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Candid thoughts from inclusive leaders

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Shivani Grover

Director of Enrichment Programs, University of California, Berkeley

Shivani Grover is a social entrepreneur, startup leader, and educator currently at the University of California, Berkeley. Shivani began her seven-year relationship with the University as a community parent when her then four-year old son attended Cal’s early childhood program. Since 2016, she has developed educational programming for students ranging in the ages from 18 months to post-graduates. These efforts have served populations as small as 24 young children and up to 4,000 undergraduate students.

Shivani is a creator of modern educational models that truly reflect the needs of society and thus serve both educational and vocational objectives. A believer that education creates multi-generational lifts in families, in her first five years at Cal she created best-of-breed early childhood curricula, school-age programming and undergraduate and post-graduate pipelines. These programs were primarily created for Cal’s student parent population which is traditionally from first-generation college, minority, and marginalized backgrounds. Read more about her inclusive and innovative approach to building educational models below.


Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.

My family and my teachers. This includes not only my nuclear family consisting of my husband, son, and two dogs, but also includes my parents, siblings, in-laws, and my huge extended family in Trinidad, India, and Canada. We love and support each other every day using WhatsApp to remind us of the values we come from and we aspire to adhere to as immigrants in our different adopted lands.

I also can never express enough gratitude for my Professor Pramod Chandra and his wife Mary Carmen Lynn. I was Professor Chandra’s only undergraduate to study with him in his fifty-year career. He not only taught me the formal rigor of traditional and action research, but he and Mrs. Chandra mentored me in how to lead an Indo-Carribean and Western life and to be a good niece, granddaughter, sister, daughter, mother, and wife in this country.


Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?

My seven years in my thirties running Professor Chandra’s research arm at Harvard. In that time I blossomed because he made me feel valid in my ways, nurtured my intellect with love and care, and showered me with unconditional time. I developed my own voice and ideas as a scholar and intuitively began to understand the development of Indian art in various forms of expression that included fine art, architecture, sculpture, language, and literature.

His wife, Mary Carmen Lynn, a scholar in her own right, treated me like a daughter and as a native Nebraskan showed me that my values are universal values. They built me up to be strong enough to come to California and pave a way from my small family. For that, I will be ever-grateful.

“I tell people to bring their whole selves to their work. Don’t check your love and care and belief in humanity at the door. Bring it in, let it flow through your words and actions. Care builds loyalty and helps build cohesive teams that rally together through tough work and situations. Belief in humanity is seeing the fundamental good in customers, stakeholders, and your staff. Your staff will adopt and echo those values in their work if you model your work and treatment of all parties each and every day.”


What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?

As a builder of organizations and communities, you will be surprised to learn that I do not do functional hiring. This means that I don’t look to see if you have done similar work in the past to indicate that you will be able to function in this position. Rather, I hire on potential. I seek hungry individuals for whom the position I offer is the equivalent of winning the lottery. I look for grit, determination, honesty, integrity and a willingness to humble oneself to take criticism.

Despite my own effete educational background, I am not swayed by fancy degrees, colleges, or past employers. There is no pedigree for hardworking, honest, and decent people — they come from all walks of life. That being said, this means that I take on more work in having to do much careful training, mentorship and team dynamic development but these are all things I love to do and practicing these skills have helped me build very cohesive, high-functioning teams quickly. Case in point, my team of non-computer-using elementary enrichment educators pivoted in two weeks to run a best-of-breed distance learning program that supported our families at the beginning of Covid. Their ability to learn new technologies, embrace a new way of teaching, and face and overcome their personal challenges all came from their traits that I highlighted above and continued to foster, encourage, and refine prior to the Corona inflection point.


“I am not swayed by fancy degrees, colleges or past employers. There is no pedigree for hardworking, honest and decent people — they come from all walks of life.”


What’s one piece of career advice you wish you could give to your younger self?

Don’t rush, there is no finish line! Listen to your gut. If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong place.

Don’t rush, there is no finish line! Coming out of academic settings where courses have a beginning, middle and end, we are fallaciously programmed to believe that work has ultimate goals and there is a certain definition of success, i.e. promotions, accolades, a sense of personal accomplishment that is additive. This is truly not the case. Your work life is a roller coaster, pleasure cruise and journey into a stormy jungle cut up into a mosaic and made into your unique one. Don’t compare yourself to others, it is a fool’s errand.

Listen to your gut and practice common sense. I think our world today is overly and excessively intellectual to the point that we are suppressing the important and critical inputs from our other senses, namely our gut and common sense.

If something does not feel right, it is not right and don’t use your intellect to rationalize it away. For example, I took a position in which I was severely underpaid in relation to my qualifications as well as those around me, and for years had to fight to get appropriately compensated. If I had listened to my gut and valued myself more, I would not have put myself in that position in the first place.

In all professional pursuits, practice common sense. In new professional and mid-career vox populi, I often hear the dangerous chant “Follow your passion.” Actually, at my age, I have come to appreciate that the true value of work is at first its economic value in balance with your interests. If you can’t pay your bills, your passion will not feed you.

If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong place. I have a friend whose grandfather told him to always aim to be mediocre. I was taken aback by this statement because my friend holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and designs computer chips at an industry-leading company. His grandfather has grandchildren who have — as almost a rule — postgraduate degrees and blossoming lives. I let this statement ruminate in my mind for years and I finally had the appropriate understanding of the truism of my friend’s grandfather’s statements.

In any environment, if you are in the middle, there are people below you can mentor to help rise and those above you to help you rise. In addition, being yourself in the middle, your contributions are lock-in-step with the contributions of the majority of the people around you which will create cohesion and a collegial environment. No one should work to outshine colleagues or a boss — that creates a toxic environment. When you reach the apex of that community, it is time to move on to a new community where you can serve, contribute, and learn.


Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?

I do not think that I have the monopoly on knowledge to prescribe a list to anyone. I also don’t listen to podcasts or watch the news– I have a husband, dad, and neighbor  who do that for me and share interesting tidbits of thought to me. Rather, I focus on the spheres of influence that I can control and I listen to mantras and devotional songs to remind me that my work is for a higher purpose and I am a mere instrument of the universal order. My advice: read what you like, enjoy what you listen to, and, above all, make room to heed the lessons and messages from others because true growth comes from listening.


Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?

Diversity: I hire people from all walks of life, colors, creeds and outlooks and I look for friends who also reflect this diversity. Equity: I honor the individual and work to have their individual contribution work in concert with the others in our group. Inclusion:  I never leave people out of a conversation or discussion. I manage through consensus.


What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?

Hire from your underrepresented pools first and do your darndest to support them so that you don’t have a leaky pipeline. I have heard of companies following this practice but then have majority group leaders who abuse their minority staff and use PIPs to get their minority employees out the door. I have heard of this especially in the South Asian community.

Employers should recognize that we all come from different cultures and our work environments are high pressure environments that require cultural cohesion that is not taught subliminally but rather explicitly imparted to ALL levels of an organization.

In addition, and most importantly, don’t pay lip service to minorities. Don’t celebrate diversity in public rooms and then speak rudely to your staff members in closed rooms. All individuals have the right to be treated with great dignity and respect because, after all, they are someone else’s son or daughter.

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Shivani Grover
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