Throughout history, women have faced numerous challenges in breaking through the glass ceiling and achieving leadership positions in various industries. Recently, we have witnessed a significant shift in the gender dynamics of leadership roles, with female entrepreneurs increasingly holding prominent positions that men traditionally filled. This transformation has not only brought a sense of empowerment for women but also raised the standards across industries.
However, despite progress, women face biases and expectations and must navigate various challenges at work and at home. These challenges in their current shape and form were discussed at the POW: Power of Women Leading Innovation panel during the GSV Emeritus India Summit in New Delhi, India. Here, we had the good fortune to learn more about the experiences of five exceptional women leaders. They overcame numerous obstacles and succeeded in their respective fields.
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Here are snapshots of what stood out from these women’s personal and professional journeys.
“My family questioned whether I should be allowed to do engineering, but my father was my sponsor at home,”
Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital, emphasizes the significance of women having supporters and allies at home and in the workplace to overcome obstacles and succeed as female entrepreneurs. Reflecting on her experience as a woman studying engineering when it was not considered a suitable profession for women in India, Kola shares how some family members even questioned whether she should pursue engineering. However, her father’s support allowed her to follow her dreams and become successful.
Kola highlights the fact that only 2% of women are CEOs in India’s startup ecosystem and states, “You don’t choose who you are born to, maybe you do choose who your partner is, and maybe you have some agency in choosing your boss, but I do think that you have to look for allies in life. Sometimes they are gifts given to you, and sometimes you can work on finding them. But you do need to find allies to be that 2%.”
“I have always questioned stereotypes and managed to make my family happy partners on my career path.”
Smita Deorah, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, LEAD, believes that female entrepreneurs can succeed by breaking free from gender stereotypes. Deorah shares that she did not conform to the expectations of others regarding gender stereotypes from a young age, such as cooking, and always shared responsibilities equally with her brother at home. She believes that stereotypes limit individuals and that everyone should carve out their path instead of intentionally trying to be different as a woman.
As a co-CEO who shares responsibilities with her husband at work, she has also learned to split responsibilities equally with him at home to navigate expectations. Deorah sees breaking free from stereotypes as a strength of entrepreneurs, who often try to do things that the world hasn’t imagined before: “We are entrepreneurs because we are not playing to stereotypes. Most of the world is telling us this is not doable, and we’re the crazy ones saying, ‘no, why not?’ We are always on the other end of the spectrum, trying to do things the world hasn’t imagined, so I now see that as a strength.”
“I am in a very supportive organization that champions women. I feel very supported. It was really about making smart decisions.”
Ashley Chiampo, Chief Learning Officer at Emeritus, believes in making smart decisions. Especially ones regarding the people and organizations you associate with. Chiampo was initially interested in manufacturing as a mechanical engineer. After a brief stint, she realized that the industry was too traditional to allow her to progress at her desired pace. She then transitioned to the education sector, where she could work in a supportive environment.
“After a couple of weeks in manufacturing, I just said, I will never get ahead here. It’s just too prohibitive for a woman. So I made a choice. Now, I am in education; I am in a very supportive organization that champions women. I feel very supported. It was about making smart decisions about who is around you and the people and company you keep.”
“I think having the right role model, learning from them, and then questioning everything has really helped me.”
Supriya Paul, CEO of Josh Talks, attributes her success to three things. Her stubbornness, tendency to question everything, and selective choice of role models. Her father wanted her to become a chartered accountant and consistently spoke about its perks. However, she looked up to and learned from role models like Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. Paul constantly questioned and analyzed other ideas. “I think having the right role model, learning from them, and then questioning everything has helped me.”
“The vision that I will put knowledge on the fingertips of every child motivates me every single day.”
Prerna Jhunjhunwala, Founder and CEO of Creative Galileo, attributes her success to her vision, passion, and perseverance. Her inspiration to make a difference in education came from observing children growing up without access to quality education. This fueled her drive to provide knowledge to every child. “For me, that vision that I am going to do something big; I will put knowledge at the fingertips of every child. This is the first thing that motivates me daily,” says Jhunjhunwala.
She also emphasizes her unwavering passion and perseverance that drives her never to settle. Moreover, she strongly believes that every girl in India deserves a place at the table. “My passion and perseverance mean that I don’t aspire to be just part of the 2%. Rather, the 0.2% of that 2%, and I won’t stop until I reach my goal.”
To conclude, the experiences and perspectives of these female entrepreneurs demonstrate that, despite gender biases and a patriarchal society, women can succeed and thrive. This can happen through determination, hard work, and strategic decision-making. Their success emphasizes the significance of having a clear vision, passion, and perseverance to accomplish their goals. Along with this, the support of role models and a favorable work environment. If you seek to conquer challenges, be a leader, and excel in your field like these female entrepreneurs, consider exploring a diverse range of entrepreneurship courses at Emeritus in collaboration with the world’s top universities.
By Krati Joshi
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