Inside the #SpotItToStopIt movement

Conversation with leaders


When you take risk and are open to challenges, you become a better person

Paru Puttanna

Senior Vice President & Head of Enterprise Data Management, Voya Financial
When you take risk and are open to challenges, you become a better person
Paru Puttanna in conversation with Adam Bryant, Senior Managing Director at The Exco Group

Adam Bryant: As a woman in business, what are some headwinds you've encountered over your career?

Paru Puttanna: In my career of more than 27 years, I have definitely come across several of those challenges, and I’ll give you one example. In technology and operations, it's common to work overtime or to take calls over the weekend. In one particular case, one of the leads asked me to work over a weekend. It was not an emergency, and no customers were having problems. But I had some personal things that needed to be taken care of. Even though I explained that and requested permission to not work that weekend, he would not let me. So I went to management, explained my situation, and said, “I did not get much support.” I was singled out, and others were not asked to do the same over the weekend.

That started me thinking that this request was not aligning with my values. I took that as a challenge and converted it into an opportunity. I started to look for a place where my values would be respected and where I would be treated the same as everyone else. So I left the company. The lesson is, don’t just stay in a bad situation. What’s your next step? How do you navigate it. I moved to a different company, and I was in a better place.

Adam: What other headwinds have you encountered?

Paru: Another occurred when I joined a company as a contractor. I had moved from, Birmingham, Alabama, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to take a job. When I joined, I of course wanted to have an impact and help right away. But instead of giving me the background and context to help, I realized I was being used as a scapegoat for some of the things that they were not able to accomplish.

Adam: You’ve done a lot in your career. Where does your drive come from?

Paru: I was raised by a single mom. And I was the older daughter, so it became a little bit more natural for me in terms of solving problems. I had a lot of support from my family, and I developed a mindset of, how do I make the most of opportunities, even when things aren’t easy?

Adam: When you experience those headwinds, how do you decide whether to engage to talk to the person or to let it go?

Paru: I try first to understand where the person is coming from, because people have different perspectives and expectations. Somebody may want tactical solutions and somebody else may be looking for more strategic solutions. So I take a step back and say, why did that person say that? Is there a different way I should have approached this?

If I do have to have a conversation, it has to start with trust. They have to trust you, and you have to trust them. I’ll start by saying, “I want to be transparent, and I want you to hear this from me rather than someone else.” Once you build the trust and transparency, future conversations become easier.

Adam: When you mentor younger women, what advice do you typically share with them about navigating these headwinds?

Paru: I tell them that, whether it’s in their career or their personal life, not to hesitate to take risks. Because when you take risk and you are open to challenges, then you come out a better person. And don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Adam: I'd like to go back to your first story about when you decided to leave that situation you were in. What is your advice to people who are trying to wrestle through the question of whether they should stay or move to another company?

Paru: You have to be clear on your values, and whether you can live with the situation you’re in. People sometimes worry about whether they will be able to get other opportunities. But if you don't try, you don't know what is out there for you. If you are not able to influence the person or the company at higher levels, and you have done your part to try, then it is time for you to move on. You are the one in control of your situation. You are the one who makes the decision.