Becoming a Businesswoman

by Emma Borrow

 

Becoming a Businesswoman: a profile of Shabdha Chigurupati ‘08

 

“This industry is not the most friendly environment for women,” responded Shabdha Chigurupati, a first-year MBA student at Stanford Graduate School of Business. She is a member of the Hathaway Brown class of 2008 and a graduate of Yale University. At Yale University, Shabdha majored in Economics and International Studies. She has worked in both investment banking and private equity. Through her experiences working in both of these sects of the business industry, Shabdha has noticed that women are largely at a disadvantage, whether it be in the process of hiring or the way that they are treated in the workplace.  Although Shabdha is young and has only been out of college and in the working world for around 5 years, it is clear to her that the business environment that she is in is a culture dominated by men, and that the difference between a businessman a businesswoman is not only the addition of a few letters.

Beginning her days at Hathaway Brown just as she began to walk, Shabdha graduated HB in 2008, having been immersed in an all-girls education all her life. During her years at HB, Shabdha felt the presence of feminism and female-empowerment; one example of this was through her experience in the Science Research and Engineering Program, SREP, one of the many centers at HB. She remembers that after the former President of Harvard University, Larry Summers, made a comment alluding to innate differences between men and women, PBS did a special on girls in science, and used HB’s SREP program to show the ways that HB was trying to get more girls into science and fight perceptions that women were less competent in science. Shabdha says that one of her favorite messages that she received from the HB community was that ”you’re a woman and you can do anything you want to do.” By being involved in SREP, she appreciated the way that center director, Ms. Hunt, was very focused on placing girls in labs, and just “putting girls into science”, a field where girls’ capabilities are sometimes called into question.

After graduating from HB, Shabdha attended Yale University. During the summer after her junior year in college, Shabdha interned for Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm that provides securities products and services to its customers, which include corporations, governments, financial institutions, and individuals. At Morgan Stanley, she worked as an analyst in the Investment Banking Division, advising clients on matters relating to corporate strategy. In applying for this internship, she went through two rounds of interviews; the final round being a “behavioral interview,” where the person interviewing her just basically wanted to see if he liked her. This was the point at which she became at a disadvantage, due to the fact that she is a woman. Generally, people tend to hire, those who are similar to them, or have similar backgrounds. Shabdha states, “given that most of these interviews are conducted by men, I think it is a vicious cycle of hiring more men into the industry.” Shabdha says that from her past experience, “Not only do men often hire those similar to them, men, but a potential candidate may have been in the same fraternity as the interviewer or have some other connection to them,” giving them a leg up on the interview process. Shabdha is not the only woman who has noticed that people often hire who they feel they are personally similar to.  According to Laura Rivera of Kellogg School of Management, hiring people is a process of cultural matching between candidates. She also says, “Managers want recruits who have the potential to be their friend.” Women are “definitely disadvantaged there is just a fact that not many women are applying for these jobs, and of the women that are applying, I think that not many are given offers,” states Shabdha. Due to this “vicious cycle,” the business industry is a very male-dominant culture. Women know this, and it gives them a reason not to apply for a job in business. Furthermore, there are very few female applicants for these jobs, and due to this “vicious cycle”, even fewer women receive offers and can break into this industry, making it one that is increasingly difficult for women to become a part of.

As an intern for Morgan Stanley, Shabdha was one of three women working in the 50-person media communications group. Out of these 50 people, Shabdha was the only female analyst in a group of about 14 other analyst interns. As an analyst, the person who was in charge of Shabdha and her fellow interns, who assigned projects or clients to them, was known as the staffer. In Shabdha’s case, this person was a man. Shabdha states, “A lot of the guys in the group tended to be put on better projects.” This really speaks to the fact that because her staffer was a man, he assigned the better projects to the male analysts. This once again relates back to the concept that in general, people hire, or in this case, assign projects to, those similar to them. In addition to this, Shabdha thinks that “there is often more of a need for a woman to prove herself, and that people would make comments like ‘of course you are going to get an offer, because you are a girl, and they need girls’”, suggesting that women are sometimes hired for the purpose of filling a gender quota. As a businesswoman, the process of being hired is much more arduous, and this interestingly speaks to the idea that most young women in business do not realize that their gender will force them to have to really show their legitimacy in order to be seen beyond their gender identity.

Shabdha Chigurupati has broken into an industry that is traditionally operated by men. Her experiences at Hathaway Brown through the SREP program and by growing up in a feminist environment have helped her understand that gender inequities do exist in the business world, but their presence does not mean that she cannot be a part of this male-dominated industry. She knows that she can work as well, if not better than her male colleagues. By breaking barriers and entering a workforce that is primarily run by men, Shabdha is setting an example for women to come. Shabdha’s success is truly inspirational for aspiring businesswomen. She along with HB girls of all ages, are relentlessly blazing a trail for the future of women in business.