Sree Kaushik remembers toying with motors and transformers as a child, her little fingers tracing over their edges and intricacies as her young mind imagined each part working together in unison.
Her father was a mechanical engineer, and whenever she had the chance to join him at work, she relished in moments like these; bouts of childlike curiosity that ultimately cultivated a lifelong interest in technology.
“It’s something that has always been a constant in my life,” Kaushik said.
While growing up in India, she saw both of her parents embrace an engineering mindset. And according to Kaushik, many women across her community pursued tech careers; a trend she found starkly different from what she has seen in the United States.
“I feel like women in India are almost 10 to 15 years ahead in terms of representation in STEM,” she said.
Kaushik shared that when she earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in India, 50 percent of her classmates were women. But when she came to the United States to receive her master’s degree, she was one of only two women in her graduating class.
“It was such a cultural shock for me,” Kaushik recalled. “That actually motivated me to stick with engineering more, because I wanted to drive that difference.”
Over the years, she has followed this determination while building a successful tech career, and she currently serves as SVP of Product at Crunchyroll. Since joining the anime and manga entertainment provider over five years ago, Kaushik has helped fuel the organization’s continuous growth while refining her own leadership style.
“I spend a lot more of my time thinking about how I build my team to face not just the challenges of today, but those of three to five years into the future,” she said.
Throughout her career, Kaushik has noticed various shifts within the tech industry, notably when it comes to female representation and overall diversity. She has been excited to see Crunchyroll commit to building a more inclusive workplace and is confident that the company will continue to push these efforts forward.
“If we want to be ‘the brand’ for the diversity that defines anime, then our organization, employees and teams should equally represent that,” she said.
Kaushik’s career journey so far is a reflection of not only a fulfilled childhood dream, but also a future filled with opportunity and growth for women and other underrepresented individuals across the tech space.
Crunchyroll’s mission is to “help everyone belong.” The company’s platform offers immersive experiences and products for anime and manga fans, from streaming content and mobile games to in-person events and merchandise.
Ensuring Ownership, Driving Change
When Kaushik first joined Crunchyroll, the company had less than 500,000 subscribers.
Six months later, that number rose to 1 million, due in large part to Kaushik’s diligence in guiding the company’s engineering and product teams.
“There has been a trajectory of exponential growth ever since,” she said.
As Crunchyroll’s customer base continues to stretch into the millions, Kaushik herself has evolved significantly, especially from a leadership perspective. In her mind, it isn’t enough for her to simply build a team; she must also give other leaders the autonomy to make the right decisions.
“My goal is to ensure ownership is actually within each of those leaders,” Kaushik said.
To cultivate this type of environment, she encourages her team members to challenge each other often, even if that means saying to someone, “I don’t agree with you, and this is why.” Kaushik noted that this openness is fostered by the way in which the company is structured, starting from the top.
Besides embracing an open-door policy, the company’s leaders often send out surveys to gauge employees’ thoughts and feelings. Kaushik added that the company’s president frequently emphasizes the importance of both accepting feedback and taking action when necessary.
“It’s not just about taking in feedback; it’s also about understanding, evaluating and identifying a solution and making sure that it gets executed,” she said.
This commitment inspires Kaushik’s own leadership vision. And while she feels as though her efforts to pursue this level of understanding and action are far from over, she is proud of the progress she has made so far.
“This has been a tremendous opportunity for me to reframe my role as being a lot more like a guide, or a voice that they can bounce ideas off, and someone who is helping nurture the team and build that leadership confidence within it,” Kaushik said.
CONNECTING LIKE-MINDED COLLEAGUES
To create a sense of community across its organization, Crunchyroll offers various employee resource groups, including Rainbow Roll (LGBTQIA+), Black at Crunchyroll, CRWN (Crunchyroll Women’s Network) and Anime Rising (Asian American Pacific Islander). According to Kaushik, these ERGs offer a safe space for employees to share feedback as a group, which she considers essential for effectively cultivating inclusion. “When we talk about DEI, it’s not just about enabling it; it’s also about providing the right forum to be able to share sensitive feedback points without the fear of being singled out or identified individually,” she explained.
A More Equitable Future
When Kaushik initially embarked on her professional journey, there was one thing that made it difficult for her to imagine a prosperous career.
It was a lack of self-confidence. “Early on, I would always look to someone else to recognize me and confirm if I was doing something correctly, whether it was my professor, manager or father,” Kaushik recalled.
But the industry has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Kaushik said she has been excited to watch her daughter, a senior in high school, pursue a STEM career alongside many other ambitious young women, fueled by a level of confidence she lacked two decades ago.
As the tech space becomes more diversified, she envisions Crunchyroll becoming even more of “a melting pot of diversity.” She considers growth and inclusion to be synonymous with each other and believes both interconnected elements will define the future of anime as a whole.
“As the tech space becomes more diversified, she envisions Crunchyroll becoming even more of “a melting pot of diversity.”
How will the company help carve out a more equitable future for the industry? Kaushik noted that it largely comes down to maintaining inclusive hiring practices, which is made possible by pushing the boundaries when it comes to finding job candidates from all backgrounds.
“We’re not just looking for that top candidate; we’re trying to find a candidate that will represent our culture, goals and vision for diversity,” she said.
For Kaushik, this ongoing focus on instilling equity has made her hopeful for the future. Having seen Crunchyroll’s leadership team promote diversity through bi-directional conversations, she feels confident that the company is eager — and prepared — to unlock greater opportunities for both women and other underrepresented individuals.
“I think we have great programs and initiatives and a great leadership team that will help us get there,” she said. “I love what we’re trying to do here.”