna. Um, I, I, I always say that I’m very lucky to be recognized, uh, leader in the HR tech and human capital space known, particularly for my expertise in diversity, equity, inclusion, employee engagement, and talent. And all of my roles have focused on really delivering workforce and performance transformation using best of breed HR tech solutions that truly begin to demonstrate clients key business outcomes. Uh, and along the way, I have been very, very fortunate and to be successfully recognised and even picked up a few awards for businesses fast, but, but I don’t believe there’s a single thing that makes you successful.  

Um, that’s really about my personal journey. Some of it’s down to luck, but a lot of it is down to hard work without, and also without the help, it’s really, really hard to succeed. And I am extremely lucky and fortunate to say that my parents inculcated me a massive drive to achieve from a very early age and, and, and was super supportive despite coming from a extremely traditional Indian background where girls weren’t expected to work. In fact, they never left home before they got married. So my parents pushed against a lot of those cultural norms to give me career opportunities, a great education and have been, and always been a fantastic support for me. And, and, and for anyone on this call or otherwise having a support system in a place is so hugely important in today’s world. And, you know, as I’m talking about my personal journey, I always say that my career and my personal achievements are intertwined.  

And in my personal life, I’m very grateful and proud that I got lucky by marrying the right guy. It’s just such an important part of my life. Absolutely. Yeah. And that I’m bringing up two, I say, mostly wonderful boys. Um, and that I’m, and that I am there when my parents, my friends, or my family need me and they are my, you know, my friends and my family are my rock. They, they believe in me. And as I said, the support system means that I can do what I do and why I’m here, where I am today. And, and, you know, um, sorry if my response is a bit long, but it’s, it’s been a, quite a journey. Yeah. Um, and you know, and over the years and after much reflection and many conversations with various leaders and mentors and friends, I concluded that having an impact on a rather disruptive or novel growth industry technology was my number one objective as my life and my career evolved.  

And, and I’ve learned that market leaders with true product fit and with, and strong modes have tremendous fuel to last for many years, often decades, which is what led me to Syndio where, you know, perhaps we’ll talk about that a little later, but I am super, super passionate about making fairness in workplace a reality for everybody. And now I finally have a real opportunity to make that a reality for many, many, many, many, many people in a host of companies providing a rather unique capability allows companies to truly measure workforce equity in multiple dimensions and across many variables. Mm-hmm . Um, and, and finally I love growing future leaders. That’s another aspect of my personal journey for me, there is a deep meaning and purpose in helping others succeed. Uh, I knew I’d been lucky to have benefited from the advice and support of incredible leaders who have helped me in my journey of personal growth, which changed the way I live and lead, and I want to pass it forward. And, and that’s who really, I am. There are so many exciting firsts for me in my journey, but the one I love the most is that I’m able to see what I can do by applying my skills, to my passion, being able to build a company around the thing I love to do with a team of incredible people driven by the exact same mission. Sounds like magic to me. And here I am today.  

Shamina: That’s so, um, nice to hear. And I really understand what you’re saying about, you know, having this personal growth and trying to link it to your professional experience. Uh, but I just want to go back to, um, maybe something a little bit, a little bit more personal. You, you know, you said you come from like an Indian background and obviously like, you know, this, this culture is quite conservative and I know what I’m talking about here. And we know that imposter syndrome, um, hits women and it, he, it hits women, uh, women from, you know, minority backgrounds a little bit harder. Have you experienced this and how, how did you overcome it? What, what was your, you know, journey like, was, was there a moment where you decided no matter what, you know, despite the hurdles, I’m just going to thrive  

Ritu: Such, such a great question and rather personal to me, but thank you for asking that. Yes, absolutely. I have suffered from it for many years, even though I knew I was capable of doing the work. I was often riddled with self doubt. It was much more actually recently that I learned that there was actually a term for what I felt, which is imposter syndrome. Um, and you know, imposter syndrome just exactly, as you said, has an outsized effect on certain groups. We are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. If we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share a background and who are clearly succeeding in our field. And, and even though, you know, I was lucky as I keep saying the word luck, uh, I was very lucky to be promoted several times in my previous jobs, but I constantly second guessed my decisions, even though people raved about either my skills or how I knew my industry in inside out, or how I was really good at client relationships and stakeholder management.  

