Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Shivani Berry, the founder and CEO of Ascend. Shivani is working hard to tackle UN SDG 5: Gender Equality, through her new leadership platform for women. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome, Shivani! I have a few ideas about what a company called Ascend might be up to, but I want to hear it from you! What challenges are you addressing?
Shivani: Well, Spiffy, Ascend's mission is to elevate more women into leadership. We offer online leadership programs to empower women with the skills to move into management and excel in their careers.
Spiffy: I’m all ears! What motivated you to build Ascend and focus on leadership development?
Shivani: I’ve faced many of the struggles women face at work. I had to learn critical leadership skills such as motivating my team and influencing stakeholders by making a lot of mistakes and being lucky to have great mentors. As I developed these skills, I felt more confident, was able to accelerate my career growth and make an impact, not just within my teams but also with executives and board directors. I set out to create leadership programs that I wish I had access to when I was transitioning to leadership to empower women with the skills to move up faster in their careers.
Spiffy: I can imagine those were tricky times. How else are you working to make the world a more equitable place?
Shivani: A systemic change to create more equitable environments requires more women leaders. A diverse leadership team will lead to a more inclusive culture where everyone can thrive. I want to elevate women by empowering them with the skills and support required to get promoted and excel as new leaders. After completing Ascend’s leadership program, our members are more confident and have the skills and strategies to have their ideas valued at all levels and get promoted more quickly.
Spiffy: What kind of impact has your work had on women so far?
Shivani: I'd love to, Spiffy! Ascend has helped hundreds of women get promoted and gain confidence. For example, Diana, marketing lead at SAP, shared: "The leadership program helped me get promoted. I was able to immediately apply the skills to challenges at work which helped me perform better and feel more confident. As a new mom, I almost wasn't sure if I would have time for it but it couldn't have been better for my career growth." This is helping to solve the "broken rung" problem. While women are underrepresented at every leadership level, studies show that the biggest obstacle women face on the leadership path is the first step up to manager (the ‘broken rung’). At a manager level, 72 women are promoted and hired per 100 men.
Spiffy: That’s amazing, Shivani! Switching gears here—have you ever faced failure and what did you learn from that experience?
Shivani: When I was first promoted to a people manager, I didn’t feel qualified for the role. I had never managed someone. I had a ton of self-doubt as I stepped into the role. I didn’t ask for a raise because I was afraid if they had to pay me more money, they would reconsider the promotion or demote me. It actually took me a couple of months to realize I can help my team grow, and find the nerve to ask for what I thought I was worth. When I asked for the raise, my manager quickly agreed to it. I learned how my self-doubt can hold me back and how to manage it better in the future. Most importantly, I learned that I have to ask for what I want because no one is proactively going to give it to me.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Shivani: Yes there is, Spiffy. It’s important to realize that you must own your growth. Often, this means you need to ask for what you want. Request a promotion, make a case for why you should present at an important meeting, and advocate for why you should work on that high-impact project. Great results aren’t enough. If you don’t ask, you’re likely not going to get it because others aren’t proactively thinking about your development—only you can do that. In school, this can mean raising your hand for interesting projects and taking on side initiatives to help you get exposure to new ideas and skills.
Spiffy: Own your growth! I like this, Shivani! Thank you for talking to me about your amazing work and dedication to women leaders. It’s been an honor.
Shivani Berry is the CEO and founder of Ascend which offers online leadership programs for women. She works with women from companies like Google and Starbucks to gain confidence and move up faster in their careers. Shivani has been featured in Forbes, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, and prior to founding Ascend, was a leader in technology. (Nominated by Pathway Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 22, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.