Namrata Sarmah | INTO University Partnerships
ED&I. Many people can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? The proof is in the pudding - or hiring in this case.
Nam is the Chief Product Officer at INTO University Partnerships – a global higher education company that works with 30+ top universities in the UK, US, and Australia to help recruit international students from 70+ countries for undergrad and postgrad degree programmes. She has also built a diverse product team at INTO made up of folk representing 10+ nationalities and languages and a 50/50 split in terms of gender diversity, she runs a community group of 500+ called "Women in Product UK" AND is also a Founding Member of Chief in the UK - phew.
To say she knows a thing or two about ED&I in the tech industry is the understatement of the year...
As you can imagine, Nam has insane amounts of insight and advice on creating a more diverse workforce, so if you're looking to break into the industry or are a company looking to enjoy the huge amounts of benefits in hiring a diverse team - read on! It may be the start of something amazing...
KICKING THINGS OFF, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO AT INTO UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS?
I work as a Chief Product Officer at INTO University Partnerships – a global higher education company. We work with 30+ top universities in the UK, US, and Australia who we help in recruiting international students from 70+ countries for undergrad and postgrad degree programmes. We help students throughout their academic and career journeys. I’m accountable for INTO’s digital platforms, digital experiences, and our student employability business.
STARTING AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE INDUSTRY?
I started my career as a software engineer, the first 1-2 years of my career was focused on tech only. I didn’t know about product management at that time; it wasn’t a structured discipline. I entered the world of product management after my MBA, it was a chance encounter, a bit of an experiment. Product management was quite new in the UK at that time (circa 2013), so not many companies had a product team. I saw this as an opportunity!
AS A WOMAN IN TECHNOLOGY, HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES OR BARRIERS IN YOUR CAREER?
Entry wasn’t a challenge, but I had no role models. Most of my bosses have been male. During my early career, I was often part of the CTO org, there was no CPO role. I’ve been lucky as most of my managers have been quite helpful, but I always yearned for a female role model. There was no structured career path either, I learnt a lot of things by doing. Things were different few a years ago, the product community wasn’t as big as it is today, and the support network was small too, especially for women in tech.
WHAT DOES DIVERSITY MEAN TO YOU AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT?
Diversity should be at the top of any leader’s agenda, especially for product leaders as we build products for such a wide audience; our users can be anywhere in the world. Our users are diverse, this means that the teams building products must be diverse too. I am very happy to say that my current team is very diverse, we are about 50/50 in terms of gender diversity, and we represent 10+ nationalities and languages. We have been successful in building a very diverse team, this was my goal when I joined the company.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN PRETTY SUCCESSFUL AT EMPLOYING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION WITHIN INTO. THIS IS SOMETHING MANY COMPANIES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ARE TRYING TO IMPROVE ON. WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE TO HELP ATTRACT A MORE DIVERSE MIX OF PEOPLE INTO TECH?
First, having a diverse senior/executive team is very important, even at the board level. It all starts at the top! Role modelling plays a big role when it comes to building diverse teams. My advice to other companies would be to look at your board and exec team and challenge them on diversity. This is important if a company wants to attract diverse talent. This has happened to me personally, and I feel proud and grateful that I tend to attract diverse candidates for jobs in my team. But what matters more is inclusion and belonging. Hiring diverse talent is much easier than keeping them for the long term. People need to feel included and have a sense of belonging and for a company to be a safe and positive place to work.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ADVICE TO SOMEONE FROM AN UNDERREPRESENTED BACKGROUND WHO’S THINKING OF GETTING INTO THE TECH INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
Knowledge is power! My advice would be to upskill yourself and work hard to achieve your goals. There is so much free knowledge and resources around. There are several certification & training programs that can also make the entry into tech industry feasible. Internships are a great way to enter the sector of your choice. As a person of colour, one thing I have learnt is that “we must work twice as hard to get half as far”. This means there is no time to waste, just keep going…
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPIEST IN YOUR FREE TIME?
Oh, that’s very easy to answer. Playing with my two kids makes me very happy. I’ve got 2 cheeky boys aged 5 years and 7 months. Every little spare time that I get is devoted to them.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE OR A QUOTE YOU LIVE/WORK BY?
I’ve had one favourite quote throughout my life since my school days, I don’t know where I heard it from originally. It goes “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you”. I live my life based on this mantra. I like to give, and I give without expecting anything in return. I know that the universe will pay me back in some shape or form if I truly deserve it.
TO ROUND THINGS OFF, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO COVER?
I would like to mention my community group “Women in Product UK” which is very close to my heart. This group has been going strong since 2020, and we have 500+ members now. It’s completely free to join! So, if you are reading this interview and you are a product manager or an aspiring product manager, please do join this group. It’s available on LinkedIn, Facebook, and WhatsApp and you can find the LinkedIn group here.
Thanks, Nam, you rock 🤘
Interview by Annie Everitt