Embracing Change with Sonia Karkare

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About The Episode Transcript

In today’s episode, we talk with the wonderful Sonia Karkare. Sonia is an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate at Kent University and an advisor to Kent State’s Women’s Center, the Empower School for Health, and the CyberPeace Institute. Her current priority is on gender equity, with a focus on the impact of challenging work environments on global immigrant women leaders.

Navigating the professional world as an immigrant woman in tech comes with its unique set of challenges, a truth Sonia knows all too well. Her perspective enriches our discussion on adaptation and resilience, as we share related stories from our past. From the shock of a new culture to the thrill of breaking barriers in technology, Sonia highlights the power of curiosity and the courage it takes to claim your space in unfamiliar environments. These narratives underscore the importance of mentorship and the transformative potential of technology, not only in our professional lives but in our ongoing fight for gender equity.

Before we speak with Sonia, we share some thoughts on Dr. Claudine Gay's resignation and how race, gender, and power dynamics in academia are tied to the current backlash to DEI, which we'll talk more about in our next episode!

(0:00:06) - DEI Backlash and Power Dynamics DEI backlash, targeted attacks on female university presidents, and complexities of race and power dynamics in Dr. Claudine Gay's resignation from Harvard.

(0:07:43) - Higher Ed Backlash & Gender Equity Academic leaders' unpreparedness, elitism in higher education, media's role in shaping narratives, and contrasting reactions to DEI.

(0:15:24) - Journey of a Multicultural Career Sonia's journey from Mumbai to tech entrepreneurship, navigating challenges, and exploring how embracing change led to a beautiful path of learning and supporting gender equity.

(0:27:15) - Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Identity Development Overcoming imposter syndrome, growth mindset, speaking up, and adapting in diverse environments as a woman of color.

(0:37:32) - Navigating Challenges and Leading Teams Leadership as a woman in a male-dominated environment, balancing professional demands and personal convictions, and mentoring the next generation.

(0:45:08) - Impact on Immigrant Women Leaders Global immigrant women leaders in tech, challenges, and hopes, while discussing worthiness, support systems, and allyship.

(1:00:33) - Use Technology for Successful Transformations Strategic use of technology, change management, political buy-in, communication, and future work in gender equity and professional spaces.

(1:07:41) - Grateful Conversations and Call to Action Engaging dialogue with guest Sonia, gratitude for respectful conversation.

0:00:06 - Rachel Murray & Felicia Jadczak Hi and welcome to the she Geeks Out podcast, where we geek out about workplace inclusion and talk with brilliant humans doing great work, making the world a better and brighter place. I'm Rachel and I'm Felicia. Let's get into it. What are we getting into today?

0:00:24 - Felicia Jadczak Oh, there's never like a never ending list of things to talk about. Okay, you know we're recording this early January and I think some of the big news that's happening in our space right now is, first of all, dr Claudine Gay resigning from her position at Harvard University. It's definitely super top of mind for me, and I know you and a lot of folks in our space, and it's been really interesting watching all of this DEI backlash play out. Yeah, I have some thoughts.

0:00:56 - Rachel Murray I mean, I got thoughts, I guess. Sure, no, I do. What are your thoughts?

0:01:01 - Felicia Jadczak Well, I mean, you know a lot of thoughts, probably too many to get into right now, but just to start off with, it's been really interesting from the standpoint of watching this. You know right wing sort of movement attacking not just Dr Gay but two other women presidents of higher ed institutions. One other person, lisa McGill, who is the president of Penn, did already resign and now I think the president of MIT is sort of next in the sights. So it just feels like a very concerted, targeted effort to get rid of presidents who may be more liberal leaning or not, but who are sort of heads of higher ed institutions. Also, you know whether it's deliberate or happenstance, but there are all three women and you know there's been a lot of discussion first around. Would this kind of dynamic have happened if it were three male presidents of higher ed institutions?

Claudine Gay is a black woman, so there's been a lot of discussion around the fact that she is a black woman who had to be put in this position. And you know, I think even this morning I was briefly reading a little bit about, you know, stuff that I, I guess, like probably was not surprised to read about, but was also surprised to read, and this is namely how much like violent, racist, terrible like messages and just sort of stuff, shit she was dealing with on a daily basis, like she couldn't even like have a active phone line because people just kept leaving her all these like terrible messages. And this is even before all this stuff was happening. So, you know, I think, like in the DEI space there's been a lot of discussion around like this is you know, she has to be exceptional because she's a black woman there's, you know, black women can never be perfect enough, like all this stuff. But what I've been thinking about is also how her positionality and power plays into it, because I think that's a whole other aspect to what's been happening that hasn't necessarily been talked about as much. So, anyway, that's a lot I just threw out there. No, you can't, you can't end up like that, say more. Well, you know, I mean and I'll say all this with take with a grain of salt, because I don't feel like I'm a hundred percent super qualified to comment on some of this but what I've been thinking about is, again, you know, we talk about like the duality all the time, right, like we can hold multiple truths at the same time. And I think, as somebody who is not a black woman but is in the DEI space but also is not in higher ed and all that, like from my perspective, I think that we have to be holding multiple truths at the same time here as well, because, yes, she's a black woman, yes, I think she's being held to a different standard.

Yes, again, like as a non-academic, I am curious about the plagiarism charges and I am curious whether there can be degrees of acceptability with plagiarism. My husband, steve, who spent a long time in academia, like his take on it is basically like plagiarism is plagiarism. So there's no like oh, this is plagiarism, light. Or this is like, okay, plagiarism, it's just it's plagiarism or it's not. But then, on the other hand, I'm like a lot of the discourse that I've been reading and hearing is saying that some of this stuff is very common, or it's acceptable, or it's like not a big deal, it's you didn't put quotes around something versus egregious plagiarism. So that's something that I'm interested in learning more about, because I don't know enough about that myself. But what I seem to think is happening, or what I've heard, is that a lot of academics that I have come across have been saying things like her plagiarism was not that extreme or it wasn't that egregious, but by the standards of Harvard it's considered plagiarism. So that's like one one piece of the puzzle.

