Women in tech have the power to change the narrative and make their mark in the industry, says Deepa Vijayaraghavan of PayPal

In our Women in Tech series this week, we feature Deepa Vijayaraghavan, Director, Program Management at PayPal. She takes us through her career journey and tells us why mentorship is important for women to grow, excel and succeed.

Women in tech have the power to change the narrative and make their mark in the industry, says Deepa Vijayaraghavan of PayPal

Tuesday November 21, 2023,

7 min Read

While growing up, Deepa Vijayaraghavan’s father had different dreams for her than what she aspired for.

Vijayaraghavan, Director, Program Management at PayPal, says her father wished she would secure a government job that would bring stability and so enrolled her in an insurance course. However, she wanted to follow her curiosity in technology and build a career in this field.

Women in Tech

Deepa Vijayaraghavan, Director, Program Management at PayPal

It was the late 1990s, and the IT industry had just picked up pace.

“I was keen to challenge myself … I had to persuade my father to trust and support me in my decision,” Vijayaraghavan tells HerStory.

After her schooling in Chennai, Vijayaraghavan ensured she paid for her higher education by taking up various jobs. She also pursued higher education in technology with an advanced diploma in computer science from NIIT.

“I worked hard, excelled in my studies, and received immense support from my faculties,” she says.

The BCom graduate began her career as a faculty member at an IT training institute following which she took up a job at a small software company. When the opportunity to work with an MNC came about, she realised that very few women had applied for it, which led her to believe that she had a very small chance at landing the job.

However, she secured the job and worked with the tech team at the company. This role got her career moving.

“I have always been proud that I bet on myself to get out of my comfort zone into a pure programming role that set me up for bigger things,” she points out.

One of these was a tech role at a global bank, where she was involved in a large migration project to digitise the company’s intranet system. This allowed her to interact with business stakeholders and expand her knowledge from a business perspective.

Journey of self-education

Fifteen years ago, Vijayaraghavan joined PayPal in Chennai—a professional move that has seen her rise from strength to strength, from a program manager to a director, with a career arc filled with growth, learning, and transformation.

At the time of her entry, PayPal was still not building its team in India, and Vijayaraghavan recalls going through through multiple rounds of interviews.

In her first role as a program manager, Vijayaraghavan was deeply involved in engineering for several years. It was during this time that a leader from a different team saw potential in her and recommended that she transition into program management.

This suggestion came as a surprise to her, as she had never envisioned herself in a role at the project management office (PMO). Moreover, the banking industry, where she previously worked, often required long hours in the evening, and she had just become a mother.

“However, my manager’s confidence in my abilities and the support from my partner encouraged me to take the leap. I embarked on a journey of self-education, earning certifications in PMO, an MBA, and a PMP (project management professional) qualification. These achievements were particularly significant as they occurred after I had my first daughter,” she says.

Over the years, Vijayaraghavan progressed in her professional life—as a PMO manager and across roles in portfolio management.

“The organisation provided the flexibility and freedom to question and change things. I could approach a VP to discuss concerns without any inhibitions, as there were no rigid hierarchies. This environment greatly boosted my confidence and allowed me to thrive in my work,” she says.

Vijayaraghavan recently joined the office of the CTO’s team leading APAC planning, operations, and innovations for PayPal. She also serves as a connect for APAC teams with the North American teams for planning and operations. This entails working with engineers in multiple APAC markets to navigate big projects and transformations.

“Leveraging digitalisation, I have the opportunity to create an impact in PayPal engineers’ lives by transforming the way they work and engage with each other,” says Vijayaraghavan, who is the only PMO director in PayPal India.

Challenges and complexities

The journey has not been one without challenges, avers Vijayaraghavan.

Working with large-scale engineering and product teams in a global company came with its own complexities.

“One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that projects are executed with consistency in scale, meeting deadlines and quality across various teams. Dealing with such diverse teams can be demanding, and it is crucial to always be prepared for unexpected situations, such as project escalations,” she explains.

Vijayaraghavan has also had to ensure that her voice is heard in any room—this is not unique to her current role but is something she has had to do throughout her career.

“It’s essential to stand out and make sure my perspectives are valued and acknowledged in the workplace. It’s a continuous effort to represent myself effectively and contribute to discussions even when outnumbered,” she says.

Support is crucial

As a woman leader in tech, Vijayaraghavan has also experienced and observed many challenges that make it difficult for women to sustain themselves in this field—primarily due to the intersection of professional and personal lives.

She underscores the importance of family support in tackling this.

“Life events, such as marriage, having children, or taking care of family members, often demand a degree of flexibility. Women need the option to take breaks as needed and the assurance of a supportive system to facilitate their return to the workforce.”

Women, she says, face situations wherein they have to compromise their careers— when family needs or life changes require them to move places or take a break.

“In many cases, women are the ones who make sacrifices, and their careers are often the first to be compromised. This, coupled with the fact that they may have to take breaks to care of family members or shift locations, can result in a significant career disruption.

“These challenges often manifest mid-career, where the pressure to compromise becomes more acute,” she elaborates.

Added to this is the lack of a strong support network for women to help them when they encounter challenges or just need advice.

Vijayaraghavan says forming a peer group and seeking support from the organisation one works for and informal networks is crucial. It’s also essential to have open conversations and work out solutions with the support of both the company and the professional network.

“This support system should extend beyond just a maternity or parental leave policy. Companies should implement mentorship and sponsorship programmes specifically tailored for women who are returning from career breaks. These programmes can provide the necessary guidance and support for at least the initial one-year period,” she explains.

Mentoring women

Vijayaraghavan is the co-founder of Shevolve, a mentorship programme that empowers and guides women to achieve their goals in the tech sector.

The programme offers customised modules that are designed based on real-world problems, help understand workplace culture, and upskill women in hard and soft skills to kickstart their career journey with confidence. It has over 20,000 members.

“I’ve been fortunate to interact with over 100 girls, both from our employee community and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These interactions have shown me the immense aspiration that young minds have. And all they require is the right level of support and exposure to understand what it truly means to be in STEM fields or leadership roles in tech,” she says.

Vijayaraghavan advises young women to dream big and never constrain their aspirations with self-doubt or external limitations.

“Stay relevant and competitive by investing in your knowledge and skills. Build a strong support system, seek out mentors and sponsors, and actively create networks that provide guidance and empowerment. As women in tech, we have the power to change the narrative and make our mark in the industry,” she signs off.

(The story has been updated to correct a typo)

Edited by Swetha Kannan