A career that started as a writer leading to interviews with people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, has now landed her a spot in the management of a media brand that is recognised by all modern women with access to social media. She's been associated with female focused content creators like Seventeen, Harper's Bazaar, Refinery 29, both offline and online. At Refinery 29 where she spent 6 years, she went from being an Executive Editor to a Senior Vice President and expanded the editorial team from 8 to 100, and the traffic over 15 times!
Currently at Girlboss®, she leads Sophia Amoruso's (The OG NastyGal &Girlboss herself!) second brainchild to further glory by juggling her roles as an Editor-in-Chief and the Chief Operating Officer.
The fact that she has climbed the ladder of success so steadily and continues to prevail at the top on her own terms defying stereotypes is absolutely Badass!
In this exclusive interview with BeBadass, Neha sheds light on the highlights of her career and imparts wisdom that no school can teach you!
You mention in your interviews how success is diverse. What is it for you?
There was a time when I was just starting out, when success just meant being noticed for good work—and getting the opportunity to write something. Later, it became more about inspiring teams to do great work and commit to the company mission through my leadership. Now, it's some combination of leading great teams, finding time to write and report and do creative work that adds value to women's lives, and simultaneously finding quiet spaces in my personal life that aren't about work. I suspect if you ask me that question again in a year, the answer will have changed just a bit again.
You’ve worked with many major publication & media names. How do you adapt to the work culture each time you join a fresh setting?
You have to take a beat when you start at a new organization to listen. Go to every department and person on the team and understand what they contribute and how they work and think. That will make you a better leader and a better collaborator—and it will help you earn the trust of your team. Once you've done that, you likely have a lot of the tools and information you need to understand the company's culture and understand how you fit into it.
Any professional mistake you regret?
I regret the parts of my career where I was too afraid to ask for the promotion or lay out my case for more money. The moments where I expected someone would just notice me and my work if I put my head down and outperformed my neighbors, if I worked nights and weekends and applied more care and consideration and sheer manpower hours than everyone else. And that's not to discount hard work, because without it, I don't think you can advance. But, it's usually not enough. You have to be strategic in advocating for yourself, in making sure your contributions get seen and acknowledged, that the things you are learning and seeing from your vantage point that might be helpful to more senior people are things you are sharing in a clear, succinct way. I learned that lesson properly around the age of 30, when I started managing bigger teams and budgets and really understood the process from the other side. And I think, sometimes, about what the first 8 years of my career might have been like if I had learned those lessons sooner.
Has your 'nurturing leadership' ever been a point of conflict at any organisation so far?
Not really. It took me a while to really understand that this was my own superpower, and the way I could best lead. I didn't instantly see that my style of leadership didn't have to look like some preordained cliche of a white-haired man with a booming voice in a business suit. But once I saw that, it was a gift rather than a point of conflict.
Small roles in Big Companies or Big roles in Small companies, which do you recommend?
It depends on the person—and where they are in their personal trajectory—and what fuels them. Do you thrive in a place where your role is likely narrow but deep, and you have an incredibly clear sense of what you do in the org, as well as a clear set of expectations and processes that you can fit into? Then you are likely better suited to a big company. Or, can you live with a little bit of chaos, but crave the opportunity to move quickly, break a few things in the process, and test and fail and learn? That's more likely to happen at a small company. You get to wear a lot of hats, prove your value at every turn, and make a huge impact when you are at a start-up—but you work a lot and you work hard, and there is a lot of uncertainty and muddiness. On the other hand, big organizations are places where you can build a lot of foundational skills, and learn from people who likely do exactly what you want to in a very specific role. You meet experts and you get to know their work and thinking, which is really powerful. If you are lucky, you get to do both at different junctures in your career, and absorb the best of what each has to offer.
When did you first meet Sophia and what was your first impression of her?
I met her nearly two years ago, last January. And my immediate impression was that she was reserved and more thoughtful with her words than I would have expected from someone with such a larger-than-life persona. But importantly, the thing I really took away from that meeting was that she is a born marketer. She could sell anything to anyone, and even though I knew she was selling me on this job, I was so dazzled by that charm and magic, I knew I had to consider the opportunity seriously.
What made you join the Girlboss team?
The opportunity to use the skills I had to do something different. We are building something that starts as media but evolves into something much bigger and more powerful, and harnesses the power of the amazing women in the Girlboss community. The opportunity to work on building something like that from the ground up—and to craft an editorial offering that really brought value and resources to women across the globe—felt like the kind of thing that wouldn't come up again, especially in this challenged media landscape.
Writing, Editing or Leading as a COO, what’s your favorite? Also how do you manage to shift these gears on a daily basis?
I can't choose. That's why I'm in a hybrid role. I love to lead organizations and teams and take a strong role in management. But at the same time, if that's all I do, and I can't touch the work that we do on a daily basis, I don't feel fulfilled. That's why this role is perfect for me. It lets me combine both of my strengths in a role that would be hard to find anywhere else.
Name some Badass women who inspire you.
Stacey Abrams, who recently won the Democratic party nomination for the governorship of Georgia, my home state. She's the first black woman ever to do that, and a fair, thoughtful, intelligent, action-oriented leader who I'm so inspired by.
Nora Ephron, for being a brilliant storyteller—and for teaching me so much of what I know about the women's movement of the '70s, through her words.
And of course my mom, Prema Gandhi, who raised three kids in a foreign home, as a relatively recent immigrant to this country. And then, in a second act, found her home in the professional world in the past decade—as both a tax preparer and a teacher of Hindi at Emory University. She's even started her own non-profit Hindi school for young kids in those years, and it's been incredible to watch.
Words of Wisdom to young girls who aspire to be like you.
No isn't a word to be feared. Go out and ask for things people will reject as often as you can. Try and earn the yes, but never fear the no. And don't wallow in some sense of embarrassment or failure that might come from no either. I still struggle with this at times. But most rejections aren't personal. And even the ones that are are rarely 100% a judgement of you. There are always other factors at play.