With a firm belief that education is a source of empowerment, Dr. Kimberly Dixit – CEO and Co-Founder of TheRedPen – has spent the past decade as an independent education consultant, helping undergraduate and MBA applicants “find their best fit.” Helping individuals in her private practice, writing articles, blogs and a book has allowed Kim to offer advice on education-related topics to readers across India and the world.
Originally from California’s Central Valley, Kim now calls India home. Kim studied Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Duke University. Before moving to Mumbai, she taught undergraduate anthropology and writing courses at Duke University and was a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the humanities at Stanford University. In Mumbai, she conducted courses in anthropology at St. Xavier’s College, along with writing workshops at the American Centre before starting The Red Pen with her co-founder Kavita Mehta.
Building the Company
When Kim first moved to India she had paused her academic career and, as a busy mother of young children, she was not working outside the home. Her circumstances as a newly arrived expat were unique -- her rights and opportunities to work were limited by citizenship and access to professional opportunities in her field.
It was during this time that Kim met Kavita and they helped their first student as a personal favour. Neither of them thought it would lead to a company specializing in educational consulting. However, the seed was planted and The Red Pen blossomed.
The Red Pen was established in 2011 and has one head office in Mumbai, along with consultants based all over the world who support applicants in planning their education at the school, university or postgraduate level. The Red Pen also helps schools build effective counseling infrastructure. The latter initiative grew out of the firm’s awareness that new international schools popping up across India were struggling to employ counselors that could prepare students for higher education outside of India. “These schools were offering a great curriculum to help students succeed in colleges abroad, but nobody at the schools knew how support them through the admissions process. We saw this as an opportunity to intervene and reach more students,” explains Kim. Essentially, The Red Pen is always looking for ways to support various stakeholders as they navigate the complex global education landscape.
From that first student, who went on to attend StanfordUniversity, to every applicant who has turned to The Red Pen since, the team is personally engaged. Emotional investment, depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for continuous learning are integral parts of the company’s DNA. Kim explains how this approach motivates her every day: ‘The idea that I can change someone’s life simply by giving them the right advice, listening to them or offering my actions as an example of best practices is encouraging.”
A strong work ethic to support women
The company’s employees are 65% women at every level, from top to bottom of the talent pipeline. The organization focuses on offering favorable opportunities and maintains flexibility in meeting the specific needs of women returning to work. Having said that, when it comes to work, the female partners are very serious about not living up to the stereotype of women conducting a ‘hobby business.’ Kim affirms that maintaining high standards of professionalism, discipline, quality of work, responsibility, and accountability are critical expectations of every employee: “We have been successful in commanding the respect of our professional network and building a reputation for being a process-oriented and transparent organization. We endeavor not to compromise on these standards.”
Bursting the bubble
Unfortunately, even after 7+ years, Kim is often casually asked by some acquaintances whether she is still doing the ‘counseling thing’. There is a misconception that as soon as a woman starts a business, it is half a hobby and half a real endeavor. “This is frustrating as I put my time and energy into developing my business and building my team on a full-time basis. And although this takes time away from my family, it is assumed that my family is my full-time job and my business is a peripheral interest,” she explains. Though such comments would be very discouraging to anyone, Kim takes it in stride and sees it as an opportunity to change people’s mindset.
"Focus on competence; nobody can take that away from you" - Kim
Kim agrees that in India especially, this expectation is understandable since family responsibilities largely fall on women. Women’s focus on family obligations often leads them to sabotage their rise to prominence. Social obligations, cultural expectations, traditional roles in marriage and extended families can sap a person’s energy. The challenge for Indian women, in particular, is to stand up to their families and prioritize their professional development. Women should, “focus on competence; nobody can take that away from you,” says Kim.
However, the path to success is not easy for anyone. Kim’s advice to women who are struggling to get their careers on track is to “be consistent, resilient and professional”. The process can be discouraging at times, but learning the art of “never taking anything personally” goes a long way. Instead, Kim asserts to continue to raise focus on meeting your own expectations of yourself and “take your time. It will happen!”
Lessons from the past
When it comes to finding inspiration, Kim turns to historically influential and strong academic women such as MargaretMead. To her, Mead is not just an iconic female intellectual, but the implications of her work form the early basis for cross-cultural understanding. She was a pioneer in immersive experiences in other cultures; a strong theme running through Kim’s own life. She took on-the-ground risks at a time when other social thinkers were sitting in libraries and theorizing on cultural difference based on 19th-century morals.
She continues, “I think I could learn a lot by questioning Mead on some of the modern-day critiques of her work as ethnocentric and biased. She may be able to shed light on how she approached her research questions and their implications for understanding gender, power, and social structure. Today Mead is known for her famous quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It’s wonderful that this perspective inspires so many toward meaningful action, however, Mead’s influence and contribution to our understanding of social and cultural processes extends far beyond simply changing the world; she identified the mechanisms through which change can be affected. Besides these heavy topics, I would love to hear directly from Mead about the academic gossip at Columbia University in the mid-20th-century from her time spent with Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas!”
When she is not busy changing people’s lives through education, Kim spends her time swimming, paddle boarding, and scuba diving. She also enjoys skiing, equestrian sports and is very passionate about exploring new places. Since she is a very social person, Kim believes in frequently catching up with friends at home as well abroad.