I refused to objectively look at the data that said that I was actually good at my job. For years I thought of every opportunity that came my way was due to my gender or my colour. I was often worried I was underqualified and in over my head and everyone looked so self assured and confident. So I worked long hours to try to prove myself too afraid to ask for help, because I thought, if I’m good as they think I am, I shouldn’t need the help. And I should be able to figure it out on my own. What I didn’t realise that women often don’t raise their hands unless they believe they check all the boxes whilst men commonly put their hand up, even if they barely qualify. So now I, now relatedly realise that talking about your imposter syndrome is the first step to dealing with it rather than suffering in silence.  

And I, I, I give myself this advice all the time and to others is identify allies and advocates in the workplace who believe in you and who are supportive of you personally. Check in, you know, check in with your colleagues and peers in the field, especially other women and people of colour. Don’t be afraid to say, you’re struggling 99% of the time you are not the only one doubting yourself. And this goes a long way toward validating the, the way you’re feeling, which can be really helpful for convincing yourself that the imposter syndrome actually isn’t real, especially if you experience it again. And it’s, it’s so important to silence your inner critic and look towards your strengths. And that’s exactly what I did. We, we really tend to over focus on our negatives when we feel imposter syndrome on only paying attention to supposed failures or deficiencies, give yourself some credit for your accomplishments.  

You’ve done, you’ve come here because of something because of what, who you are. It may be really hard at first because your mind will try to keep minimising the good stuff that you do, but keep trying, and finally believe, you know, it’s taken me a long time. Know that it is possible to get past your sticking points, as long as you control your own destiny, give your best and work hard. But, you know, I won’t lie even today. I’m not totally free of self doubt, but I’m in a much better place with my imposter syndrome. Sometimes I still hear the Debbie Downer voice in my head, but I’ve learned to reframe the message. It is now my advocate, not my adversary challenging me all the time to move forward out of my comfort zone. Yeah.  

Shamina: I imagine that you are able to step back a little bit more whenever this voice, uh, comes and talk to yourself. Really.  

Ritu: Absolutely.  

Shamina: And I imagine being, um, spending over 20 years in the tech industry, um, was also very challenging. You didn’t choose, you know the industry that was the easiest for women, I guess. Um, was there any, anything specific, you know, anything, any examples that you, you know, challenging situation that you faced for instance, and how you learned how to deal with really?  

Ritu: Yeah, I mean, Shamina I, a career and technology was never in the cards for me, but I always knew that I wanted to transform culture, business and people. I think I say that, I think I still say that with a broad prominence and think. I, I, I think I was born with a talent for solving problems or approaching solutions creatively. Um, you know, if you think about my background in terms of my career, uh, my qualifications and, uh, I, with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, master’s in marketing and an MBA, I really began my career in tech when I accidentally became aware of Kenexa, uh, you know, a real industry disruptor in, in the world. And of course in Europe. But I said, okay, I’ve stumbled upon it. Let’s try that. But the hardest part of my tech journey was building strong relationships and having a support system.  

And I keep going back to that. I never felt like I belonged anywhere because I was different to begin with. Hmm. Um, and I, I sometimes felt like I stuck out like a sour thumb in those early days, I felt intimidated working in a field that at that time was so dominated by mostly white men with very few face faces of other men and women who look like me. But I was raised to walk with my head held high and to speak intelligently and to always put my best foot forward. So that’s exactly what I did. And I’m still attempting to do that. So I always say, you know, people hear the word technology and they immediately go, gosh, software engineering and computer engineering. It’s not that, the industry in itself is one where you can apply multiple skills of leadership and creativity and psychology.  

So it, isn’t just about looking at technology from that lens. And, you know, um, one of the, some words that I remember from the past always speaks to me. You know, I remember that someone said to me, you’re smart. You, you’ll figure it out. That’s why we hired you. You can do it. So now, 20 plus years later, I still hear those words in my ears, cheer me on. And that’s what you need. You just need someone to lift you up. Yeah. Irrespective of whether it’s your technology industry or different industry. And my, and my career really began to take off in tech when I fully accepted that it is okay to be different. I’m equally as competent and capable of being in the industry as any other successful professional man or woman. Uh, and I decided to be my own advocate to become more curious, find allies and mentors, develop a support system for others and speak up when necessary and uplift others.   

Something I believe strongly in is uplift one another particularly women. Um, you know, and I know by, but you know, this journey has not always been easy, but all the stress and tears, challenges have all been worth it. Technology is such an exciting field. I think I’ve stayed the course so long because it is a field that allows me truly to exude confidence, to be articulate, to be assertive, to be a team player. And most importantly, it’s a field that allows you to be creative and think outside the box. I think, you know, Shamina, um, I love what I do, especially when I see how information we provide through technology makes a large or a small impact. That’s most rewarding for me. Sorry, my response is a bit long.  

