Show up and bring your chair. Continue doing it, both at home and at work. But always have a seat at the table, especially when decisions are being made: Gurmeet Kaur, Digital Transformations Leader

Gurmeet Kaur

Gurmeet Kaur is an avid visionary and planner, leading with clear strategies and goals to ensure alignment across large enterprise environments as well as creating the much-needed structure across startups. As a certified Gallup StrengthsFinder coach, she leverages team strengths to build high performing teams that deliver ever-increasing levels of performance.

An entrepreneurial, goal-oriented problem solver with experience leading digital transformations across industries spanning startups, Fortune 500, government and non-profits, she is instrumental in driving change through strong data and analytical skills, technical background and marketing expertise.

In an exclusive conversation with CPO Innovation, Gurmeet Kaur debunks the old-age myth that as a woman, you need to make a choice between career and family. She also shares the benefits of greater gender diversity in organizations and what men can do to help correct the leadership imbalance between men & women.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

CPO Innovation: As a way of introducing yourself, can you start off by telling us a little bit about your career and your journey to finding yourself with where you are today?

Gurmeet Kaur: As I reflect back at my career, I think of my career in three phases:

My initial phase was focused on a strong educational foundation in Computer Science. I started my early career as a programmer. A couple of years under my belt and a strong skillset in dynamic, data-based websites, I founded a consulting company offering technical services to mid-size companies. A tough pregnancy and a sick kid took me out of the industry for a couple of years and when I returned back to the industry, I was a better fit on the business side. The federal sector helped build my consulting expertise, and I had the opportunity to lead initiatives through the entire life cycle, usability to launch and operations.

The next phase was purely organic when I accepted a position with a startup as their Web Products Manager. I learned how to make business and marketing decisions for products, and work with engineers to build it. My manager moved to Marriott and asked me to join her. My technical skills combined with my business acumen as well as the knack for building great customer experiences gave me the chance to build a dynamic campaign management framework, personalization, stand up The Ritz Carlton Rewards, enhance transaction emails, and lead digital integration of major hotel brands. 

This phase also introduced my love and natural knack for data-based decisions, as well as my passion for coaching. In my most recent role, I oversaw the consumer-facing digital strategy for the biggest US-based non-profit including web, app, email and social channels. I also had an opportunity to work on some new emerging businesses and bring data within digital to help understand the end-to-end omnichannel consumer journey. 

My next and hopefully not the last phase is currently being defined. With my daughters in college, I am an empty-nester. My biggest priority has always been my family and this is the first time I get to think about what I really want to do next. I want to take a few risks, explore new ideas. I am also in the midst of writing my first book. I am excited and eager to find out where this will take me.

CPO Innovation:  What have been the turning points in your career?

Gurmeet Kaur: When I look back at my career, it feels like I choreographed it for success. But in reality, each step was unplanned but a turning point bringing me closer to where I am now. When I look back, the biggest turning points were:

  1. Having kids and taking time off to nurse a sick child helped me understand that I feel incomplete without my work. I love what I do. I am a better mom for my daughters cause I am showing them they can do both, you do not have to choose over the other.
  2. Taking an impromptu opportunity with the startup where I met my friend, manager, mentor. Now that I reflect back, this friend has been at the grassroots of major inflection points in my life and my roles as a writer, a coach and digital products. 
  3. Getting certified as a coach showed me how I hold myself back and how I can unleash my potential.

CPO Innovation: How significant has mentorship been in your journey?

Gurmeet Kaur: Though I have not had a formal mentor, I have been fortunate to have met and learned from several individuals across different walks of life, including my daughters. Whether it was raising kids far away from family, or exploring opportunities at work, I have leaned on my colleagues, friends and even my Venezualan nanny. Each one has left a big impact on my life. 

Looking back, I think having a mentor is especially helpful, or rather I suggest having multiple mentors, cause you can seek advice from several folks, then evaluate and implement what makes the most sense for you. Each one of us has our own values and priorities. It’s best to talk to many and apply what aligns and works for you. No two individuals are alike and therefore each journey is very different. My only advice is to evaluate all advice with an open mind and not close doors too fast.

CPO Innovation: How can organizations help empower women in leadership roles?

Gurmeet Kaur: Organizations need to first acknowledge that gender diversity is a priority for them. It’s hard when organizations pay lip service but never make it a priority. Secondly, tie it to the executive performance goals. This ensures that the organization is moving from merely talking to doing. Having women in leadership positions ensures there are strong mentors and sponsors for younger women stepping into their careers.

Starbucks recently announced that they are tying diversity goals to executive performance. In this new world, companies need to play an active role in defining an inclusive community and world. The third place to focus on is training and education around diversity. Diverse teams are generally high performing teams as they consider and acknowledge diverse thoughts and ideas. Last but not the least, consider what you can do to make it easier for moms to be at work – for example, do you have nursing rooms, can you add child care so both men and women can work with ease, do you offer paternity and maternity leave?

CPO Innovation: What can men do to help correct the leadership imbalance between men & women?

Gurmeet Kaur: Something that I read on LinkedIn that has stuck with me is a post from a guy who turned down participation in an all men panel. He said it not to get kudos but to ask other men to join in and discourage the practice. We need more men with similar thoughts and intentions. Speak up and stand up for inclusion. We owe it to ourselves as well as the upcoming generations so we can leave a more inclusive workplace for them.

CPO Innovation: What benefits does greater gender diversity among leaders bring to an organization?

Gurmeet Kaur:  The first and most important is growth. As I mentioned above, diverse teams are generally high performing teams as they consider and acknowledge diverse thoughts and ideas. Comfort zone is to be surrounded by like-minded people, but growth comes when you bring people with differing ideas and experiences to the table. 

Besides growth, I think diversity is important to attract and retain talent. The upcoming generations are more inclusive and demand more from companies. To attract new talent, it’s important to have diversity, as well as growth opportunities in place.

CPO Innovation: What advice do you have for aspiring women leaders?

Gurmeet Kaur:  I want to share my favorite quote “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”. These words are by Shirley Chisholm who became the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. 

Show up and bring your chair. Continue doing it, both at home and at work. But always have a seat at the table, especially when decisions are being made. 

Once at the table, speak up; With respect and honesty. 

Please do not give up. I am not saying it is or will be easy. Especially since work competes with our families, the most important thing in our lives. But get creative, get help, explore places that give you the much-needed flexibility, continue to network and learn. It has never been more important to show up and have an equal presence in the workplace. We owe it to the next generation and we need to be strong role models for other women. 

Be kind to yourself when the world around you is not. 

And last but not the least, something I learned later in life;  you can do both. It does not mean if you are a good mom you cannot have an aspiring career or role at work. And if you work, your kids get neglected. This is an age-old myth. Please take that out of your minds. Women are the best multitaskers, who can plan both current and future, and we get it done.