By Cathie Ericson
“A senior leader once asked me asked me about which seat I would choose when I enter a conference room and I promptly responded that I’d like to be seated in a quiet corner. The advice I received was to take a central position in the conference room to ensure that I was heard.” Vidya Lakshmi says she encourages women to be deliberate about their career by building technical expertise and firmly being rooted in one’s passion.
An Illustrious Career Spanning Functions and Locations
Born in India, Vidya spent a large part of her childhood in Kenya. She moved back to India and enrolled in college to complete her bachelor’s degree in economics. She then earned her Chartered Accountancy degree (CPA equivalent), and began her journey in the corporate world.
In her first job as an auditor with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Vidya gained exposure to clients across different industries, had the opportunity to travel and strengthened her technical skillset as an auditor.
Vidya joined Goldman Sachs in 2004 and with no background in banking, her foray into the world of investment banking was one of the risks she took early on in her career that paid healthy dividends. Looking back on this decision, she encourages women to step out of their comfort zone, learn to say an emphatic ‘yes’ to opportunities and be vocal about their ambitions.
She spent her first five years at Goldman Sachs in banking, initially in India and then relocated to New York in 2007. Working in investment banking in the middle of the financial crisis in New York was a key learning moment in her career. “The New York stint taught me resilience, the need to make tough decisions and pushed me to strive for excellence in everything I do,” says Vidya.
Since then, Vidya has relocated back to India and has held multiple roles, including serving as the Chief of Staff to the CEO of Goldman Sachs Bengaluru, building the analytic and quantitative capabilities in the Securities Division and running a myriad of functions within Human Capital Management.
In 2016, Vidya assumed her current role as head of Human Capital Management in Bengaluru. Currently, she is excited about engaging and hiring top engineering talent from engineering campuses across India to address cutting-edge areas such as machine learning, process automation and workflow digitization. Another key aspect of her role is responding to the needs of a millennial talent pool, as 85 percent of the Bengaluru office is composed of millennials.
Helping Overcome Cultural Norms and Other Challenges for Women
Vidya observes that Indian women typically step back from their careers in order to balance family life, and are likely to quit jobs mid-career due to the “double burden syndrome,” a culture in which both men and women feel family and household duties are primarily a woman’s responsibility. Due to these social norms, she says organizations play a critical role in fostering an environment that supports and retains women in the workforce.
“My husband is a CPA, and given the strong career trajectories we both have had, the traditional roles expected to be played by husband and wife have become blurred. We have supported each other through the highs and lows of our careers. For example, my children recently spent two years in Zurich with my husband while he was on assignment, while I stayed in Bengaluru to continue working at Goldman Sachs.” She believes that one of the biggest decisions a woman makes in her life is the partner she chooses to spend her life with.
In her career, Vidya has learned that women need to be wary of understating their own abilities and that one way to bolster their career is through sponsorship. “Unlike mentors, sponsors go beyond career advice and are invested in one’s career,” she notes. “Finding sponsors for women within an organization and investing in those relationships can help create a strong pipeline.”
Vidya is involved in a number of initiatives, including Women Emerging in Finance, which aims to dispel myths young Indian women may have about the financial services industry, particularly regarding work/life balance, that may keep them from pursuing a finance career. Every year, they aspire to speak with at least 1,000 young women across engineering and management campuses, to provide them with more information to make an informed decision and encourage them to join the financial services industry – and ideally — Goldman Sachs.
Vidya understands the challenges women face in the workplace throughout various life stages. She has experienced the benefits of leveraging the infrastructure the firm provides to continue to pursue her career. An example that stands out is Goldman Sachs’ on-site Children’s center, which she is proud to oversee in her current role.
“Life throws us many curveballs. I have learned to stay the course, build resilience and in moments of doubt, to reflect on my own journey,” Vidya recommends.
A Full Life Outside of Work
Vidya loves learning new languages and is currently learning German on the weekends. “It was a passion I left behind when I got busy in the corporate world, and I am thrilled that I have intentionally carved out time to do something I enjoy,” she says.
She also loves spending time with her two boys, Harsh and Aditya, and enjoys traveling with them. In the last two years Vidya and her family have traveled extensively across Europe.