Daina Emmanuel On Her Career Journey Being About Patience & Passion

Daina Emmanuel, Director at Xperi, doubted herself like most working moms do, at one time in her career. She speaks about how she tackled this and rose to where she is now.

Technology has always been seen as a ‘man’s’ world – but stories like that of Daina Emmanuel reveal that women are establishing spaces for themselves, without losing their sense of self.

Daina Emmanuel has been a passionate woman. As a director of a major world-wide tech company Xperi Corporation, she has been passionate about technology, innovation and ingenuity. Change has been the name of her game. As a leader, Daina has been equally passionate about empowering the leaders of tomorrow. All the while, she ardently fights for causes that go well beyond the corporate space, particularly the environment.

To me, when I come across such women, I instantly wonder – where does she find the time?

I then wonder, how does she do it? This simple curiosity has inspired this interview.

Here’s what I learnt – a woman can and should have many ambitions, unabashedly. She can and should choose herself, whether she’s out in the world fighting for causes she believes in, or is at work, crafting her career. At the end of it, we should never have to look back and wonder where we had lost ourselves trying to ‘make it’.

We asked Daina Emmanuel some questions about Xperi and her work in the tech industry. Here is what she had to say.

Daina Emmanuel, looking back on an impressive career in the tech world

What led you to this career path?

Engineering is always an intriguing subject, and problem solving, be it on electronics or gadgets, was a childhood hobby. I have to, of course, acknowledge that in a South Indian family, your options are between medical and engineering, hence – engineering it was.

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The IT sector boom naturally led to adopting IT as the career path. While working, I was able to complete my MS from BITS Pilani and Executive general management from IIM Bangalore.

When you look back at the time when you first entered the professional space, do you remember what your fears, doubts or insecurities were – what do you think about them now and how much of it do you think was influenced by the social world at the time?

I think that when we enter any place new, the excitement of the unknown helps you manage your fears and doubts. I am attracted to new challenges and hence when I entered, it was fun working across different domains – communication, financial software and embedded systems.

I was an early mother and that is a period when a lot of doubts crept in as to how will I manage my time. My mom’s advice, as she was also a working woman, was to take it one day at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with possibilities of burnout and work life balance issues till they actually happen!

I have to say that that advice helped me a lot as many of our insecurities are about situations which are rare. If they actually happen, there are solutions for the same. We don’t have to keep fighting the situations in advance and waste our peace of mind on it.

What is that moment or event in your career that will always make you feel proud of yourself?

I love the innovation culture in Xperi tech, there is a lot of challenging work and a brilliant team to work with. My milestone of filing 50 patents was very close to my heart. I would say day to day work life culture at Xperi makes it a wonderful environment to work, clubbed with its innovation culture found in every space of work. Diversity is embraced with respect to all!

In your career you feel proud of your achievements, but you continue on with your career journey because of the company culture. I have to acknowledge the culture of innovation, ownership and respect for work which is ingrained in Xperi.

Some advice for women entering into an ‘intimidating’ corporate world

What is a non-negotiable that you’d suggest young women entering the work space should set for themselves – a value or boundary that they shouldn’t compromise on?

My advice to the younger generation would be to be persistent and keep ‘learning’ as a lifelong goal for the career journey. A career is not a 1 or 2 year long affair. It’s a long journey so be persistent and also be patient with yourself.

Keep your aim high, discuss vocally about this as it reinstates your belief in yourself. Women often don’t discuss their careers out loud. They should do it and get different perspectives through discussions that can help them aim and so, achieve, higher.

Lately, the conversation of ‘burnout’ has gained momentum. However, leisure for many women has always been out of grasp. Where does the sense of self for women lie when juggling different roles – between work and the family? How do you personally create that space for yourself?

I believe in compartmentalising your life – have your space for work, family, social life, passion and hobbies. If we don’t try to balance these aspects in our lives, we will feel burned out. The threshold for burnout of course can be different for different people. It’s about understanding yourself and finding your space for balance.

You mentioned once that women sometimes are filled with doubt when it comes to change vis-a-vis the virtual world – could you please expand on what you meant by that? 

Thanks for referring to the quote! Well in many cases I have seen that the concept of change comes with a lot of self doubt. The doubt, often, is not limited to skill – it’s also about ‘re-skilling,’ effort, and time. This includes time taken to adapt to change and how this process will impact the balance currently set in people’s lives. The concept of having to replan schedules in life sometimes makes women nervous and causes them to keep spiralling.

Everyone should have parameters to evaluate change as a positive and to accept it as a way of life – to embrace it without self doubt. Life and the way of working in the IT sector is often with the laptop being your window into your work. The skills of collaboration needed in the virtual world may be a little different from the real world. Understanding this need and ensuring that you are still building a strong presence in your collaborations via the virtual world is essential. The normal virtual world can be isolating but is here to stay for some time. Make social connections and circles in the new world to help you through this journey!

The way forward is Female

You’ve been vocal about protecting the environment and have been a part of ground level efforts. How important do you think is the empowerment of women as change-makers when it comes to such important causes, like that of sustainability?

A quote from Greta Thunberg goes “I have learnt you are never too small to make a difference” From my side, I try and find time to do my small bit and be vocal about issues happening around me. When we talk about empowerment of women as change-makers, we have to accept the influence of women in shaping the thoughts of the next generation. The change we want for the environment requires more thoughtful citizens – our kids of today should understand the need to bring about sustainable growth and be aware of their actions on the environment. For a country of our size and diversity, a few government policies will not be enough to create change. The best way to move  forward would be to bring about grassroots-level changes, and that can be done most effectively through women as change-makers.

Here’s a quote from an article you wrote – ‘The question is, if everything is studied and people have the right intent, then where is the progress?’ 

Despite intent and even some progress made in women empowerment, it often feels like new social obstacles crop up or we see old ones revive. What keeps you optimistic and still so active in pursuing your causes? What advice do you give to women who may feel cynical?

This is a very interesting insight and every generation hopes they are better than the last in terms of women empowerment.  I feel the IT industry is among those industries which have taken early and aggressive steps towards equity, however across other industries there is a lot of progress yet to happen. I have a lot of respect for Xperi for the multiple steps taken in this direction to bridge the gender gap.

Invariably, we always see that the gap is still huge. As one’s experience level increases, the gender ratios get more skewed. I hope that with the various initiatives taken across the industry, the gap will be filled and women won’t find themselves lonely on the top anymore.

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