Saranjit Sangar is EMEA CEO at online higher education company, upGrad.
Saranjit is an experienced leader with a diverse international career across e-commerce (Amazon, UK), last-mile logistics (Amazon, UK, and Honestbee, Singapore), cloud kitchens (Grab, Singapore) & FMCG (Godrej, India). She has a successful track record of building and scaling businesses, growing teams, and creating value for customers and partners for more than a decade.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am an engineer by education, having grown up in India before moving to the UK to pursue my MBA at London Business School. Since then I have always worked in tech, in a mixture of big companies and smaller start-ups, in sectors spanning ecommerce, last mile logistics, cloud kitchens and now edtech.
I have always been passionate about the positive impact of technology in our lives and cultures. This is especially true when it comes to edtech and my role at upGrad, where I am responsible for growing operations across EMEA. I feel very lucky to have had access to quality education and I am proud that I am helping to play a vital part in the democratisation of learning, in particular improving access to affordable education that will help to level the playing field.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
While I don’t plan per se, I do use something called a ‘Personalised Balance Scorecard’ through which I track the things I consider to be really important in my life – be that family, friendships, my health or my work. I write down where I am and where I want to be, so that I can identify any gaps and address them. I review this every six months to check on my progress and set new goals. It is astonishing how simply by putting thoughts into words, we can create SMART plans and take control of our own happiness! I like to think of it as my ‘career mindfulness’.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The challenges I have faced are the same faced by many women in STEM industries. In my engineering class, women represented just 4% of learners. When I got my first job, it was at a male-dominated manufacturing company where I was often the only woman in the room. With such a small number of women in leadership and board positions, I found it a challenge to find the guidance and inspiration that would help me project myself and speak with authority until I sought advice from mentors. Through seeking out and building my own network of mentors, I have been able to build my skills and confidence.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
As a woman who values family and my career, I have worked hard to strike a work/life balance that meets my needs as a mother and businesswoman. This gave me the confidence to accept a new role shortly after giving birth. While it was a challenge to juggle caring for my beautiful daughter and starting a new job, I felt assured in my ability to give 100% to my family life while still following my career goals. While not the usual status quo, it was a personal choice that felt very empowering.
I managed this by setting some small and simple rules for myself:
- Create clear boundaries
- Prioritise and push back
- Have a positive mindset – I AM doing enough!
- Ask for help where you need it, at home or work
This helped to create a positive and productive environment where I felt completely confident, supported and very happy.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Not holding back from voicing my opinion and projecting my voice and opinions in a more assertive manner, with confidence and authority. Self-advocating has never come naturally to me and I have had to work hard to change that – indeed I see many of my female peers share a similar view, or even feel guilty doing it. Over the years this tentativeness has fallen away, and I feel that my career has been more successful as a result.
Another thing that signalled a big pivot in my career was when I made career decisions driven by my purpose. It is at that point when I started valuing monetary gains and promotions, and made choices that represented my values and had a greater purpose. I’ve found that if I truly believe in what I am doing, as I do with my role at upGrad, I am more motivated, productive and happy.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I am a huge advocate for mentoring. As well as being mentored, I am a mentor myself. The most important thing I found when looking for a mentor is that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, and you need to be proactive. I have built a network of mentors by approaching people with traits or careers that I admire. I will seek advice from different mentors depending on the advice that I require, which has helped to stand me in very good stead.
As a mentor, I am focussed on empowering women to build their confidence from a young age. I truly believe that instilling this early will help to make the biggest impact on gender equality in our boardrooms of the future.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
To encourage more women into STEM careers to help balance the scales, it is essential that we equip individuals with the right skills to prepare for the future of work, including the opportunity to upskill and retrain as required.
For women who have caring responsibilities or need to continue working, traditional bricks and mortar education can feel out of reach. Edtechs like upGrad offer complete flexibility for learners – especially working mums who are either returning to work after a break or are just juggling too many balls – to pick up the industry skills or qualifications required to excel. Encouraging more women into STEM industries and management positions more generally provides an additional benefit in helping to address the UK’s digital skills gap which is emerging in areas such as data science, fintech, IT and machine learning.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. It is OK to fail as this is one of the best ways to learn and grow.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
In my current role at upGrad I am very keen to help plug the UK skills gap, raise greater awareness of the need for more women in STEM industries and become a campaigning voice for women in management and leadership positions – all while flying the flag for more accessible and affordable education to empower this growth.
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