How did I get here?!

Being a Woman in Innovation… how did I get to be here? As a female leader at the highly regarded University of Birmingham, and a board member for the amazing PraxisAuril community - I thought it worth telling my story and what I have learnt. 

Constant creativity 
Being inventive and creative are all part of the territory when you start off your career in the fast-moving world of technology and my early experience of various work environments from retail, IT, utilities, travel, in house consultancy and contracting showed me that ultimately, you have to keep innovating, whatever the sector. In my current role as Director of Business Engagement, I see first-hand the power of education and research to harness ideas and turn them into realities, innovation which make a difference to everyday people and society. 

Striving for unobtainable (unnecessary!) perfection
I was the first in my family to go to University. My parents had immigrated to the UK from India, and although unskilled, they had an incredible work ethic, generating very high expectations of my own, around perfection and success.  

To me, it felt that being a female from an ethnic minority background placed an added challenge and pressure to do well and make the most of the opportunities presented. This is something that has stayed with me throughout my professional life at varying degrees of prominence. Sometimes helping and pushing me on, sometimes proving a hindrance, stopping me from fully enjoying my successes and concentrating too hard on what I needed to achieve next. 

Climbing the corporate ladder… in academia…
In academia, educational attainment is akin to climbing the corporate ladder. This can be a tough environment for a Knowledge Exchange professional, where curiosity and capabilities often need to be under-pinned by the right academic credentials. My own academic path, with a degree obtained from a non-Russell Group University and without further MBA credentials, left me questioning whether the environment was a step too far from the more diverse business world within which I was comfortable, and it took me a while to understand that I did deserve the place I took within the institution. Despite the many successes over the years, I have certainly endured bouts of imposter syndrome! 

Diversity brings more for everyone 
However, I have learnt that belief in one’s self is crucially important and that my experiences and upbringing allow me to add diversity of thought, knowledge and a new voice at the decision-making table. Particularly when I look around the table and I am often the only representative of my gender and ethnic group - which sometimes adds to the pressure to talk. Alternatively, not talk… 

As we all know, growth does not come from a place of comfort. It is the discomfort and disruption that creates innovation and creativity. I have realised that just like in the world of new research, innovation and commercialisation, being an innovative leader is about challenging yourself and taking risks. It is about recognising your own vulnerabilities and differences and being brave enough to show them.

To be in the privileged position of being an Asian woman in a leadership role, in a role where I continually seek to grow and develop, I have learned the importance of being bold, embracing my diversity and choosing to be challenged and to challenge, to support and drive for equality in the workplace, in the home and in our society.
#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021


Gurmit Kler
Director of Business Engagement, University of Birmingham & PraxisAuril Board Member

Written in celebration of International Women's Day 2021 for the PraxisAuril blog series - Women in Innovation