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Pooja Rao - Talent Acquisition Leader - India & International at Boeing India Pvt. Ltd. | Health Coach

Pooja Rao

Pooja Rao

Pooja Rao

Crucial Success Skills Forged Through My Journey

The journey from being a housewife to an HR leader has taught me many lessons, and it was not at all an easy journey to reach where I am today. A passionate recruiter, community worker, fitness enthusiast, and health coach are some terms that define me after being a responsible daughter, loving wife, and proud mother.

Recruiter: From being a recruiter to a TA leader, I have learned about hiring in many ways. Today, driving diversity hiring is a key vision, and when it's beyond gender, the effectiveness of the subject becomes even more sensitive, and acknowledgment from business leadership and hiring managers becomes very important. As a Talent Acquisition leader and President for ERG (Employee Resource Group) India Chapter, where acceptance is almost non-existent for LGBTQ, driving this initiative where you want to bring about change is a challenging task. When our ERG team decided to do our 1st Pride Parade, the question was, would anyone come forward to support, and to our surprise, many from across locations came together, including the leadership team. We had great success wherein many participants shared their views and success stories on why they want to be part of this parade or ERG journey, and here was our first achievement towards creating awareness on why equal opportunities should be shared with all.

Community Worker: It's been 11 years since I have been associated with multiple NGOs. Giving back to society is something very important as gratitude for what we have received. From recording curriculum for blind kids to teaching life skill lessons to underprivileged kids aged 6 to 25 years, and becoming a partner to blind individuals who are passionate runners/fitness enthusiasts, it has been an amazing journey where I learned that having everything in life is still not sufficient compared to the happiness we get by being with these individuals. These are some of the best times I experience every weekend, and those 2-3 hours help me overcome all stress and problems. I was recently felicitated by the President & CEO of Boeing Commercial Planes.

Fitness Enthusiast: Six years ago, I started my fitness journey when I realized, while running a 5km race, that I was breathless and couldn’t run continuously for even 5-7 minutes. The first thing I was advised to do was to reduce weight, do a lot of strengthening exercises, yoga, and then start walking, jogging, and slow runs. Today, I am a marathoner and have completed many 5km, 10km, half marathons (21.2KM), and an ultra run (30KM), beating my own personal bests. From 72 kgs to 60 kgs was like a dream come true. I am also a trekker and have done many local Karnataka treks and a few moderate ones in the Himalayas, with more difficult ones yet to come. Today, my daily routine includes 1.5 hours of workout, 10K steps, pranayama, and balanced food.

Health Coach: Today, with my own transformation journey, I feel great when all my loved ones say I inspire many. I have learned that nothing is impossible after putting myself through that grinding machine to ensure I live a healthy lifestyle. Considering the family heredity, it's always in the back of my mind that if I must be free from all that, I need to start today. I got the mantra from one of the programs, Health First & Everything Next, and I saw myself completely changed. I learned to eat a balanced meal in a very innovative way without any crash diets. I have also helped many friends, colleagues, and relatives to transform themselves for a healthy lifestyle.

Crafting Creative Opportunities from Every Challenge

Adversity is not the same for everyone, but it teaches real-life lessons. I got married very early and completed my education after marriage. Due to initial life challenges, I decided to work and started my career as a Life Insurance Advisor, which taught me the value of hard work in achieving life goals. One of my managers advised me to try working in the HR field based on the skills he observed in me. With his advice and some study of the HR field, I began my career as a recruiter at an HR consultancy.

The journey as a recruiter was not easy, as growing in the ladder with competition around required keeping my learning cycle aligned with the industry and current trends. First, I identified my strengths and weaknesses, and later I discovered a real passion for recruitment. Then, I realized the need to specialize in HR to understand the subject better and transition into a corporate role. I enrolled in an HR executive program by taking an entrance exam and interview. To my surprise, I received two good news - my selection for the EPHR course from IIM Calcutta and the news of becoming a mother. That's where the real challenge began, as both were equally important to me. Despite facing health issues, I managed to complete the program, but unfortunately, I lost the baby due to premature delivery. It took some time to come out of that, but life had to move on.

I am a self-made person, and with my stakeholder management, networking, business acumen, and recruitment skills, I was able to navigate the path to success. One real-life story I would like to share is about driving diversity hiring beyond gender. The major challenge was helping employees understand that this is a safe space and encouraging them to come out and share their identities or stories, which would help us understand their support needs and eliminate barriers for them. The approach we adapted included:

My Impact

Social Life:

Working with NGOs has shown me the real struggle of families who want to see their kids educated and independent but are unable to do so due to lack of knowledge, money, and resources. I want to share a real story where I have witnessed kids coming from slum areas, attending government schools, and then coming to the NGO for academic tuition, extra-curricular activities, and love and care. 