Shamina: It’s great. It’s really nice listening to you. um, I think I like what you said about, as soon as you embrace who you are, even if you’re different, then you kind of like allow yourself to be yourself, I guess, and that’s unlock something and can just really thrive, I guess. Yeah. So things are evolving. Um, you recently joined Syndio as the Managing Director for Europe. Just tell us more about, you know, your company, the mission, why it’s relevant today and, and how this company actually is, you know, is living the talk. If I can, if that makes sense. yeah,  

Ritu: Totally joining Syndio was a very intentional decision. I researched the firm carefully for a long time, but ultimately the decision came down to the leadership team and what a mission and the values driven organisation Syndio is. The fact that Syndio’s values aligned my own in putting people at the heart of what we do was super, super important to me. And, and Syndio was founded on the belief that organizations must do more than they say that employees are their most valuable asset. And sorry, I’m gonna do a little bit of what Syndio, who Syndio is now I hope you don’t mind Shamina? So Syndio really uses technology to empower organisations, data, to inform and expertise, to inspire. How do we help leading organisations to prove it to whether it’s their employees, regulators, investors, and themselves, that they really do care about their employees and their employees of their most valuable asset. So it’s a SaaS company that uses data analytics to help companies measure, achieve, and sustain workplace equity, such as pay opportunity and representation.   

So we identify what we call sort of pay gaps in seconds, literally in seconds and constant, real time measurement of employee opportunity and representation, so that organisations can start to build diverse and dynamic teams throughout their organisations. Um, why is this relevant now? Why should Syndio be, you know, industry disruptor? Well, if you think about it, today’s organizations face so many surround sound calls from lawmakers and investors and employees, and even customers to ensure equitable pay real diversity, remove any bias in every stage of an employee life cycle. And many, many, many, many companies are investing in these areas with, uh, teams work. You know, they’re doing a lot of work, but they’re all working in silos, diversity equity and fair pay are so intertwined. And unless you address some of those root cause of inequities, you may not end up better than where you started. And that’s really what Syndio is about in terms of really helping organisations achieve workforce equity.  

Shamina: So what you mean by that? Can you, can you break it down? What does opportunity equity in the workplace means?  

Ritu: Absolutely. So if you, if, if I think about, let’s just say Europe for now, it’s almost the beginning of a new era for Europe, European companies, and Syndio’s technologies really helps say, let’s break it down into digging into your pay equity issues. You know, once a year audit that lots of organisations do no longer works. Leaders really need to start looking at a much closer look to the hidden policies and behaviours and biases that are reinforcing pay equity challenge. So really it’s looking at digging into your way there is, is there equal work for equal pay? It’s also about, you know, beware. I always say beware of mass pay averages, executive leadership teams need to really make that call now and draw a really hard boundary to potentially ignore industry or role pay averages to re-level compensation at their own company. It’s up to the company’s leadership really to make these difficult calls and to own these discrepancies.  

It’s okay if you don’t have it fixed, it’s okay if you have a gap, but it’s about making sure that you can stand up front and say, we have a gap and we have a plan to fix this eventually. And then it’s really not focusing on just the cash component, but the role total compensation, if companies are focused solely on base pay, when evaluating workplace equity, they’re missing the broader, more telling picture. In my view, um, you know, our CEO, Maria noted that companies, you know, she says this all the time, “look at what we call the dirty little secrets and the dark hidden corners.” The dark hidden corners are things like bonuses and incentives and pay and stock options and equity grants. If you have to look at those things to get a true picture of whether you have gaps or not, that’s when truly you start looking at and saying, oh, there’s an issue here with bonuses. And there is a lot of bias involved here and let’s do this analysis and get, um, equity around that. So it’s really about equitable representation, equitable access to opportunities, equitable compensation, and equitable starting pay.  

Shamina: So, so where do you think the conversations should be, or who should initiate these conversations to really help businesses, you know, be, be more fair. There is a gap between, you know, knowing that that’s the right thing to do and you know, what is really happening, I guess.  

