Decoding the entrepreneurial spirit of women

When it comes to entrepreneurship, women are considered to be natural entrepreneurs due to their ability to nurture, which comes instinctively to women. Moreover, women are able to emotionally deal with a lot of crises that come their way. Contrary to common belief, women are also able to take risks in a bigger way. This puts women in a different position as compared to men.

Adgully’s seminal event – Women Disruptors Summit & Awards – turned the spotlight on several pertinent issues related to women in the workforce. The session on ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit of Women’ delved into the prevalent perception of businesswomen in the industry, self-made women and personal stories of entrepreneurship, as well as what women bring to the table.

The panellists included: Lara Balsara, Executive Director, Madison World; Rachna Baruah, Founder & Director, Madchatter Brand Solutions; Sunanda Chak, Chief Operating Officer, 4 Minute Mile; and Vaishakhi Bharucha, Founder & CEO, Abacus Yellow. Rutu Mody Kamdar, Founder & Managing Director, Jigsaw Brand Consultants, moderated the session.

Rutu Mody Kamdar kicked off the discussions by remarking that being an entrepreneur in itself was one of the most, life changing and disrupting experiences. Narrating her own experience, Kamdar said that she considered her business to be her third child. “I have nurtured my business in the same way that I have nurtured my own baby,” she said.

When asked to share her journey at Madison and the challenges that she faced as an entrepreneur, Lara Balsara said that she joined Madison way back in 2004; but unlike, Kamdar she did not start the agency, instead she joined as a management trainee. “I worked in various roles for the initial few years. Nothing was handed over to me. I genuinely believe that because of that strong foundation that I’ve had, I am able to do the stuff that I do today.”

Balsara further said that she strongly believed in leading by example and added, “as a leader you need to command respect and not demand it, especially in today’s age, where an agency culture is all about millennials.” She advised leaders to hire people who are better than them. “Once you hire them, give them the freedom to do what they are supposed to do and trust them to do their job. Getting into micromanaging doesn’t really work if you have hired somebody. Collaboration is another important thing. You can’t obviously do everything yourself. You have to learn to delegate,” she added.

Talking about her journey as a young entrepreneur, Rachna Baruah said that after about two years of working in an agency, she took the plunge and started her own agency. “I think I had about Rs 30,000 in my account at that time and spent most of it registering the company, getting a good laptop, and getting everything fixed. You take one step, one day, one week, one month at a time and thankfully now I have a team,” she added.

Narrating her own experience starting her own agency, Kamdar said, “I did something very similar too when I started off with Jigsaw. I just took the plunge. One fine day I rented an office, bought furniture from Pepperfry and within two weeks I set it all up. I made a website myself on WIX. That’s really what entrepreneurship is about, isn’t it?”

From the safety of a corporate life to the challenges of being an entrepreneur, Sunanda Chak said, “I am the youngest entrepreneur in terms of the amount of time I have spent as an entrepreneur, which is exactly about one month!” Chak has 25 years of corporate experience, during which she had held senior management roles in some of the best global brands. She has now joined her husband’s company, which he started seven years ago. While the challenges exist, “nothing comes close to the kind of difference you can make and the kind of things you can build,” Chak added.

Vaishakhi Bharucha had an interesting take as she said, “The word entrepreneur has been glorified, but not the word freelancer.” She talked about how she turned her passion for training into a lucrative business. But the road to that stage has not been an easy one. Bharucha talked about her stints with Ogilvy India, during which she had conducted some workshops. To avoid the long commute to work, she turned a freelancer. Three years back she decided to do very different kinds of workshops, while still take up writing jobs.

She shared, “As a creative person, I’ve spent sleepless nights because I have not been able to crack a campaign. Do you think 24/7? Yes. As an entrepreneur, you can’t take a minute off and that’s the difference.”

However, Bharucha still doesn’t call herself an entrepreneur. “I have my own setup and I do very different things,” she added.

The challenges are many – from paying the bills, to not knowing where the next assignment is coming from, to conveying the passion that you bring to your work to your clients, who are just weighing things in terms of an excel sheet. At the same time she said, “On the reverse side is the sense of achievement. When you conduct a workshop and you see faces changing, attitudes transforming, that’s the day when you walk back home and say, ‘okay, I’m dead tired, but this was a good decision to make’.”

When asked what her biggest fear was, Rachna Baruah said, “While everything else can be worked out, how do you deal with the stuff that’s going on in your head?” She cautioned against taking success and loss faced in the journey very personally. “Personal space is the area which gives you the growth,” she added.

In a different vein, Lara Balsara said, “You can’t help but not take it personally because this is also your baby.” She added, “I think work always follows you. I remember taking my laptop on my honeymoon. I have carried it to the hospital when I was delivering and to holidays. So, you just learn to strike the balance and you just make it work. I have learned to find my balance and make it work.”

Bharucha added here, “I have a start-up and I worked there for six years. When you hire people to the team saying, ‘this is a start-up. You will live here, you will work here, and you don’t have Saturdays and Sundays off’, that changes the entire mindset. Entrepreneurship comes in no matter what you are doing or where you are working. It is about how you approach the workplace. You don’t necessarily have to set up a business to bring that attitude.”

Kamdar wanted to know from the panellists whether they felt women were at a disadvantage at entrepreneurship because they were women.

To this, Bharucha narrated her own experience working as a freelancer. “When I first quit my job, I had two kids, a household to manage and I was a freelancer. While working from home, I’d have one baby on my hip, I’d be cooking and holding the phone – all at the same time. Sometimes, I used to actually work from two to seven in the morning.”

Adding further, she said, “I am just saying that the responsibilities I had were because I was a woman. I managed everything, even if it meant getting three or four hours of sleep. I am not talking about discrimination or something like that. I think we women just are a tougher lot and we take it in our stride. Sometimes you get the accolades. Sometimes you don’t, but you just do it because you have to do it.”

Agreeing with her, Balsara said that she, too, had the same experience. “Yes, it is tough, but I don’t think it’s a question of whether we are at an advantage or a disadvantage. We have to just get on with our lives. Every day is a new day.”

“I don’t think your gender matters, and while I understand what evolutionary theory suggests, historically women have been at a disadvantage, but thankfully we are in 2020. It’s about looking inside and doing the best that you can individually,” said Baruah.

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