Second piece of the puzzle is her racial identity, which of course you know I mentioned already like she's a black woman. I think what's really unfortunate is that, because this all played out the way it did, it's given, it's opened the door for a lot of DEI detractors to sort of wave the flag and saying, oh, this is what happens when you prioritize diversity, because we lower our standards and we they really wanted to get a black woman in here but she wasn't qualified and you know there's a lot of discourse, that's kind of gaining a lot of traction, I think, around that. And again, you know that's not how it works when you brought in your applicant pool. But the third piece of the puzzle, which is where I mentioned briefly, but what I've been thinking a lot about, is Dr Gay's identity, not just as a black woman but as her title, where she was president of Harvard University, and I think there's a lot of power dynamics wrapped up in that. That I know. I don't have the slightest clue, probably, how that all plays out, but there's probably so much that happened that we don't know around how she was wrapped for.

You know the sort of the discussions that started all of this off with you know, with the government, and how she was prepped and supported or not, and the kind of discussion that were probably happening behind the scenes with the board members, and also you know this all stemmed from her and her counterparts being forced to answer the question of you know, is calling or is being pro-Palestinian on these college campuses, basically anti-Semitic?

And they all were answering in very legalistic senses by saying, well, it's contextual and we can't say yes or no, and that's what really, I think, got them like, like burned them.

And to me it's interesting because I think, in her role as president, I think she was acting in regards to how she answered or how she dealt with some of the dynamics that were happening on campus between students and situations that were happening, not as a black woman or you know, she's not a DEI professional, but not as someone who's DEI informed, but as someone who's in power, and I think that is a piece that I haven't seen a ton of people talking about and I'm interested to dig into that more. So that's my like semi-informed but very under-informed in a lot of ways Initial sort of TLDR take on. A lot of what's happening is there's just a lot going on around that and you know, and I think rightfully so there are a lot of women in DEI roles who happen to be black women and I think they're rightfully really upset about all this. But at the same time I don't want to lose the thread of the power dynamics, because I think that's a really important piece of it too.

0:07:43 - Rachel Murray Wow, well said. Thank you so much, for I think Monday just got started, right there. It's a Monday. While we're recording, it's very Monday. I really appreciate you sharing those thoughts. There's a lot, you're so right. There's so much to unpack and you know, I remember watching the hearings and, honestly, I was really shocked at how poorly they responded, that all three of them responded as well. It's like they fell into a trap.

0:08:13 - Felicia Jadczak And that's what's so frustrating, because it's like we could have all guessed that this would happen, right Well?

0:08:17 - Rachel Murray yeah, exactly, and why weren't they better prepared and why didn't they think through this a little bit more? Given the timing and given what is happening in the world right now, it seemed very you know this. I don't know, our listeners probably don't know this so much, but I think there's a lot of problems with higher ed in general, and it's so funny when I have conversations with folks that are sort of on the conservative side. I just love having these conversations. So I'm like, oh, you also have a lot of issues with higher ed. They're just very different than the issues that I had with them, but there is a sense of elitism, for sure, that is, and that they are always right.

I mean, harvard is an incredibly problematic institution. It just really is, and I know that some folks are really trying to fix it. And look, we had one of my favorite presidents went there. So I can't completely fault it. But I do think that it is incredibly hypocritical the way that I think about the way they were treated versus the way, and how they survived versus the way, and I keep thinking of, like Katie Porter, when she has these moments, these viral moments with her whiteboard and she's grilling CEOs of major corporations.

I have not seen any of them step down. I have not seen any calls for their dismissal. I haven't seen any of that, despite the fact that she completely destroys them. On a fundamental fact that I think we all can agree on but we struggle with because of her forces that are larger than us exists, is that there is so much corporate greed out there, and that is what Katie Porter focuses on. So I don't know if it's, I don't know why that doesn't land and this does. I guess because it's just such a more emotional hot button issue that can.

0:10:12 - Felicia Jadczak Yeah, yeah, I mean sorry not to interrupt you, but I think you're right. I think it is a very hot topic and very controversial issue right now, which is being pro or anti-Palestine and wrapped up in that as being anti-Semitic or not. And I think the other thing is that I think especially Dr Claudine Gay and her again, her two other counterparts I think they were put into this narrative of being like the face of DEI and there was a very much concerted, obvious conservative effort. I'd never heard of this guy, chris Rufo, before, like a week or two ago, and he's out here. I'm seeing all these messages or tweets or whatever you call them at this point, but where he was like this is the plan, this is the game plan, step one, step two, step three and it's like, oh, and here it's happening. And so I also want to just name the.

I don't even want to know if I want to call it complicity, but the role that media is playing in this too, around how they are talking about this, what kind of language they're using and how they're spinning it, because that's a 100% part of this as well.

0:11:18 - Rachel Murray Oh, you're speaking my language. I got chills. This is my Raise his fist to sky. If we could just find a way to even it up a bit. I keep thinking about what was it, that whole incident with Lauren Boebert in the movie theater being completely inappropriate and AOC coming out on Instagram being like, look, she did a thing, whatever. It was wild the amount of coverage she got versus the amount of coverage I got when I was just dancing fully clothed and just being happy. She's like just make it even, just make it even.

0:11:58 - Felicia Jadczak Or just be neutral, or be neutral Neutral Like as a journalist. Impossible Of course we have biases, but it's like we didn't learn anything from 2020. And that's also really disappointing. It's like this big DEI backlash which the two of us have talked about quite a bit over the last year or two.

0:12:21 - Rachel Murray And I think what we'll do is in our next episode we'll talk a little bit more about that, Because I think we can certainly get into it. Let's get into it.

0:12:30 - Felicia Jadczak I also, and whether we say this for the next time or not, but I also just want to really quickly mention too that around the same time, the other thing that was really interesting and it doesn't counterbalance what happened to Dr Gay at all, so I'm just saying that right now but what was super interesting was in the last again like week or so, mark Cuban basically was like tweeting back at Elon Musk about how DEI is like really good and the power of DEI, and it was again not a counterbalance at all. But it was really refreshing to see someone in a position of power like Mark Cuban pushing back against Elon Musk, who again, that's a whole other episode or series, if you will but just basically being like no, you're wrong, saying DEI is terrible and all these things, and basically just it's such a drop in the bucket. But I think it's still really important to have someone like him publicly say the things that he was saying.

