Subha Barry has defied expectations, personally and professionally, with a mix of determination, strength, and grace. Barry is the President of Working Mother Media, where she oversees Working Mother magazine, its company website workingmother.com and Diversity Best Practices, which produces an inclusion index. She is also a six-time cancer survivor. This native of India, and a graduate of Bombay University, defied tradition when she broke off her impending arranged marriage to accept a scholarship to study at Rice University in Texas.
“I am the first woman in my family to go away to college without being married. This dishonored my family, some uncles didn’t speak to me, but my parents were supportive. My mother, who was the first woman in her family to get a college education, wanted her two daughters and not just her son, to be ambitious and have financial independence. And my father pushed my brother, sister and me, to get an education and do the best we could.” Barry says.
Barry received an M.B.A. and M.S. in accounting from Rice University. She met and married her husband, Jim. What followed was a 21-year career at Merrill Lynch, rising rapidly up the ladder to become a Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion.
“I needed patience to navigate in a male dominated industry. Were there jerks? Yes, but when you could get to people one-on-one, there were many, many good people in my experience” says Barry.
In 1997, with two young children and a demanding job, Barry faced her biggest challenge to date, Stage IIIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – cancer. During that first bout she endured a combination chemotherapy regimin called ABVD. This put her into remission, and Barry continued her successful career. Three years later, cancer returned. This second time her treatment included among other drugs, Mustragen, a derivative of the toxic mustard gas. Barry received treatment and again, went into remission. But cancer came back, again and again. Barry would battle cancer four more times, including breast cancer, in 2012.
“I can focus on “why me” or I can focus on the good, that I survived – and I focus on the good. I was fortunate that the very first chemotherapy I received, derived from Mustard gas, yes the chemical war weapon used in World War I, kept me alive long enough for the next generation of therapy. And this happened each time cancer returned,” says Barry.
Despite the medical interruptions, Barry continued her meteoric rise to the C-suite. After Merrill Lynch, Barry joined Freddie Mac, as SVP and Chief Diversity Officer. In addition to her day job with Working Mother Media, Barry serves on several boards that support her passions – education, cancer research and the advancement of women and girls. This desire to give back is built into her DNA.
Barry, “We are given the opportunity to be kind to each other every single day. Find a way to be generous. And if you have an opportunity to lift someone up as you rise, then do it. I’m not perfect, I’m a work in progress. I am a capitalist trying to find the ground to help others while living my life.”