Ritu: Yeah. I mean, it starts in our view, it starts with the CEO. You know, uh, a lot of organisations are reporting on the ESG metrics. A lot of organisations are saying, we are very clear on our, on the E we are really clear on the G, but we don’t really know what the S is. And S is social impact. What are you doing externally and internally for your employees in the community and the environment at large. And it starts with something that’s very personal to every individual who works somewhere, it’s their pay it’s fairness. So really the conversation starts at the C suite, but of course our direct if you like category of, um, customers are heads of rewards, heads of DE&I and heads of HR.  

Shamina: Okay. That’s, that’s very, uh, very interesting and we should wish you all the best of luck with this, through this new role. , um, you’ve been, um, listed, like I mentioned, in the Empower Role Model list for the second year. So congratulations. Um, I think for those who are not familiar with this, this list is supported by Yahoo Finance, and it showcases leaders who are breaking down barriers and at work, and this smashing the ceiling for people of colour really within global businesses. Um, do you want to tell us more, maybe a bit. I would love to hear about, you know, which is your perspective on importance and representation, like a little bit more than what you just, you know, shared with us.  

 Ritu: And I, I think personally, everyone who’s listening to this podcast will, will recognise this recognition is a very powerful motivator and makes us all a hard work worthwhile. And that’s for me, I know it does for me. Uh, so of course I was delighted, um, to recently make it into the Empower Executive World Model 2022 list. Um, and I think this is my fourth time Shamina. Oh, so I’m, I’m quite humbled to say that. Wow its true. It’s very humbling. Wow. And really it is about acknowledging the professional achievements or workplace BAME community. And it’s something that I keep saying that I am not just proud of, but really passionate about. And it’s really about seeking to break some of those barriers for minorities. And I believe that our work at Syndio is also going to contribute to that mission hugely. But yeah, you asked the question about what does representation matter? Why does it matter in the workplace? Oh gosh, it really matters simply if nothing, for diversity of thought, if nothing else, you know, why we all start off on equal footing for entry level jobs as career progresses, these shared representations drop off. And this means when decisions are being made, there aren’t enough women of colour or women sitting at the table representing their communities.   

And, and, you know, it’s really, really difficult to make decisions that represent these communities without this representation. Because as I said, representation truly matters. And with the future involving algorithm, technology, algorithmic technologies, and again, it’s a, you know, a sell on Syndio, it is more important than ever to have wide and meaningful representation helping truly eliminate bias in the workplace and in many different industries to I to impact the future, we must, must, must start with representation. Um, you know, if you think about historically women have been underrepresented in many areas of work and particularly at senior levels. So of course it’s expected that most employers will have a, a pay gap, but it really comes from that opportunity gap. So the gender pay gap can be caused by various different factors, including historical social factors, lack of women and senior roles, labour market experience, family responsibilities, and of course equal pay issues. So that’s why it’s so key to get that representation right. Then everything else will follow suit.  

Shamina: Thank you so much. Um, I have a last question, actually. Um, looking back, what piece of career advice would you, would you give to your younger self?  

Ritu: You know, I would still say the same work hard, but also work smart. Nobody needs a burnout. And if you’re unsure, seek advice, wait up, use it well, ask for help as many times when you need it. And if someone doesn’t want to help you, they won’t, but ask for it. And finally keep adding to your skills. You can’t be a one trick pony in leadership positions, especially in the fast moving world of technology. You know, I always say it’s tough to build something it’s just a little bit tougher if you’re building something as a woman and over the top last two decades, I have survived all kinds of challenges, including biases and stereotypes. I, I, I, one day Shamina, we can talk more about that, but after all that has flown by and all that is yet to manifest, I learned that the best way to give back is to pay it forward. To share real stories of what’s been, it’s been like starting to build with the hope that some of these stories resonate with the audience and give them a few ideas or tips to drive, to push past that some of those what seems like unbreakable barriers.  

Shamina: Thank you so much. Um, wow. That was a great conversation.  

Thank, thank you again, Ritu, for your time. It’s really inspiring. And I, I, I feel empowered somehow and I’m sure all our listeners feel the same way. Um, so that’s it for, for our Tyto Without Borders Podcast. Um, you should like to know more about Syndio. You can check that website it’s synd.io

Um, we’d love to hear your comments and receive nominations about who you think could be our next guest, and you can share your suggestions. Yeah. Our social media channels. So you can find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Um, and if you loved what you heard today, please give us a positive rating and a review. They are greatly appreciated and really, really helpful. Um, and lastly, if you want to keep track of our new episodes, um, make sure you subscribe to our Without Borders podcast and that’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening.  

Ritu: Thank you for having me. 

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