Born in the Caribbean in Trinidad, Sharda Rekha moved with her family to New Jersey when she was fairly young. Even as a kid, Sharda was organized and well put together, yet creative and adventurous. This adventurous spirit eventually led her to the Bay Area, leaving the East Coast to study graphic design at the Academy of Art University and to start her career far from home in San Francisco.
Like many Millennials, the 2008 financial crisis hit its peak while Sharda was still in school. She and her peers, nervous about what a recession meant for their career prospects, struggled to figure out what to do after graduation. There was no market for entry-level graphic designers. Companies weren’t expanding their departments or revamping their brands.
Sharda decided to use her natural organizational skills to break into the job market and landed her first job as an office manager. Before long, she was hooked. She fell in love with the work, adored her co-workers, and thrived in the small startup culture – fast-paced, dynamic, and growing despite the crashed economy.
The company was wildly successful, and within a year, it was acquired. Sharda found herself ready for her next challenge and decided to stay in the administration field.
Since then, each company she’s worked for has helped her build on past experiences as she continued to acquire new skills and areas of expertise. From formatting emails to managing the schedule and priorities of the highest-level executives, Sharda continuously improves her own processes and systems.
While working at Uber, she learned the importance of collaboration and cross-functional partnerships. She was part of the Incubator there and was hands-on in creating, implementing, and testing new ideas. It was all hands on deck with pleasing the customer as the top priority no matter the role, a great match for Sharda’s skills and values.
Sharda has never been afraid to try new things. Even if it’s something she’s never done before, she’s confident in her ability to figure it out. At one previous job, she found herself in charge of finding new office space, something she knew next to nothing about. This was one of the largest projects she’s ever had to tackle. She didn’t skip a beat. With no prior experience, she relied on trial and error and created new processes for herself along the way.
For Sharda, feeling stagnant isn’t an option. She believes that in order to grow in her career, she must push herself out of her comfort zone. But honestly, listening to Sharda talk about her past experiences, it’s clear that out-of-the-box thinking and exploring new territories come as naturally to her as breathing. She can’t help but grow, and that attitude made her a perfect fit for Handshake.
So how did she end up a boomerang employee?
Sharda was aware of Handshake long before she was ever hired to work there. Early in her career, she interviewed for an Executive Assistant (EA) role supporting the CEO. While she was certainly impressive and qualified, this role was better suited for someone who had worked at a larger company. The vision for Handshake was to grow fast, and team members would need to be able to keep up with the rapid growth.
At that point, Sharda had only worked for small to mid-sized startups. But the interview experience was still positive, and she appreciated the honest feedback.
Then, she went out and got herself that big company experience.
She was thriving at Uber when the pandemic hit. By July 2020, massive layoffs led to the end of her time there.
A true blessing in disguise, this layoff eventually brought Sharda back to Handshake. She had gained the big company experience she needed and was hired as the EA to the CTO and CFO.
She loved working for a company that shared her values and cared about her career growth as much as she did. She always felt that everyone at Handshake truly believed in the core value of learn, grow, repeat.
But Sharda soon discovered that after nearly two years of living through a pandemic, she needed to see more action from her workplace. Just saying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is important wasn’t good enough anymore.
With the switch to remote work, the spotlight was really on the C-Suite, and Sharda didn’t see herself reflected in those leaders. She said, “It’s even more important now that the company you join reflects your own values and an extension of you as a person.”
She went on to say, “If a company really wants to democratize opportunity for all, I think the decision-makers in the room need to be a representation of all.”
Though she was part of a diverse team of peers and truly believed that the leaders of Handshake wanted to do better, Sharda decided it wasn’t the right place for her just yet. The company had more learning and growing to do.
When she left, she was open and honest about why, and her thoughts and opinions were heard and respected. She parted ways with Handshake on very good terms, wishing everyone the best and hoping she might someday return.
While she considered her next career move, Sharda reengaged with a charitable project she had started a few years before– through crowdsource funding; she helped get much-needed supplies and resources to unhoused people in Hayes Valley. She printed pamphlets, delivered care packages, and helped schedule appointments for medical care, all while working on her own mental health and well-being.
After a brief stint at another tech company, she heard from a former co-worker about some big changes at Handshake, and one of those changes would alter the course of Sharda’s career.
Valerie Capers Workman, the former VP of People at Tesla and one of the company’s highest-ranking black employees, joined the C-Suite at Handshake as the Chief Legal Officer in January 2022. At Tesla, she pushed for the company’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Impact Report, and leaving the tech giant for a startup was big news in the business world.
Handshake also welcomed a new board member – Dr. Michael L. Lomax, the president, and CEO of UNCF. Dr. Lomax was formerly appointed to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the National Museum of African American History and Culture Plan for Action Presidential Commission during the Bush Administration.
With great enthusiasm, Valerie and Dr. Lomax embodied Handshake’s mission to democratize access to opportunity.
This was the true diversity and inclusion that Sharda hoped for, the change that she knew was possible.
Her excitement for Handshake was reinvigorated. She applied to serve as Valerie’s Executive Assistant and was welcomed back to the team with open arms.
Just a few weeks after being back, Sharda had already begun the critical work of helping Valerie build out the legal team. She was also working to build out an Admin Wiki and Resource documents for onboarding new hires for the growing Executive Assistant Team.
Creating hiring playbooks and job descriptions for three of the biggest roles in the legal department is yet another new challenge for Sharda, but a challenge that brings her nothing but excitement. And Valerie has been completely supportive of Sharda’s desire to stretch her skillset.
The pandemic taught all of us new things about ourselves. For Sharda, she learned just how much representation matters, and with this newfound knowledge, she used her voice to speak up about what was important to her. And Handshake listened, not just to Sharda but to the shift in our cultural expectations, the demand from all of us that companies do more than pay lip service to diversity and inclusion. It’s finally time to take action.
As a woman of color and an American immigrant, Sharda couldn’t ignore the part of herself who needed to see that action from the company she devoted her career to.
Her experience as a boomerang employee has been overwhelmingly positive. She’s felt extremely supported by leadership and her colleagues.
Handshake is a workplace where everyone truly helps each other, something Sharda hadn’t always experienced in past roles. Here, everyone is united with the same goal. The leadership team is hands-on and humble, always checking their egos at the door, and all employees at every level are passionate about the company’s mission.
In the ten years Sharda has been working in the tech industry, things have definitely changed for the better, but there’s still work to be done.
If she could, Sharda would tell her younger self not to be afraid to speak her mind. When she decided to be honest about why she was leaving Handshake, she was speaking up for herself. She was speaking up for women like her, all marginalized groups, and the next generation of workers. She was speaking up to her younger self, who was afraid of being called “too opinionated” for speaking up for what she believed in.
Being a boomerang employee has been empowering for Sharda, and she hopes that her story will inspire someone else to join the team because, as she put it, “Handshake is a great freaking place to be.”
In closing, Sharda would like to say, “Thank you, Handshake. Thank you for listening.”