The Secret of Soma Sarkar’s Success

sarkar

In 1983, Soma Sarkar got her first job. She was a bank teller and every day would walk eight blocks under the scorching sun to the bank, carrying a change of clothes in her bag. Upon reaching the bank, Sarkar would change into her work clothes. She did this because her family owned one car that her husband took to work. Since then, she’s climbed the corporate ladder and is now the executive VP and COO of the Credit Union of New Jersey.

Her career trajectory is impressive by any measure but it’s even more so because when she arrived in the U.S. as a newly married 19-year-old, she didn’t know much about her new home country and had never had a job. She turned her grit and determination into the proverbial American dream.

Born in the city of Kolkata, in the Indian state of West Bengal, Sarkar grew up in a culturally diverse environment. She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Loreto Convent and Lucknow University in India. She migrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s after getting married. Soon thereafter, she and her husband became parents to a little baby boy. She was settling into her new life, things were going well but she missed the side of herself that thrived on challenges and connecting with people.

One day, she casually mentioned to a friend that she was wondering how she should go about starting a career to fulfill the dream she had about being what she calls “someone someday”. The friend said she should look for a job in banking because it was the perfect fit for her – it offered flexibility, growth opportunity, good compensation, and benefits. Sarkar says she realized that if she could “adapt to the culture and changes, this could be a sustainable long-term career since she had a baby to think about.” It was a field where she could work part-time and the hours could be adjusted based on her availability.

Sarkar thought it was a great idea but she also was unsure about a lot of things.

“I had never worked in India, so I did not really know exactly who would hire me or if I would even succeed, but I had this attitude of not giving up even if I fail, she said. “I wouldn’t get discouraged and would keep trying until I succeed.”

As she started applying to entry-level teller jobs, challenges started to crop up – she would either not get a call-back or would get rejected on the spot. Everyone wanted to hire candidates with experience and Sarkar was new to the country, trying to learn basic cultural practices.

Sarkar recalls, “Regardless of all these challenges and struggles nothing was going to stop me from trying to get a job. There is a solution to every challenge, and you cannot give up is what I kept reminding myself.”

In a time when the U.S. was famously referred to as a melting pot, a country where to be American meant homogenizing with the rest of society. Sarkar felt the need to fit in.

She recalls, “As an Indian American, I started to adopt American manners, work habits, clothing etc. to be able to fit in the culture and compete for the jobs that were not achievable when I first came to this country as an immigrant.”. Thankfully times have changed and America has become a salad bowl instead, an interesting medley of flavors where each member of society retains their culture and identity.

Sarkar finally got an interview at a commercial bank.

“I went in with a very positive mindset and was not afraid to be myself,” she said. “I followed my gut and, in my mind, I said I am not going to fail because all I needed was a chance. Once the interview was over, I felt I had connected well. At the end, very politely but confidently I requested the branch manager to please give me a chance to show that I can do this job”

She got the job. Even though she would be making minimum wage, it tasted like victory. The first of many.

Since then, she has worked for megabanks, has achieved several banking certificates, and gotten certified by prestigious management schools in the United States. Sarkar is also currently serving on two boards – the NCR’s Advisory Solution Board and Seton Hall University’s Customer Experience Advisory Council Board.

Sarkar notes that even though times have changed, “even today you will find that men still hold leadership roles in the financial industry while entry level roles are mostly held by women.”

Her advice to others on the same path she once traveled is, “To succeed, women need to find strong mentors, network heavily and grab every opportunity. It’s important to set a career goal and aim for it because often women are the ones balancing work and home.”

Sarkar’s unwavering belief in herself got her where she is today because she viewed each failure not as the end but as an indication to try again. She knows that even when women succeed, many often start to question whether they deserve the success and her advice to them is to “focus on your ability to inspire other women, set aside time to learn and challenge yourself, remind yourself not to fall for imposter syndrome.”