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Lessons of Grit from my Immigrant Parents

June 8, 2022

This post was written by Ketch Solutions Engineer, Sahiti Surapaneni, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

Very early in my career, I was invited to a large meeting of executives. I was thrilled. I felt like I was being recognized and had a real opportunity to showcase my value. I learned shortly before the meeting that I had only been invited because the company that I worked for knew they needed to have more women visible. As a woman in tech, a person of color, an immigrant, and an introvert, I was DEI gold. I was tapped as intersectional window dressing.

It felt awful. Not only did I know that I was invited in the room for the wrong reasons, it felt like everybody else knew I had been included for the wrong reasons.

I went to an engineering focused college where 80% of the student population was male. I majored in mechanical engineering where the gender ratio was even worse. In those environments, I had mostly felt excluded by my peers during my education. As I entered the workforce, I had to contend with not being excluded but instead being tokenized.

So how did I get through? Let me tell you something about immigrant parents — they are truly something else. They just keep going no matter what challenge or hurdle is thrown at them. The outside noise never mattered to my parents. There were no excuses. To my parents, being in a field that was 80% male was really just a number, just a statistic, and not only was there no sense in letting a number intimidate you, there was no use in it. So I put my head down and followed their lead.

The author poses with her parents

That didn’t change the discomfort I felt in navigating my otherness — whether at an executive meeting, in a classroom or even at a conference event. Honestly, it’s still uncomfortable to navigate. What has changed is that I’ve started to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I’ve embraced the uncertainty.

I decided to pursue a career in sales in spite of the fact that I’m an introvert. Sales is dominated by extroverts, you say? As my parents would say, that’s just another number. I could push through.

One thing that I’ve realized in pushing through is that there isn’t just space for introverts on the sales team and for women at startups, there is a desperate need for them. Extroverted men may have no problem chatting up potential customers with small talk, but what is equally important is listening to clients — really trying to understand what they need and why they need it.

That executive meeting early in my career was a lesson too. Even if I was invited in the room for the wrong reasons, it was still an opportunity to show that I belonged there. I hope others take that to heart.

Fast forward and now I work at a company that was founded by two immigrants of color. Both with immigrant parents who presumably taught them to ignore the odds, put their heads down, get the thing done and always keep going.