Shubh Rao is the founder and CEO of Uplevel, an ethical global digital platform designed
Change the lives of all professional women through shared experiences, peer connections,
And highly curated, personalized content. A true trailblazer, Happy has paved the way for modern female leadership, having worked as a senior executive at Alphabet Inc./Google, Tesco (UK), PwC (UK) and Ford Motor Company, among others. Shubh also sits on the boards of organizations such as Open Lending LLC, the Center for Global Development, the International Center for Research on Women, and is a respected member of the Federal Reserve San Francisco Advisory Council.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Shubhar. Here are some highlights from that interview:
Jill Griffin: You have achieved a lot in your life. Tell me a little about your background and how you are interested in what you are doing now.
Happy Rao: I grew up in Michigan with my parents and two brothers. I would say I grew up in a very balanced family. That balance changed when I went to college to study computer science engineering, because it was predominantly male-dominated. After graduation, I worked as a software engineer and I loved engineering and still do. However, I was often the only female software engineer in my area, although I worked for a large technology company. This discouraged me from pursuing further studies in engineering and I moved on to finances because numbers were a common denominator for me. After receiving my MBA, I started my career in finance, but the engineer in me never gave up. I was often asked to lead large technology projects in terms of finance, so I never lost touch with technology. My time in Silicon Valley greatly influenced me because I was able to see technology from the inside. It made me realize how fast the digital age is evolving, how much technology is being created by men and how women are primarily users of that technology. In addition, how growing data is primarily being monetized for advertising rather than solving social problems. The purpose of building Uplevyl was to show how we can create a digital technology platform for women, by women so that professional women can and do improve. We are building an ecosystem that provides women with resources and collects data insights that we can use to inform policymakers, product leaders and society to advance all women.
Griffin: I know you’ve been in the male-dominated industry for so long. Do you have any experience with gender stereotypes?
Rao: Absolutely. As a woman, I quickly learned that I needed to make sure I was better prepared than my male counterparts. I knew that for me the bar was always going to be higher. I have to do at least one and a half times more than it takes for a person to get an excellent rating in a company. All I had to do was take extra preparation and make sure my work could be fully proven, well thought out and thoroughly researched so that there was no room for error. That’s why I look back and say that data and numbers have always been my friends because it’s hard for anyone to argue with.
Griffin: Did you lead me through some challenges that put Uplevyl together?
Rao: I would say that the biggest challenge at first was myself. I thought, “Do I have the confidence to dream so big? Do I have the right to dream so big? Should I dream so big? Finding a support network of people who believe in my vision was my first challenge. Most women have been helpful because we all have professional, personal and financial experience. However, in securing funds, it is a male-dominated area and difficult to navigate. I have found men whom I call “power allies” who are supportive because we have been able to bring them along but still have a long way to go. We work with our “power allies” to raise awareness and help other men understand why Uplevyl is important to help solve the problem of gender inequality.
Griffin: Can you give me some useful tips for those who want to dream and think big? What are some of the things that can help you in your travels?
Rao: As a founder, you need to determine if what you are building will help you solve any problem easily or in a real sense. I thought to myself- what is the problem? And how is our solution helping to solve it? The bigger the problem, the bigger the goal – and the bigger your chances. For Uplevyl, the macro problem is gender inequality against the backdrop of rapid acceleration in the digital world and data misuse. So how can uplift technology, data and micro-identities effectively help address gender inequality for women of all backgrounds? In my opinion, it also helps to combine the problem set with the trend that may take effect 5-10 years from now. This way you can decide to invest in today’s product so that it grows and develops to stay ahead of those trends. And last but not least, in my opinion, most people will be behind it when you work towards deep social change that can have an impact!
Griffin: What is a ‘living room’?
Rao: We are creating these new technologies to create a warm and inclusive environment. The ‘living room’ is one of those inclusive experiences for our members. I would like to remind our members that I have invited them to my home to learn, share and connect with others – a place of empty judgment and where everyone’s voice can be heard. Living rooms are also about giving women a seat at the table – the opportunity to create organic relationships and seamless connections. For example, a woman from Bali, South Dakota, easily connects with a woman with shared experiences, goals, or even opportunities for collaboration.
Griffin: Can you tell me about your recent living room with Julia Hobsbawm?
Rao: Author of Julia Hobsbawm Noah’s Office. We are grateful for hosting him. He is very much thinking about how we can create new ways of working. He acknowledges that we are hyper-connected, and his message about achieving simplicity in critical times is important. The great resignation that we are facing has shed light on this issue because we all want to work differently. We all want to regain more control over our lives and schedules. Julia helps us understand the main reasons for the great resignation. As Julia put it in a recent interview, “Gaining productivity and well-being enables a double dividend,” which means employees who have more control over their lives contribute more to the workplace. I think every woman needs to hear her assessment of how we can take better control of our lives to be more productive in this new construction. We are grateful to be the first convener of an authentic dialogue on the ‘future of work’ led by women.