And a lot of times in our line of work I work with leadership and they're always like oh too hard, it's too much work, or like we got overhauled. All of our policies are like what can I do? I'm just a power up, a white man, and I think it was such an example, like a case study of like, and who knows if he wrote it himself or if he had someone help him, I don't even care, it's just he was leveraging his voice publicly to stand up and be a champion, right, and that was really powerful. Yes, totally, not some otherystay more.

0:13:57 - Rachel Murray Right, that's, of course, the energy of somebody else. Meaning a good girl that you mean basically a buffer from a bad boy in the next episode, because I do want to get on to our guest. I know we got so much more to talk about.

0:14:09 - Felicia Jadczak We have more to talk about with our delightful guests, so why don't you tell us who we talked about, or who we talked to, not about it?

0:14:17 - Rachel Murray We didn't talk about her. We talked with her. That's true, yeah, so in today's episode, we talked with the wonderful Sonia Carcare. Sonia is an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate at Kent University and she's an advisor to Kent State's Women's Center, the Empower School for Health and the Cyber Peace Institute. This woman is busy. Her current priority is on gender equity and she's focusing on the impact of challenging work environments on global immigrant women leaders. And we get into it and I can't wait for you to listen. Well, hello Felicia, hello Sonia.

0:14:53 - Sonia Karkare Hello, thank you for having me.

0:14:57 - Felicia Jadczak We are so excited to chat with you and we have so much to talk about, so we're just gonna dive right on in. So, sonia, I would love for you to just start us off with our favorite thing to talk about, which is origin stories. So could you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how you ended up becoming an adjunct professor at Kent State University?

0:15:17 - Sonia Karkare Thank you for asking. It's such a pleasure to be here and I love this space and I'm excited to tell my story. So I consider myself a product of two cities and two countries Mumbai, india, and Kent, ohio, united States. And the reason for that is I was born in Mumbai and did my first very formative years in schooling in India and then promptly, on insistence of following my sister's footsteps, decided to try my luck at coming to the United States at the very young age of 17, where visas were typically not given to students.

I was one of the lucky few that actually just got it and came to the US to study computer science, and the first thing I wanna tell you is that I came here, as I said, to do computer science, but I had never seen or touched a computer in my life. I did not know where the backspace key was. And so here I am in this world, coming into a different country. I thought it was a holiday when I arrived, because I didn't see people around me. They want any people on the streets, as in Mumbai it's eight million people and you come and you don't see a lot of people around, everybody's in their cars. So there was a cultural adjustment, I would say both academic, social. Everything Found my way around the computer by asking a lab tutor and my professors.

And that's the first lesson I sort of learned about asking a question and never, ever being apologetic about it. I will always say the most the stupid question is the one that's unasked. And so I moved forward and did my masters a bachelor's and masters in computer science at Kent State, was the youngest graduate student, at 21 in computer science at Kent State University, and then flew the coup and came to the Big Apple area, jersey City, new York area A huge adjustment again. You know, there was this massive platform of diversity that I was suddenly seeing different people from different places and fast-paced environment, but then again found myself being outnumbered Always, you know, one of the first women in a team or taking on a managerial role, or one of five women on a massive team of 30 or 40 people.

So through that I ended up then facing the horrible tragedy of 9-11. I lost a mentor, lost a couple of friends I had volunteered with, and that sort of changed my life. You know there was a Sonya before and a Sonya after and unfortunately until then I hadn't been exposed to the massive landscape of the nonprofit sector that the United States offered. It's specifically New York which is to me like a mecca of nonprofits. There's all kinds of nonprofits around, including DC but certainly New York, and so I said you know, what am I going to do with this computer science degree and encryption working with a consulting firm in New York, and how do I give back? What do I do about it? So I ended up trying to find ways to volunteer, to give my skills pro bono. So I started working with an organization called volunteering, with an organization called Sucky in New York, which is there to provide a support network for victims of domestic violence, primarily in the South Asian community, and sort of life came full circle. I ended up creating a curriculum for women who had been, so you know, badly brutalized, and taught them how to use a computer when I myself had learned that, you know, just less than a decade before. So with that I also became an advocate for them, for a few wonderful women who even became friends over time, attended you know several social functions with me and then ended up creating my own business in Manhattan.

I became a CEO, a co-founder and entrepreneur of my own company, a small minority women owned company, and the idea of it was and I kid you not, it's not a cliche it was in a restaurant with my best friend over a napkin.

You know you have these movies where people end up doing it, but I did end up doing this and I wasn't even selling a product. I was selling a way of working when I was trying to tell people me and my business partner were trying to tell people that there's a better way for you to use technology strategically rather than having these massive death march projects, as we used to call them, massively over scoped, under budgeted over time, causing burnout to the people, on them, causing stress to the clients and I was selling that as an idea because I had been burnt out so much in so early on in my career and founded this company ended up getting clients surprisingly, after a lot of knocking on doors, people the one place I'm going to mention is N-Power that was so tired of taking my calls that ultimately said please show up, please just come, just let's get this over with. So I had this conversation with them and ended up meeting people that Rachel and I know really well, and you mean my husband.

Yes, I do, but I didn't know if I was allowed to say that.

0:21:09 - Rachel Murray You are 100% safe space. Yes, Don't worry, he'll never listen to this recording, so it's fine.

0:21:16 - Sonia Karkare So, you know, I ended up joining N-Power, became a lovely client of mine as I ran my company and then later on, as I had to shut the company down because, you know, business partner had babies and things like that Ended up joining as the head of practice, then became a director of technology in one of their verticals. But one of the things I wanted to mention as a CEO and an entrepreneur was that we ended up making the time to hire women who were stay-at-home mothers, who did not have the opportunity to go back full-time but had the skills needed, a space to shop in these skills as they were rearing children at home, and so we gave them that space, that launching pad, that safe space to come back. You know, flexible hours, etc. This is, you know, 2003, 20 years ago. Come to N-Power. N-power, you know, gives me a wonderful six-year run on. You know several different types of roles leadership roles and then we just about skirted the first recession, 2008, 2009.

Then I ended up looking for opportunities in and something showed up in Washington DC with the American Red Cross, and that was very interesting because now I had had this desire to work in the nonprofit sector. So I did volunteering, was an entrepreneur, worked in the nonprofit sector and then ended up just consciously steering my entire career in this direction. So here with the American Red Cross, I was hired to take on a role around a digital transformation for their global disaster management system, and I was doing digital transformations before they were labeled digital transformations. I just realized that, you know, a few months ago. And so I ended up working with Washington DC but also getting exposure to this international stage. Right, You're going to different countries and you're rolling this out in Africa or in Asia or in different parts of those are the two main continents. Europe is world, I think to a certain extent, and so that was amazing because that was the hardest thing I'd ever done the hardest thing I'd ever done at the time in my career.

And then got a call from the CIO of the Global Fund in Switzerland, Thanks to a dear friend of mine who just happened to pass my resume along, Didn't want to take the call. I was sick. My husband told me you can talk to me on the call, you can talk to them on a video conference interview, so please go for it. I ended up doing it and I packed my bags from DC and flew to Switzerland, not knowing a soul Switzerland.

I worked with the Global Fund as the first ever woman on the CIO leadership team for a couple of three years and then was lucky enough to get a job with Doctors Without Borders, leading digital transformations in the field and then also taking on the first inaugural role. Inaugural would mean first, the inaugural role of director of digital transformation Western Central Africa. The pandemic then hit and I decided to make a call and just be here in Ohio at Kent State, where my husband teaches, and I am back here so as an adjunct professor as well as a doctoral student and doing a lot of work in my community that came here launching that. So I've had a lot of life comes full circle moments.

0:25:13 - Felicia Jadczak Wow, so much that that was first of all quite the origin story. So thank you for it was too long.

0:25:19 - Sonia Karkare It was too long.

0:25:20 - Felicia Jadczak Not too long. No, I was too sure of anything. But there's a lot to dig into and I know that Rachel and I both have a lot of follow up questions and we're going to dig into all those pieces that you mentioned. Very briefly, I just wanted to say before I toss it back over to Rachel is that I was really appreciative to hear your the beginning part of your origin story, because my mom is actually from India as well. I've been to Mumbai. Yeah, she's Punjabi, but yeah, she also had a similar story of coming over very young and, you know, being in the states, and my uncle actually, who had come over before he might have even been in Ohio. I remember he was working there for a little while. He went to California for a job interview. It was winter time. He threw off the winter coat when he got off and was like I'm done with.

0:26:17 - Sonia Karkare Wow, what a story. Oh, my goodness.

0:26:21 - Felicia Jadczak I was thinking about that as you were sharing and I also wanted to say I loved your, the comment you made, where you were like I didn't even know what I was doing, but I decided to study this and I think that's so interesting and you know we can certainly work into that more. But but thank you for starting us off with that. Rachel, I'm going to talk to you because I know you've got follow up with that as well, yeah, no, and thank you so much for for bringing all of those points up.

0:26:43 - Rachel Murray I was glad that you brought that up. That makes really happy, just like one thing. That's sort of like a theme. It's funny that you mentioned that last piece, felicia, because and you actually answered Sonia, like one or two of the other. So this is great. I hope you don't mind some unscripted. I knew you wouldn't mind, but listening to your, your story and how many times you were the first of so many things, I'm curious, and especially like what Felicia said. You were like man, I did this, the thing and I'm just going to go do it. Did you feel like, did you have imposter syndrome? Did you ever feel like, ooh, maybe I shouldn't do this or I don't deserve it? And if so, how did you overcome that?

0:27:27 - Sonia Karkare You know, this is that's an interesting question. I very often I would find out some of these pieces of information later, after I had, you know it. I never went in with a filter or a perspective, but I would find out after I landed or you know, few weeks, and they would send me. Well, there's never been this, or the digital transformation director was never a role that was ever created. So, you know, I tried to find out and snoop around and hadn't heard of it. I did not have imposter syndrome, I just, I just took those, took these, I these heavy lips as a measure of expanding what I thought I already had got in my bag of skill sets. So I would say, okay, I'm supposed to now do this. Okay, well, am I looking at this differently and should I be doing it in a more, in a different way? Should I be, you know, trying to enhance this skill? Should I learn about this? You know, should I be molding myself? In a certain way?

There was a lot of molding going on, rachel, because they were I was in in context that don't know. I wouldn't know how I would be received. I was looked upon as Indian and some I was looked upon as American and some. I was looked upon as a woman of color. I was looked upon as a woman. All of these filters, I didn't know which room I was walking into and I had to figure that out. I had to figure that out. That was the biggest learning. So it wasn't, it was never in process and it was like I didn't deserve that. It's like it's with me now. How am I going to? How am I feeling is not an option.

0:29:16 - Rachel Murray Interesting. Well, and it makes me. If it's okay, I have a quick follow up to that. So I'm just really curious to know about how your experiences had prepared you to walk through life, experience, life, with that attitude. Well, this, this needs to happen. I have to do this, but in good ways. Right, I'm going to learn this, I'm going to be the first to be cool with it, like, or you know, I'm fat, I'm going to be, and then I'm cool with it. This, this sort of growth mindset. Did your experiences sort of prepare you for this? Or growing up in Mumbai, or in Mumbai.

0:30:00 - Sonia Karkare You said it, so I'm going to pick it up right from there. So this was very interesting. I grew up in a household that had two daughters. I grew up in a society and it would still exist there's a bias against having a female child, and so I grew up in a home where my father was extremely proud of having his two daughters. So every time somebody said, well, why are you wasting time on their education? They're going to get married? He said, no, they're my sons. So I also grew up in a house where my mother was a very she was far more qualified and educated than my dad is or was, and we we grew up in a household watching two people being equals not what society taught us, but what I saw at home. So I learned that she would speak up, and so I would. I learned to speak up. I started speaking up for her outside. You know, somebody said something about my mom. I would, like you know, say no, she's not like that, or my dad's not like that. So there was something there that you know just from a young age.

And then, when I was in my first job in the Big Apple, there was a person who was in a was somebody I reported to but just ended up thinking it was just absolutely okay to bully me in a manner that was almost childlike. You know why are you going to the bathroom or how come you're not? You know you're on the phone and you're not typing. I need to hear clicking on the keyboard and things like that. And I I don't know where the voice came from, but in my first six months I got the guy in front of the project manager said how is he allowed to talk to me this way? I don't get it. I just don't understand this. And this is six months into my new job, right out of college. And then remember I had mentioned I learned to ask the question about the backspace key. I know it was a dumb question at the time, but I wouldn't have been able to get through my homework. So I'm like do I worry about what somebody thinks of me or do I worry about how do I get the job done? And then you know along this way, it was, it was, it was, it was great, a lot of great. You just happen to get through it.

In one of my interviews in Europe I was asked this is a very French environment. How are you going to adjust? I didn't know what that meant. What does it mean to be very French, what? What does that mean? Is that music playing a?

0:32:21 - Rachel Murray lot of wine and like.

0:32:32 - Sonia Karkare I mean that's fine. I'm not a fan of color in a in a five 600 person office. You know, I was like I don't know about how did? How did I learn about this? All I knew was that I knew that I had sharpened my skills to being able to take these large scale initiatives from inception to roll out. And there was.

It was never cookie cutter, None of these things. They all depended on people and your context and your stakeholders and your bosses and your budget. And so, at the very least, the only thing constant in all of these with me, I had to figure out okay, this, that's me here, and then I have to figure all of this out. So there was molding, there was learning, but there was always telling people I know how to do this, I just need you to help me with this, or teach me this, or tell me where I'm supposed to go this, or how do I if I'm breaking a protocol by asking about this or this person, etc.

So, between having my voice, between, I'll tell you one thing there was in one of the in, I think, in the DC, in the DC engagement somebody had mentioned. You know your sonia is not a person who takes no for an answer. I just said Okay, if you say no, then give me an option. Can I do this? May I do that? And so that's also what I taught my teams. There's an issue, you come with it, but come with options that I can help get answers for. Don't just come with a problem. I'm sort of not answering your question in its entirety, but it was a mixture of things finding my voice, watching myself and watching the ability of of claiming my space at a table as well. That's also something I had to learn to do.

0:34:57 - Felicia Jadczak Yeah, had to learn that and additional good stuff to. I feel like every time you answer a question there's like 10 things I want to follow up on. But I did want to say a quick comment and then a follow up question. So I just wanted to say, around your comments on sort of the no stupid question I'm a full believer in that as well, because I also was taught that early on in my career and I always tell my team this to. I'm like I'd rather you come to me and ask me the question, then spin your wheels because you don't know. It might be a really good question, but it doesn't even matter if it's good or bad, it's just about you don't know.

0:35:34 - Sonia Karkare so let's figure it out Exactly with a simple answer.

0:35:38 - Felicia Jadczak Yeah, exactly, hopefully, but I wanted to follow up on is another sort of off script question, but I want to follow up on something you've mentioned a few times now. So you mentioned your sense of self as a person of color and in these spaces a lot of the ones you mentioned where you were one of a few or maybe one of an only I'm curious how that sense of identity developed for you, coming from India, where I imagine that you didn't have that part of your identity, coming from a place where you were part of the majority, and then coming into the states and other other countries where that actually was a total shift for you. So could you talk maybe a little bit about that sense of, I guess, identity development for you?

0:36:23 - Sonia Karkare The first thing I will say is, as you were asking me this, is that I grew up feeling very proud of where I came from. I was never ashamed, I just loved where I was born. I loved the pieces of culture that I could carry with me, and that that would mean things like my outfits, my jewelry, my colors, my foods, my songs, and so every time I started a new job, with the exception of one or two, I wore an Indian outfit to work, because that's also a conversation starter, right? It's like, oh my God, you look so pretty. Where is it? Okay, this is from India, this is. You know, I'm from India, this is where I am.

Every time I would go back to India. Every single office I've been in in any part of the world, every person got a little gift from me that was in my radar, you know, whether it's a team or a boss or whatever, that was me being so proud and leaving somebody with my culture. So that was one part of the identity. Then, as I started leading teams and I was responsible for them, I noticed again, as I always said, it was always outnumbered. I was at an interview. I was setting up my team. I was interviewing to build my team up in Europe. I had my deputy with me, I had the HR director with me and we were talking to people as they were coming in and they were one or two people and I was the one who mentioned.

You know, I've never been interviewed by all female panel and I was thanking to myself. That is not the thing you should say in an interview. Not at all.

0:38:09 - Felicia Jadczak So not an outside thought.

0:38:12 - Sonia Karkare Keep it to yourself, right? Yeah, keep it there, admire us, keep it in there. The sense of identity started also absorbing and molding itself as I was finding myself in rooms where either, like I said, I had to claim a space, I had a space, but I was outnumbered or I was now. I was now growing through a little bit through the ranks. So there were people behind me, right, there was teams that were dependent on me. There were young people that were being shaped by conversations or mentoring or team experiences. There was a conversation we were having with somebody with authority and a comment a really, really crude comment was made in the sense of a joke, and I thought to myself this would never be accepted in the United States, and so I spoke to the girl and I said look, this was directed at you to do one. We should do something about it. So it was even those kinds of gestures that I was now having to make, and so I found myself becoming in this role of being protected and motherly, and I never thought about it then, but perhaps people were observing me as some sort of a role model.

I still had to get the work done, no matter what, I still had to get the work done. I was asked to go to a very rich country to ask for funding and I was told to make sure that the presentations that we were going to give had certain types of images in them that would be a little bit more that our donors would be more receptive to. I can't go into further details, but I ended up having to be in that space and people would ask me well, your English is so perfect, and where did you learn these things or things like that? So I had to also learn how to pick my battles and not speak up, but I think it would have far bigger repercussions to the work I had to get done.

So at every single time I was thinking professionally I have to make this happen. To make it happen professionally, where do I need to step out of bounds or push the envelope, stay within bounds? And then, third, what do I do to my team space? So I would always tell them this team space is our private island. We figure things out here, but then outside I go there and we do this and we have a united front. So I was just these things I developed over time while observing mentors, while having to get the job done, sometimes being depending on my widths, my logic, my directness, my relentless pursuit of making sure that whatever we were going to produce was for the beneficiaries of the organization I was serving, because this was all humanitarian nonprofit.

