By Piper Gray
When Deepika Bajaj came to the United States from India 14 years ago, she moved to New Jersey to continue her career in wireless technology. “It was clear to me that I was witnessing a huge mobile revolution that would change the world,” she said. She remembers being encouraged repeatedly to seek out fellow South-Asians who worked in the same field.This advice baffled Bajaj and made her feel “boxed in.”
Why limit her exposure to people with a similar geographic and ethnic background? Soon she was pursuing an MBA at Fordham University in New York and seeking out anyone and everyone she considered knowledgeable. She even became a board member of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. She would spend Christmas and Thanksgiving with new stateside friends, and her persistence and openness helped create new relationships. “I have the best friends,” she said?plus an expansive career network of contacts from many cultural backgrounds. She now lives in San Jose, Calif.
Building on her wide personal and professional networks, in 2007 Bajaj founded Invincibelle, an online community that targets and encourages highly ambitious, educated women from all cultures to build confidence and flourish in their own communities. She later co-founded Active Garage, a Web-based international forum that unites experts from various fields for the benefit of new entrepreneurs. Active Garage is the company behind 99Tribes, a Twitter search engine that encourages users to connect with like-minded individuals based on their specific interests. As the author of #DIVERSITYtweet: Embracing the Growing Diversity in Our World and Pink and Grow Rich: 11 Unreasonable Rules for Success, Bajaj is a passionate advocate of "global citizenship.” She is excited to see ethnic divides weaken and racial categories blur as more people check “other” instead of a given ethnicity or race when filling out forms.
Yet Bajaj feels that cultural diversity should not be the main focus of our attention today; the generational divide is now more significant. “Young people are more open,” Bajaj said. “That is their new norm.” Increasing Internet transparency has coincided with the rise of a new generation whose knowledge of recent events in Japan, Egypt and Libya, for example, comes from their Twitter feeds and Facebook friends.
Recalling her own experience nearly a decade and a half ago, and her willingness to talk to anyone and ask questions, Bajaj encourages established professional women to emulate the openness of younger workers. There is always someone out there who’s willing to share expertise.
Thanks to social media—including Active Garage, Invincibelle and 99Tribes—exposure to different cultures is commonplace today, especially for the younger generation. People no longer choose to see and present themselves in terms of their racial, ethnic or cultural identity. Now, Bajaj says, “uniqueness is the centerpiece of identity.”
This article was first published in the Summer 2011 issue of NYWICI’s print newsletter CONNECT.