As a volunteer, I used to conduct sessions on Hindi subjects, life skills, and art and craft there, and sometimes my daughter joined me too. Over weekends, we used to celebrate where all volunteers would eat food with these kids, play games, and cut the cake together, and seeing their joy made us forget everything. Till today, whenever I go there, they come and hug me, saying "namaskara akka." It has been 9 years since I have been associated with this NGO, and I have seen their kids grow from school to college, then find jobs, and even get married into good families.

I learned about the LGBTQ+ community back in 2003 while I went to see Ganpati visarjan in Mumbai, where I saw a group of boys who seemed different from others in their looks and way of talking. When I asked my husband, he explained the difference and mentioned that they are a part of our society. My curiosity increased, and I started reading and learning more about the LGBTQ+ community. 

Then, I realized why transgender individuals are begging to live their lives, as they are the only different humans many have seen until then. While going to work, I met Malti (a Transwoman) for the first time after I learned the difference, and today, the way I see and speak to her is with a lot more respect, as earlier, there was some fear. Now, it has become routine whenever I meet Malti or any other transwomen; I make sure to speak to them with a smile, and in return, they give me many blessings and a 1 rupee coin, saying, "keep it in your wallet, and you will never face any problem in life." 

Initially, when my friends or colleagues saw this, they used to laugh at me, but today, they too follow this, and many times we speak to them to understand if we can help them in any way to support their well-being. During the COVID times, I was able to raise funds and help many transgender families with groceries and medicines. Currently, I am working with an NGO to help this community find work wherever possible, with some training, and a group of friends are raising funds to gift e-rickshaws to a few who know how to ride/drive and have obtained a license.

Work Life:

I have always believed in working towards achieving set target goals. Taking the team together in the success journey always helps in achieving those goals. Learning from each other is something we should never stop, as it helps with clear communication, self-management, critical thinking, and leadership skills. Apart from managing recruitment, I took on extra responsibilities at work, where I served as the President for the ERG group and the project lead for an NGO partner. 

As the ERG group president, the main aim was to help employees understand why driving diversity beyond is important to provide equal opportunities to all. By conducting multiple events to raise awareness, we saw more participation from employees in the ERG group and events, as well as more referrals of community profiles. Last year, we participated for the first time in the RISE (Reimagining Inclusion For Social Equity) job fair conducted by Pride Circle for the LGBTQ+ community, and we successfully hired a few resources. This year, we have approval from leadership to hire diverse profiles from the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and the returnship program.

Scaling New Heights in Personal and Professional Triumphs

For me, the definition of success is how I want to see myself tomorrow. Apart from my professional and personal life, what I am doing for social responsibility is crucial. Being fit is not only for myself but also about making others fit too, and understanding the steps I need to take to accomplish my goals. In the success journey, you never walk alone; there will be many mentors/coaches, colleagues/teams, friends, and family members. 

Always looking for their feedback and suggestions on what I am doing right and where improvement is needed is my belief. Leading by example is something I always follow; if we want to bring any change, it starts with us. I always ask the team to work smart, know their strengths and weaknesses, seek help when needed, and speak up being open and transparent. 

I feel proud to be called a role model for all the work I do. As a straight ally, I always want everyone to feel safe, supported, welcomed, and unified; there should be no hesitation in accepting anyone from the community as a peer or colleague. While working with community members to bring them as speakers, it was difficult to listen to their side of the story with so much struggle, yet they came out with flying colors and achieved their goals. 

Hence, I want to work with or for them to ensure that we don’t just talk about equal opportunities; we need to share them with all. I believe social responsibility is important for all to give back to society in some form; hence, I always encourage my team, colleagues, friends, and family to contribute. A person who motivates or inspires us can be called a motivator, inspiration, role model, mentor, or influencer, but it depends on how one acts. I feel grateful to do a bit for society and the community and, in some form, influence people to do things differently to keep themselves fit and healthy.

The Synergy Between My Path and Recognition Values

I believe my journey aligns with the values and goals of the 40 Under 40 recognition, as my story personifies the courage of encouraging and inspiring stories that have the power to transform lives. Recognition by WAH Story will create a great opportunity to showcase exceptional achievements and stories of people, which can change views and help understand how we can bring change by doing little for society and the community with our current ongoing work. 

I have empowered and inspired many individuals to pursue their ambitions with confidence and resilience in work, social activities, and fitness journey. This recognition also features the significance of community impact and leadership skills. I feel my story is different, as from a housewife to a successful leader, not only in work but also as a social worker, I am trying to bring change as everything is possible if we decide to do so. 

Now, my next move towards community support is another step to give equal opportunities to all. Managing all roles together shows that a woman can take many avatars to bring about change. This recognition will help validate my efforts and will also inspire me to do more to reach greater heights.