0:41:40 - Rachel Murray So yeah, Go for it, felicia, because I know you got a follow up.

0:41:46 - Felicia Jadczak No, it's all good. I was going to say it sounds just again. There's so much that you've sort of so many experiences and so much you've gone through, and I wanted to say that it sounds like a lot of these experiences, where you either learned or acquired these skills of managing and leading, probably have set you up really well for your current role as a professor, because you're still in this, it seems like you're still in this space of molding young minds and teaching and acting as a role model, and you mentioned that you're in a PhD program and you're working as an adjunct, and so I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about your dissertation, your research or anything around your more current role now.

0:42:33 - Sonia Karkare Absolutely. So I came back to the community after 30 years, literally, and I want to say this, but out of humility and joy and some pride is that I received the Kent State Professional Alumni Achievement Award right after coming back. So I was nominated for the process and I was able to be received back with those welcoming arms. My role is within the management department. I have been working with the executive MBA program, we're launching a new workshop in digital transformation and healthcare, and I'm also working with the other extreme undergrads, juniors and sophomores and a few seniors in advanced professional development, where I get to talk about ethical dilemmas at work. And how do you, you know, what do you do when you're facing certain circumstances at work and how would you deal with it when you're just joining a workplace? And so it's been interesting because a lot of what and a lot of the content is infused constantly with stories. So I keep saying you know I sound like an old grandma, but I want to share this with you, or I want to share this with you, and I've enjoyed that very much because I keep thinking you know, what was I when I was 21? What was I thinking? And I keep talking about global work. And here we have, you know, we have a lot of kids who are, you know, first generation coming or from very humble backgrounds, who haven't been thought about, you know, leaving northeast Ohio, for example. And so I keep telling them well, you know, when you know, there's 2000 international students here, I represent a thousand of them. 50% of the international students here are from the country of India, subcontinent of India, and I said, if you see someone from somewhere else, go make friends, learn about another culture, etc. So I keep encouraging them to know that opening up their minds to other cultures is something that's going to benefit them so much because we're living in such a small, big world. Right, one phone call and you're in another country dealing with somebody else, you know. So taught them a lot about that, not taught them. I keep saying I discuss this right, because there's a lot of reverse learning. I have to do as well to see what's going to engage them.

And my dissertation is essentially, I think, something that I have finally given into. It is my life calling, I believe, where my entire life I have skirted around DEI. In some way I lived the journey of a global immigrant woman. In tech, you take any of those filters. I've had to live it and now what I want to do is to figure out the impact of I keep using the word challenging, because challenging can be positive. Challenging can be toxic as well, but I want to know the impact on global immigrant women leaders in these environments.

What I want to dig into further is you know what went through their minds as they were facing a situation? How, remember, I keep thinking challenging can pose an opportunity. It can also pose an obstacle. So what was going through their psyche while trying to tackle it? Did they tackle it to their satisfaction? Were they able to make a change? Were they not able to make a change? Did they make a change? What happened? Did they choose to stay? Did they choose to leave? Did they choose to create and form another path? What happened to the? What did they leave behind and what is the ripples of the impact that this has had?

And, as I mentioned this, I have so many angles I'd like to take, but the first thing I want to do is to collect stories and I want to be able to. You know we talk about the obstacles of all these other filters. I keep using these words color, gender, differently, enabled all of that, but what? Sometimes? People also. I want to introduce that immigrant perspective because you know, if tomorrow, rachel or you decide to go to another country, you're going to be an immigrant there, just as I was an immigrant here. I've been an immigrant in Europe. I've been an immigrant in Africa. I started off as an immigrant in the United States and the only place I'm actually now an immigrant in, india, because they don't allow dual citizenship. So, anyway, so all these four continents, I've had to figure out what do I do to be worthy of the space I've been given or the role I've been asked to play. So I am sure that there would be so many kinds of stories.

And what holds people back? What are their handcuffs? I look at them as handcuffs, you know, and very often one of the things I always. I think there was one of your questions and I forgot to answer a bit of it the reason I could just simply go and take on these challenges is because I had a very big foundation and a backing that said okay, you, if this doesn't work, you can come back. If that doesn't work, we'll start again.

Not many, many, many people have that option, and so what do they do when they don't have that option? I just read a book a workplace ethnography that was the closest I could find to it called illusions of opportunity by Dr Sonia Espina, and it talks about how people know that, in a workplace where you're supposed to give a space to meritocracy, that it doesn't always be, that isn't always there. Well, how do people then resolve it? In their heads, you know, and the way they do it is by constantly keeping hope. So, anyway, I'm not even sure what the question was about the thesis and my current role. So voilà, that's where I'm at.

0:49:26 - Rachel Murray No, that was. That was great, and I have a couple of follow ups, but one I was just thinking about is more of a comment, but I guess I'd be curious to your thoughts on this is you're talking a lot about the responsibility of these people to be worthy of the space and to show up in the space, but I'm curious about the reverse and how people who are welcoming them in and what their responsibility is for that. Is that something you're going to tackle?

0:49:53 - Sonia Karkare Yes, yes, I want to tackle that if I'm allowed to. So one of the things I would try to at least do is at least get an opinion right If I'm, for example, if I speak to 50 different women from 50 different places, I may not be able to figure out a solution, a perfect solution, but at least I can ask them what would they like to have happened, what could have been strengthened, what, what worked? What had they been given those tools, opportunities, people, allies, supporters, whatever, what would they have achieved differently? And I actually that's see, that is the kind of stuff that that'll give rise to multitudes of aspects of solutions that could then be. You know, if my work gets cited by people, then if you know it can go into organizations and people can do something about it. Look, we're in our 40s, 50s, whatever age range, this conversation.

0:50:58 - Rachel Murray So your role, Sonia, not 50s yet.

