You’ve heard the saying: “Bring your whole self to work.”
But how can we expect women who work or want to work in technology to do that if they don’t see an abundance of other women doing the same—and succeeding? This is the question Aaratee Rao grappled with as she began her career in tech 15 years ago.
As an immigrant woman working in tech, she was often the only woman on her team and felt a constant need to “fit in” with her male colleagues. However, she soon realized that to give her best, she had to be her authentic self. She stopped worrying about fitting in and simply started focusing on delivering the best possible results.
Over the course of her career, which includes both startups and big enterprises, Rao found her own voice by leveraging her engineering talent, taking on stretch assignments, owning her work, and positioning herself for leadership roles. This focus and drive helped her build and launch multiple global consumer products in the market. It was also these experiences that led her to think broadly about giving back to other women in tech. She is passionate about creating talented, healthy, and motivated engineering organizations where everyone has the chance to thrive.
Leading with an eye on inclusion
Rao joined Microsoft last fall from Uber, where she had worked for three and a half years.
“There are three things important to me that I look for when joining a company: people, product, and growth.”
“I had been watching Microsoft from the sidelines and was impressed by how Satya Nadella was turning around the company’s culture, making it more open and inclusive,” she says. “There is an effort to bring more women into leadership here, and as an organization, everything seems to be moving in the right direction.”
She manages an all-star engineering team in Silicon Valley that is building new features for Microsoft Teams on all platforms—including the web, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android—that enable users to collaborate better with their team members. As a principal group engineering manager of Microsoft Teams, she works closely with engineers, product managers, and cross functional stakeholders to bring the best product experience to customers.
She works to ensure that everyone on her team is able to have influence and can make a positive impact because “diversity and inclusion is not just about gender, but about finding the voice that is in minority,” she notes. Rao strongly believes that inclusion brings diversity of ideas—and when it is a part of the product, everybody wins.
Supporting others through mentorship
In addition to the technical capacities of her role, Rao is a member of the Microsoft Bay Area leadership council. As part of this work, she serves as a mentor for employees who are at various stages in their careers. To help others succeed, she often borrows from the advice of her former mentors and her own experiences.
“A mentor told me early on that is there is no security in life, only opportunity. This gave me a different perspective,” she says. “Initially in my career, I looked for security. But I feel that in order for us to really achieve, work on a passion, and advance, it’s very important to take risks and not really think about the assurance of success. Just take the risk and go out there and see what happens. Trust your instincts.”
While Rao is passionate about her role as a manager, she’s candid with others that the decision to enter management is not what determines success in the workplace. Instead, she helps others excel by narrowing in on where their aptitudes and passions lie.
“To me, leadership and management are different things. Leadership is really about influence—and you can influence people without being a manager.”
As a mother of two children, she also understands the difficult balance working mothers have to strike between a personal life and a career. Striking this balance can be challenging—and many of her friends and colleagues have left the tech industry to spend more time with their families.
To thrive both as a parent and in her career, Rao emphasizes the critical role of a supportive spouse, friends, and caregivers. She is also very grateful to her past managers and companies that fostered supportive and flexible work environments. Her advice to women who are struggling to find this balance is to choose a company where both the company’s culture and your direct manager are supportive of working women—and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
“As managers, we must do more to retain women in tech who can serve as role models to next generation entering the workforce,” she says.
But ultimately, she says that success means being your most authentic self.
“Authenticity in the workplace is crucial, and not being your true self will only stop you and your team from thriving. So always believe; if you don’t believe in you, no one else will.”
Microsoft Teams is hiring!
Teams is the one of the fastest growing apps from Microsoft. As a hub for teamwork in Office 365, the app integrates the people, content, and tools that teams need to be engaged, more productive, and more effective. Whether you’re sprinting toward a deadline or sharing your next big idea, Teams can help you achieve more. Learn more about our Bay Area job openings here: https://careers.microsoft.com/us/en/l-bayarea.