The following article first appeared in the Silicon Valley Business Journal
Editor's note: Our Community Impact Awards spotlight individuals and organizations making a real change here in Silicon Valley. This is one of the seven award winners this year.
Sonu Ratra knows firsthand the challenges women face when they return from a career break. The Akraya co-founder confronted those challenges when she left a lucrative job 17 years ago to spend time raising her daughter, Ananya. When she wanted to return to work, she hit a brick wall.
Ratra believes companies overlooked her because of the employment gap on her resumé. She perservered and went on to not only rejoin the corporate world but transform it for local women in similar positions.
She managed to find a role that allowed her to build a career for herself and be a role model for her daughter. She founded Women Back to Work, which provides a systematic approach that includes skills assessment, resumé review, job search training and mentoring, and has helped hundreds of returnees ensure they are prepared for success in their search for employment.
The reentry program for women also enables companies to boost employee diversity and business results by acquiring highly talented, educated and qualified women who may have been difficult to find via conventional hiring methods, she said.
“As an entrepreneur with a charitable heart, Ratra is passionate about giving back to those in need and the community in general. Her main passion lies in assisting, educating, and empowering women in the workplace,” said Jeff Monaghan, Chief Marketing Officer at Akraya Inc., the consulting and staffing firm Ratra co-founded.
Ratra has always been passionate about giving back to the community and supporting women, from her early career to working directly with HIV-infected women through fieldwork and outreach.
Ratra, who holds a master’s degree in social work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, spent many summers in her younger days working in orphanages in India.
“My inspiration comes from both my parents,” she said. “My father set the greatest example for me. He was always helping people and was known for his social work within the community. There were always people in our house that would show up to seek his advice or help, and ... He never turned anyone away. Now that I look back, he truly showed me the path to giving back selflessly.”
Why do you do what you do? I believe that with success comes an even greater responsibility toward our employees and the communities in which we live. I was raised by a mother who was paralyzed by a spinal cord tumor for over 14 years. She had a choice to move forward or give up. She chose to forge ahead. I learned many valuable lessons from her. Amongst them was to be a champion for young girls, women, and the less fortunate. I am truly passionate about giving back, therefore, what I do becomes very easy.
As a leader in your group, what keeps you up at night? Nothing can keep me up at night. What I do think about constantly is how we can continue to be a best place to work for our employees and stay true to Akraya’s purpose and core values.
What are your goals for 2019? To introduce our program to every company in the Bay Area that is interested in expanding their gender diversity programs and sourcing exceptional talent.
Community Impact Individual Champion award winner: Sonu Ratra
Title and company: Founder, Women Back to Work
Hometown: Born and raised in Pune, India
Residence: Los Altos
Family: Husband Amar Panchal, daughter Ananya Panchal, and my Labrador Retriever Bvlgari
Education: Master’s degree in medical and psychiatric social work
Headquarters: Santa Clara
Number of people reached/impacted: More than 200
Target clientele: Companies open to hiring women returnees
Tidbit: Ratra’s father won the Glory of India award for his community service work, the same award Mother Teresa earned.