0:51:01 - Sonia Karkare Okay, no, not yet Getting there. And we are talking about this from my grandmother's generation, from my mother's generation to our generation, to the one behind me, and then, till today, the kids that I'm teaching. So the point is when does this, when does this stop being a conversation? Isn't that what we should be trying to get at? And so I'm just taking one slice of it, which is including the global and the immigrant aspect of it, but it's still within that larger umbrella of gender equity.

0:51:36 - Rachel Murray Well, what's so interesting about this topic is I just I was going to be so curious about your findings because, as I think about it, I think it takes a kind of person who has certain experiences to take that leap, to become someone who's willing to move to a different country without having a foundation in that space. You mentioned that you have grit. I think there's whatever sort of word you want to put in there. There's a lot of courage that it takes to do it, or whatever, or foundational support, whatever that looks like. So it'll be really interesting to see the kinds of people that you went talking with, how many of them struggled and how differently their struggles would look like versus, maybe, folks that in the same sort of demographic but weren't immigrants into that space.

0:52:34 - Sonia Karkare So I would. I'm really, really looking for. I still have about a year or a year and a half more, of course, so I'm not allowed to start the dissertation till a certain point, but I've already started reaching out to people saying, when the time comes, would you please talk to me? Would you please talk to me? And what something that you just said. You know, my mother is a very, is a very direct person, and one of the things she always said to me was listen, you're meant to be where you are, because if you weren't going to be there, you'd be elsewhere. Very simple, so if I, if I'm here now talking to you, I'm meant to be in Ohio. If I was talking to you from Africa, that's what I'm meant to be, and so I literally find that this entire year, this phase that I'm in, I did, I did hit 50 in 2021, 22.

Oh, okay, so sorry, I thought you were just perfect, so I am I just done last year, so I had a global celebration, by the way, on different continents, Amazing, and so the point being that I just I think, like I have getting the award coming back home, all of this serve like a psychological slash, physical bookend, or a chapter a bookend. I would say bookend to this massive, these massive engagements have done all over the world, and I need to now take this and formalize it in some way. No, very few people would recognize the fact that somebody like me could very easily fit into this buzzword of the DI space. It takes a lot of people to figure out. Oh well, yeah, maybe, and so I'm like, okay, instead of waiting for you to recognize that, I'm just gonna legitimize it by getting my degree, getting the stories together, working through and building bodies of work that will then say, okay, yes, you have a space here now.

0:54:45 - Felicia Jadczak So no, it's. I can first of all feel the passion for the topic just oozing through the screen in the best possible way. So I wanna echo Rachel's comments. I'm really excited to read more and to learn about your findings. When you are allowed to get there and I feel like you've said allowed a couple of times I'm like, didn't you also say that you just broke the rules when you wanted to? So but I'll leave that for another time.

But the other thing I wanted to say really quickly was part of why I'm really excited and interested is because I think to your point, with sort of the DEI conversation, we talk a lot about intersectionality but I think still, especially here in the United States, we tend to talk about identities.

Even though we know that intersectionality exists, we still like to group things separately. And I feel like the immigrant experience is so interesting because that's one where it really leans into intersectionality. And I know like I have friends who are like local to where I live and one friend that I'm thinking of. We don't have like any identities in common and his family is from Syria, but we connect so much on being children of immigrants because we have found that there are some like universal immigrant experiences, and so he'll tell me about his mom, and I'm like me too, and like they're from totally different parts of the world. But I think I'm really interested to learn, especially looking at the workplace experience, what similarities might be coming from that experience and then also what the differences are and why that might be.

So, yeah, I'm curious too, I need to read those stories.

0:56:34 - Sonia Karkare I am because I just it was actually a friend of mine who in the conversation, was like I said you know, this topic seems like done these challenging, toxic workplaces, et cetera. There's a lot of research done on it. I had to actually research the fact that perhaps nobody had done this sliver of work somewhere. So we have a space and I worked with the librarian to figure out who has anybody done this kind of a topic, set a goalpost, impact of challenging work environments, global immigrant women, leaders, and it was actually came from a friend of mine who was talking to me and he said but Sonia, you need to bring that global experience and the fact that you were somewhere else for all this time. You work somewhere else here, you work somewhere else there. And I said, yeah, but as I was working in these spaces, there were other people from other places there too, so we were all immigrants together.

We just didn't always say that or keep talking about it. In Geneva, for example, you don't use the word immigrant as much as use the word expat. Like you're coming there, you're gonna live there. It's very transient, right, and a whole bunch of nonprofits and humanitarian organizations and their centers for everything, so they're constantly going in and out and out. Here we talk about immigration because it's an immigration process to be legitimate and not have workplace issues In Africa. I was just going on a work visa, not, yes, work visa back and forth, and so that was the case in Switzerland as well. So I'm curious, don't even know where my findings are gonna take me. Very often, I've been told by my advisor you go in with a script and you listen to what they're gonna say. It'll be completely off your script. Just the way this conversation is I love it.

I'm willing to listen and find out.

0:58:26 - Rachel Murray I'm excited. I'm excited and it's just so funny that we met in New York and that we both lived in Geneva and had that expat quote unquote experience. I think, and part of the advantage of the or disadvantage, really, depending on how you look at it was that for a lot of these UN organizations English was the working language, so you never really even had to work hard to fit into the culture or try to. It's very bizarre.

0:58:53 - Sonia Karkare But anyway, never I did learn French, though I did. I was one of the few people that did ended up learning French. I did try my very best and I would try everywhere I went and I was so proud of myself and I managed to speak to healthcare promoters in a small village in Africa and on the with the Ivory Coast in my little broken French and they actually got me, so I was very proud of that.

0:59:14 - Rachel Murray Beautiful. My French was abhorrent and the Swiss were not. They were not having it. They weren't having me speaking in French or any English.

0:59:21 - Sonia Karkare They should have mind you for trying they didn't.

0:59:24 - Rachel Murray They made me feel bad. The Swiss that was a long time ago. I've heard the Swiss are much nicer now.

They are a little bit nicer, that's good, I want to change that reputation they have, but but it's, it's boy, this time is very quick. So I wanted to just switch gears a little bit, because there's this other piece of the work that you have done around digital transformation and I was hoping that you could share a little bit about what that is, how that shows up, and I think that's something that I think a lot of folks struggle with. Leaders struggle with, I mean, how that might be different than other types of transformations and organizations.

