[100 Emerging Women Leaders] From studying in small village to leading tech product management at Lowe’s Company, Shymala Soundari Kuppasamy’s journey
For Shymala Soundari Kuppasamy, leading Lowe’s Companies in the US as its Senior Director of Ecommerce Technology Product Management is nothing short of a dream come true.
The recipient of the 2021 Women in Business Achievement Award by the Charlotte Business Journal, and the Stevi Award for women in business—often been dubbed the Oscars for business. However, Shyamala’s road to success has been one full of blood, sweat, and tears.
Born in a small village in Tamil Nadu, Shyamala was the first in her family to graduate from school.
“It was a big deal to even send me to school. I don’t know how my parents believed in something different; they wanted equal education and push for both my brother and me. While several of my relatives and friends kept advising them against it, I went to a school,” says Shyamala in a conversation with HerStory.
Though Shyamala’s school had a thatched roof, there was no ceiling to her aspirations.
“I simply fell in love with mathematics and sciences. I kept doing well in school; I also participated in several science fairs and competitions. I wanted to delve deeper and get into engineering, and so, I worked hard to get into an engineering college. When I looked at my class 10th scorecard, I realised I was not just the class topper but the district topper,” says Shyamala.
Working hard on her engineering entrance, Shyamala went on to study at the College of Engineering, Guindy on a full-merit scholarship. “I was the first girl to go to an engineering college, and even then many relatives wondered why I needed to travel to Chennai and not study in the district nearby,” she explains.
She nevertheless went to study at the College of Engineering at Guindy. It was then that Shyamala realised that the world was different than what she had experienced. “I wouldn’t call it a culture shock, but it was a different and completely new experience for me. I met people from different parts of the country. I was exposed to different ideas and thought processes, and that helped me open up my horizons,” Shyamala adds.
She got to understand and learn about newer ideas. In college, Shyamala was also introduced to the world of startups and businesses. It was during this time that she met Byju Raveendran, the Co-founder and CEO,.
“Education and edtech have always been strong models for me. I began working at BYJU’S and started building the early product,” says Shyamala. After some time, she wanted to grow further and decided to take an executive education at Harvard Business School, and began her career with Macy’s in San Francisco.
It was then that Shyamala found her niche in retail tech. However, despite her credentials, she still had to deal with biases.
“On many occasions, I was the only woman in the room. It’s sad that the situation hasn’t improved much. We women often find ourselves being silent listeners. Over the years, I realised that I am in the room for a reason; I need to bring my perspective to the table. Women need to understand that irrespective of whether they are the only woman present or not, they are there in the room for a reason and they need to raise their hands, and voice their opinions,” adds Shyamala.
Explaining further, she says,
“As for biases, I feel women need to call them out as and when they observe them. We need to address them so that people can acknowledge their existence. I am a migrant woman of colour and now a working mom returning to work. So, the biases that people have are varied. Once the security person at my office stopped me at the entry point, and said, 'Only full-time employees are allowed inside.’ I was shocked! How did he assume that I am not working full-time? So I had to explain that many women look like me and are working full time in that office.”
She asks all women leaders to dream big and have the grit to pursue that.
“Also, create your own path for success that is authentic to you. When I was 16, I had a prenotion of what success is or what should be done to be successful. But everyone experiences life in their unique ways. We need to own our unique experiences, have our authentic stories, and define success on our own terms,” says Shyamala.
Edited by Kanishk Singh