An incubator of women leaders

Kalpana Sundar

Director Product Management, PayPal

Kalpana Sundar steadfastly believes you should be the change you wish to see in the environment around you. Entering the FinTech world in Silicon Valley, she pushed her fears aside and put her authentic self first. As her career evolved from engineering to product management, she jumped at opportunities to speak about her journey and advocate for diversity and inclusions in the workplace. 

“The most important thing to me is to stick to my core values and philosophies - I challenge myself to be true to them everyday.” - Kalpana Sundar

1. What has surprised you the most about the trajectory of your career? 

I have never dreamt of a specific career path for myself. I have believed in taking upon challenges as they come with just 1 condition - the opportunity to learn something new in whatever I get to do.  I have been fortunate enough to experience the learning I have always wanted, despite switching career paths from hardware engineering to application engineering to product management in FinTech.  Along the way, I have also had the good fortune of working with great teams who have helped shape my career as a leader. I would prefer to build my experience no different than what I have described above in the future as well - I think that’s the best element of surprise one can ask for!

2. What tips do you have for other women just starting out in your profession?

Be yourself, Be the change - There is always a first time for everything. There might be fear, discomfort on being perceived in a certain way when we are ourselves. But unless we do that, we may not be able to see any change in the world or see others like us. When I moved to the US from India and started working here, looking at the people around me - I was uncomfortable and doubtful of how I would carry myself in the new environment, let alone grow my career. But I decided to be myself and give it a shot. I kept my fears away, doubts aside and started showing up at work every single day. I focused on what I did best - which is to create great products and experiences for customers and create a thriving environment for teams to grow and learn. I learnt immensely from everyone around. This gave me confidence to be myself, while also being a change that I wished to see around me.  

Don’t be afraid to dream big and ask for opportunities - One thing that I have learnt in my career is never hesitate to ask - ask for opportunities, ask for more responsibilities, ask for fair pay, ask for help, ask for anything you think is important to build your career the way you desire. The worst that could happen is we might hear a NO or a delayed yes  - but at least this allows us to think of what we want based on what we see ourselves capable of doing. In most cases I have gotten what I wanted and in cases where I did not, it was a learning opportunity for me that has allowed me to pivot for better. 

3. What advice do you have for women who are going to speak on panels ? 

Speaking in general for me is about the content and the articulation of the content, no matter where we speak - at home, at work, at panels or at conferences. The more thought we give to what we want to say, the better we are going to be in conveying the message. Speaking in panels requires the ability to do all of the above instantly without a lot of preparation, because we are reacting to a question that is coming in LIVE the majority of times. In such instances, I keep 2 things in mind - the audience who are listening and the need to articulate the message succinctly so it reaches them with the correct intent. Practice, practice, practice - speak out aloud, hear yourself and determine for yourself if what you say makes sense to you first!

4. What traits of yours have you found to be the most valuable in your career? 

The most important thing to me is to stick to my core values and philosophies. I challenge myself to be true to them everyday – in what I do with my teams, my customers and to the society at large. I aspire to be a multiplier and a Go-Giver - seeing the best in others and giving them what they need to do their best, allowing everyone to grow. These traits have been the most valuable to me and have constantly helped shape me as a better person. 

Reach out to Kalpana if you want some tips on product management and pricing. She loves talking with women entrepreneurs and technologists about new business ideas, integrating life and work and mutually learning tips to build a fulfilling career.

Read an additional interview with Kalpana in Observation Book, and watch her champion diversity and inclusion on the 2019 Professional Pricing Society Panel

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