1:00:01 - Sonia Karkare Yeah.

So I always tell people this, even when I've taught it or talked about it is that digital transformation is less about technology and more about the people impacted by it. So what's really, really, really important is that, remember you may be coming in for what you think is a project, but it's a journey, it's not a goal, and that should constantly be on your radar as a leader. So you might you know, you might be wanting to change the way things work. This way, it isn't always about introducing a sexy technology. It's about strategic use of technology, and the next thing I would say is that, because it's about people, then your most important investment of effort is around change management. So it's like coming into your house and telling you Rachel, you need to now use your kitchen this way, your bedroom this way, your bathroom this way, and you'll have to do it every day while I'm making a change right, and you're gonna say, well, what's in it for me? Why should I let you in? Why you know house is gonna be better than the last time? Am I gonna find the things where I used to find them Right? So, change management and making sure that people have access to the data that they need while you're bringing about this change. So these are the two big things that I would ask people and lead us to focus on.

The other thing is political buy-in, because I have been in that execution mode. Right, I was brought in to do something, but I would only succeed if the environment I was brought into wasn't ridden with political strife where people didn't even agree that it needed to be done. And so now the questions I ask is do you have the budget for it? Is there political buy-in? Is there political buy-in from the top? Because very often, change management involves messages. Sometimes they're better heard from the top, sometimes better heard laterally, et cetera.

And that's the third thing. And, like I said, if it's about people, look at the types of people involved in any of these engagements, initiatives, transformations. Stakeholders are people, beneficiaries are people, users are people, teams are people, donors are people. You have all of these varieties of people that you absolutely need to cater your conversations, your strategies, your inclusion, your champions. Make sure that there's a space, that people are heard and that they're seeing that their feedback is taken properly. So that's the other aspect that I would bring into the picture. Everything else, Rachel you bring the technology and it'll work. We'll find people to put it up there. It's how you're molding that technology to these people that are usually most likely scared of change, let alone tech-related change, let alone having to be tech savvy. And now, let's not forget, we've got data analytics ruling the world. We've got AI coming into the picture. We've got ethics of AI coming into the picture, so the nature of transformations are also going to change.

1:03:41 - Rachel Murray Beautiful, love it. I'm kicking over to Felicia to wrap us up.

1:03:44 - Felicia Jadczak We're going to wrap up. I mean so much to get into, but you've given us so much to such a rich conversation already. I would ask you what your vision is for future you, but I feel like you've given us glimpses of it already. Maybe I'll just ask that question anyway. Is there anything else, beyond what you've shared already, that you're thinking of for what comes next for you, especially after you finish your dissertation?

1:04:11 - Sonia Karkare The word that comes to mind right now is Cudiwampo. Cudiwampo is the word that is basically describing a person who's wandering into a future that is unknown. I just don't know where this is going to take me. All I know is that I want to work in making sure that, in my way, that gender equity is achieved in professional workspaces, that we're able to build a pipeline of women, women leaders, retain the pipeline of women and women leaders, and try and make sure that the life cycle, whether from birth to ageism, is tackled for women in the workplace. I don't have a better way to put it. It isn't quite just DEI. It isn't quite just only women and leadership. It's all of it that I want to be able to be part of and affect. I don't know the next role. I think I'll have to create it.

1:05:20 - Rachel Murray That's beautiful. We can't let you go yet until we ask our one question Please do. What are you currently geeking out about? That has nothing to do with what we've already discussed.

1:05:32 - Sonia Karkare I was thinking about this question. I know this sounds a little crazy, but I am really trying to explore what chat, gpt and BARD are going to be able to do Like chat. Gpt 3.5 and 4 are things that my other people have access to, and I'm just curious about my goodness. How is it that it's going to be this simple to be able to do analysis? It's really going to help my thesis, so that's what I'm looking into. I have been really negligent about not looking at this really wonderful website called Our World in Data. That is just amazing, because it gives me statistics of anything I ever wanted and be able to pick it out and use it towards things. So those are the two things that I'm keeping my eye out on Seeing how to leverage in my thesis.

1:06:32 - Rachel Murray Well, we are marking that page, so where can?

1:06:40 - Sonia Karkare people find you. They can find me on LinkedIn. That's the best place to find me. You can also find me on Ken State University website, but LinkedIn is the best place. I just prefer that. It's something that I keep tabs on really, really closely. I'm a fledgling Instagrammer. I have a Facebook dating myself. Facebook a long time ago. Linkedin the best place is LinkedIn.

1:07:06 - Felicia Jadczak Wonderful. Well, we will share those links out in the show notes. But thank you so much, Sonia. It's been such a delight and we'll definitely keep posted on your data and the progress that you make and any amazing discoveries that I'm sure you're going to be making as you get into it.

1:07:22 - Rachel Murray I love that idea. We need to have you back when your dissertation is a little further away.

1:07:26 - Sonia Karkare That would be amazing, right? Because then things come along. And also, Rachel, you've been so kind to offer me a space where perhaps people might be able to share their stories or be around to share their stories with me. So, and I can't tell you how wonderful it has been the kinds of questions and the way you've so graciously and respectfully navigated this conversation with interest and with intelligence and with curiosity and First of all, let me say these things to you.

1:07:59 - Felicia Jadczak Not that, but I'm seeing it anyway.

1:08:03 - Sonia Karkare But you should know right, why should we limit ourselves in terms of?

1:08:12 - Rachel Murray lifting ourselves up. That's right, sonia. Thank you so much, really appreciate it.

1:08:18 - Sonia Karkare Really big hugs to you, happy holidays and say hi to your special mom from Punjab and your husband Mark, who brought us together. Actually, we'll do, we'll do.

1:08:30 - Felicia Jadczak We hope you enjoyed listening to our interview with Sonia as much as we enjoyed the conversation.

1:08:35 - Rachel Murray Thank you so much for listening. Please don't forget to rate, share and subscribe. It makes a huge difference in the reach of this podcast and, by extension, this work. And visit us on YouTube, instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on all things SGO and, of course, on our website at shegeeksout.com. Bye.