As part of our Women-In-Leadership series, we bring you excerpts of another interaction – with Sumita Singh, MD RELX Group. We caught up with a very busy Sumita – who lives in New York – who gave us some extremely valuable advise to women out there. She spoke about her professional trajectory, her parenting ideologies and about how she manages her work and her personal life.
Reboot: How long have you been working? Tell us a little about how and where you started
Sumita: I started my full time professional career at CNBC as a media research analyst in April 1999 after a 3 month internship in the marketing department. I subsequently have had the opportunity to work in progressively expanding roles within marketing, analytics, commercial strategy to P&L leadership. Currently I am the Managing Director of Elsevier’s global Reference Solutions business, responsible for transforming the reference business into an analytics business over time. Prior to assuming this role, I was the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Corporate R&D at Elsevier and bbefore joining Elsevier, I served as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing for Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk group. Previously I held similar commercial leadership roles at WebMD Health and New York Media.
Reboot: With such a career, how have you managed the balance – as in how did you manage being a mother as well as build a career. Do you think the two are mutually exclusive and can’t be on the fast track together?
Sumita: I think the question needs to be reframed as to how does one find and nurture oneself while being a responsible parent, spouse, social being and a professional. I suggest we swap “motherhood” with “parenthood” since in modern day families it is all about co-parenting. Families are often sharing parenting duties with grandparents, babysitters, nannies and educators. Moms don’t have to be holding the bag at the end of the day. Child bearing is not the same as child rearing.
With that said, I think the balance between work and life and personal goals is always swinging. There is no ideal formula and there is no constant. You need to be up for change and be ready for surprises. For me, the whole experience is like a Bollywood movie – full of moments of sheer joy to moments of guilt and sadness. Being a parent is not about hovering and catering to our child’s every need but instead, it is about creating a loving, trusting and strong bond in a family unit, which I believe can be done whether you work or stay at home.
I believe in being present and actively engaged in what I am doing at any given time. When with family, I try not to let work projects and commitments absorb or distract me too much and while at work, I try to give my 100% and then some. However, women and families with two ambitious working parents need a solid support system around them. It does take a village to raise a child and women must not try to do it all alone. I don’t believe the strongest of careers can be “fast tracked”. A reasonably paced and steadfast career is something to aspire to and indeed, regardless of the speed of progression, having a family and spouse that truly supports you is a must have.
Reboot: So them, do you think that in order to excel in the professional space, you have to give up some special or important moments with your family
Sumita: Quite frankly, we must remember what the end game is in parenthood. For me, it is about raising confident children who can trust their parents, share their innermost secrets without judgement and grow up to be responsible adults. There are occasions when I have missed out on special moments and while not great, if I am present for the majority of their special moment, I am good with that. Seeing a supporting father, a professional mother and an engaged family is far more important than any one moment. One could think of their career and parenthood kind of like the stock market – one must look at returns over the long term and try not get bothered by the day to day spikes. It is not easy but I am certain that stay-at-home moms also have demanding schedules and have to deal with difficult choices of their own. Taking the long view gives me sanity and a purpose.
Reboot: That’s well said – love the stock market analogy! So tell us then, did you take a break at all and if you did, how did you make your way back?
Sumita: I took a 5 month break between my prior two jobs and even though I wasn’t working during that period, I was always actively networking with my ex-colleagues, recruiters and consultants to stay connected. I found employment with my current employer through a colleague who was also a recruiter. We had known each other for several years and kept in touch.
Reboot: That’s what we tell our community – stay in touch and network! So what would you say to a woman who is at home right now, looking to get back?
Sumita: My advice would be that companies are looking for committed talent so figure out what excites you and what you’re good at. Once you know that, I suggest you earn some stripes. Start with some freelance or consulting work to get you back into the swing of things. Even part-time work is a good way to dip your toes. In addition, find the people in the field you wish to be in (via LinkedIn, your network and connections) and network extensively with a purpose. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and be prepared for rejection. I think getting back to the workforce can present challenges to the family dynamic too so I would recommend having extensive and honest conversations with your family unit as to how their role will change and what they can and cannot expect from you. I think it could be one of the most challenging and critical parts of this whole process. Getting a job shouldn’t be the goal. It is about finding a new you, a new identity and a career. Be prepared for what that could mean for you and I think it can be thrilling.
Reboot: Hear that ladies – finding the “new you” is critical! As a last question, what advise would you give to women who are planning to take a career break?
Sumita: Have a plan. Write down why you want to take a career break, what you want to get out of it and if you’d want to return to work at some point, what that could look like. Talk to people in your circle who have done this successfully and the challenges they faced. If you think that you would like to re-enter the workforce down the line, I would strongly recommend staying connected with your network, staying on top of technology and getting involved in activities outside of the home, such as taking additional classes and coursework. Your next role can come from anywhere so remaining connected and abreast of latest trends is really important.
Sumita Singh is a global executive with extensive experiences in global marketing, analytics, product management and P&L roles at multi-national organizations such as RELX Group, Thomson Reuters and WebMD. With nearly 20 years of progressively wide-ranging professional experience, Sumita has built expertise in transforming traditional information and content-led businesses into digital and data driven enterprises, while ensuring sustainable growth.
She has successfully led many functions at these organizations, including P&L ownership, commercial leadership roles, digital product management and marketing and is recognized as a people-focused leader with strong employee engagement. Sumita has more than 10+ years of international talent development experience, building diverse and high performing teams spanning product management, marketing, sales and digital analytics across the globe.
Currently Sumita is the Managing Director of Elsevier’s global Reference Solutions business where she leads the growth of Elsevier’s digital products, serving engineers, researchers and EHS professionals in both the Academic and Corporate sectors. She helped to improve product usage by over 20%, YoY, delivered above-budget topline revenue growth, and defined the growth strategy of the business.
Before joining Elsevier, Sumita served as Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing for Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk group, where she built the global center of excellence in marketing services, customer intelligence and strategic marketing, embedding data and customer analytics in product and sales strategy. Sumita held similar commercial leadership roles at WebMD Health and New York Media.
Sumita has a Bachelor’s Degree in English literature from the University of Delhi, a Master’s in Mass Communications from The University of Florida and a Master’s of Business in Marketing from the Stern School of Business at New York University. She lives in New Jersey with her two daughters and husband.
Interview by Reboot Mag Editorial Team