Seema Gururaj

Seema Gururaj, Founder, CEO @ Square Circle

Seema Gururaj, Founder, CEO @ Square Circle


Can you give us a teaser of your talk?

I’ve been steeped in the world of Gender Equity for over a decade now and the question about - what would the future workplace look like if women/underrepresented minorities were not retrofitted into it but instead played an active part in designing it, has fascinated me. I'll paint a vision of what the future workplace would look like, with this lens.

Tell us about what you are working on right now.

At my startup Square Circle, we are passionate about fostering a sense of belonging for women in the workplace. We acknowledge that the employee experience for women and underrepresented minorities are different and therefore refuse to succumb to cookie cutter solutions to develop and advance them as leaders. Our focus is not just on empowering the individual but also the context into which they are placed and operate in everyday.

What is your background?

As an immigrant from India, my early days followed the tried and tested path to the American dream - a Masters in Computer Science followed by a career at a great company which in my case was IBM. At IBM, I was fortunate to be one of the first few people to discover User Centered Design and the advent of HCI within our organization. Reading the book "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" by Alan Cooper was a game changer for me. My career we going as expected - promotions, awards, patent, publications, leadership roles etc. But then life happened....

Due to a personal family situation I choose to take a leave of absence for a few years and then eventually resign. While I was dealing with the family situation, my intellectual side went unfulfilled till I transitioned unknowingly at first but then deliberately into a social entrepreneur. I found myself applying my UCD training to solving social problems, unknowingly at first but then deliberately - a youth leadership program in India, helping a think tank focused on urbanization issues in India come up with ideas and strategies, co-founding the first meetup for women in tech to joining the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) as the Director of Grace Hopper (GHC).

When I first joined ABI and told people what I did, a common response was "Grass what? why?" Fast forward to 4 years later, people took pride in sharing their association with GHC and amplified it on LinkedIn etc., we would sell out in 20 min vs. months, we had some of the best thought leaders in tech on stage.

But it was also for me personally an eye opener realizing that visually I was seeing 10,000+ talented women in tech but orgs were complaining about not being able to hire and retain "talented" women in tech. I knew then that my next challenge was to go into a corp and work on gender equity inside out. This was instrumental in shaping my learnings, research and thinking around "Woke" organizations.

I knew I could make a difference and have impact if I started my own company and this is was 3 years back when Square Circle was born. Square Circle - get it??

What should we look out for in the next 5 years?

  • The Pareto principle or 80-20 rule is out of the door. The missing voices of the 20% is what is causing systemic inequalities.
  • The rise of unions and mass organizing of high tech workers that unite under ethnic or gender lines at individual companies could be the path forward to unionization.
  • DEI integrated into the org DNA and not seperated into a silo under HR.
  • The rise of the 4th Sector - workforce looking for impact i.e. Blended Value Organizations (For Profit + Social Sector)
  • "The Market of 1" - people are likely to engage with highly specific and individualized learning vs. cookie cutter one size fits all solutions.
  • The vestigial office building/cube culture gives way to co-working spaces and more remote work.

Who is doing good work in your field?

  • Catherine Bracy (Local Policy)
  • Susan Cain (Introverts)
  • Sasha Costanza-Chock, MIT (Design Justice)
  • Arlan Hamilton (VC)

Where can people find you online?

Medium: Twitter: