Let’s breathe out and just take a moment to acknowledge how difficult this has been. Being a woman, mom entrepreneur, especially during the pandemic, a cacophony of too many people at home, struggling for space, identity, purpose and growth. Children out of school, their entire sense of normal cut off, and having to spend most of their time with adults who are also going through never-before periods of confusion in their lives, leading to all kinds of mood swings, demands and pent up frustration.

In the middle of all this, women and Moms, particularly, not just in India, but everyone started quitting their jobs, scaling down their businesses, creating a kind of exodus that was alarming as it was instantaneous.

So for the those of us who stayed, and held on to the sails as the boat rocked, and didn’t just survive but thrive, what did we do? How did we figure out our happy medium? A way to say we won’t quit!

I’ll give you a small preview of my story before I go into my general principles of what we need to do as women and for women to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship. I had battled what can only be described as a turbulent work life balance, through two successive pregnancies, managing an infant and toddler at the same time, and all the physical, emotional and other changes that it inevitably brings to a woman’s world. And then before I could raise my head above the water, came the Pandemic- testing my resolve just as I thought things were going to settle down. I found myself spending copious amounts of time in the kitchen, and caring for my family and children, while also moonlighting at work, fitting in calls and meetings into every free minute I had. I found it as much my responsibility however to assuage the anxieties of anxious parents and students, and help them figure things out in the haze of the pandemic- as I did fulfilling my roles as a mother, wife, daughter in law and many other roles. I think I was only able to get through this because I am a radical optimist. I do believe in being my best self everyday. Of course I have bad days and phases of self doubt. But honestly, I love what I do. And don’t think of practical considerations that my life must be constrained to 24 hours.

When I reflect on the past few years, I believe the secret to succeeding, is the following.

It is tougher for us. So be passionate:
Theres no doubt about it. Doing it ‘all’ is NOT easy. What brought me back to the ‘Mat’ each time is passion. I am obsessed with what I do, pour every ounce of my being into my work, and wake up really excited about it everyday. So whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s something you’re obsessed with it. It may not bring you insane amounts of money. But if it’s taking up a major part of your extremely valuable and much in demand 24 hours- you have to be in love with it.

There will be good phases and bad phases.
I am a nervous and petrified flier. Turbulence can cause me to have panic attacks. But then things become smooth again. I view a road to purpose and goals in the same way. We all have our own irrational fears, bad phases and good, successes and failures In my 10 years of being an entrepreneur, and nearly 15 year career, I think of everything as a learning process, a phase of turbulence, I have little control over. You just have to show up, and get through it.

Ask for help. We women are biological multi-taskers. But it takes a toll, when this is everyday, for months, years. So please reach out and ask for help, from your partner, from friends, family and when you’re kids are old enough even from them. You can’t do it alone. Don’t suffer in silence. Make people take accountability, share your responsibilities, open channels of communication, share your troubles, and ask genuinely for help.

But what does our ecosystem need to do to support us? Because people, this is not easy.

We have to make the women around us believe they can do it.
That quitting would erode into their happiness, and in the progressive development of their families. Dads, husbands, in-laws, parents- don’t make women feel guilty about pursuing their passion and talent. Sit down with them, and figure out a schedule that works, priorities, division of roles and responsibilities. But mostly understand and invest emotionally in the woman- helping her through her turbulence, the bad phases, the phases where she’s compelled to give up. You have to make them believe your collective life on any one dimension (for us it’s our passion for intellectualism and generating impact on society) is advanced as a result of what they’re doing. This joint sense of ownership is critical to keeping women in the workforce.

Step into help, instead of making them feel guilty:
guilt. I know all the women are saying, hello best friend. It took me a long time to deal with the overhang of guilt. And god knows society doesn’t back off from making us feel we’re always falling short. We aren’t there enough for our kids, we are too ambitious, we are too outspoken and sure of ourselves. But what if the system around is changed- what if they said I’ll keep the kids, I’ll take up some of the homework, I’ll take them out for a few hours so you catch a break. Believe me, a woman never forgets those who have helped her in her emotional journey in being the mother and unit of family she aspires to be. If you can fill her jug, instead of having her struggle to hold it together- you’ll see she’s really a goddess. She will do everything and more, with love and passion. All she needs is those around her picking up some of the weight and saying we are here to help. I have been incredibly fortunate to have that. And it is our society’s imperative to create this self-check and movement to collectively bring down the guilt epidemic amongst women entrepreneurs.

Allow them to savor the fruits of their hard work.
There’s a sense in Indian society, that keep it to yourself, bottle your successes up, we let you work, now keep quiet and let others shine. I think there’s an element of being cheated on that creeps in as a result of this pervasive psychology. If it were a man, he is allowed to celebrate his successes. I think what scares people is we women will become arrogant and self-consumed like our male counterparts usually do when they meet success. In my experience I have found women to be very different about how they celebrate success. Most of us in any case, suffer from Impostor syndrome, so a huge part of us doesn’t believe we deserve our success. More broadly- our lives are about more than work. We don’t measure success simply by how much we earn, but how we become our most complete and fulfilled selves in many aspects of our lives. So if the lady wants to celebrate her success, come on people let her do it, and join in the party without fearing she’ll turn into a self-consumed threat. She honestly doesn’t have time for that. Because as soon she’s done celebrating, she’s already thinking of what her children need or something else. We are continuous learners, take nothing for granted. So allow us to be happy, if you celebrate with us, we are more inspired to give back, help, and be infinitely closer to our potential.

Trust that she knows how to manage her finances, and be comfortable allocating women entrepreneurial capital.
This is the big white elephant in the room. Not trusting women with entrepreneurial capital, for fear she will make a mess of it. This is rampant across the world, since the dollars have been one of the biggest reinforcers of hierarchies and control since time immemorial. Show you trust her idea, let her run the numbers, women in general are very practical and very conservative and pragmatic about risk-return payoffs. But if you won’t trust her and try to exercise constant control- you won’t let her think for herself. So whoever you are, other women, men, systems- trust women with capital. And if let’s say they sink it- they would have learned so much in the process, it will flow to impact the spirit of entrepreneurship in your homes, your children’s lives, the overall atmosphere of growth and learning in your homes and businesses.

We can’t have women quit the workforce. We at Seven Hats, are furiously committed in our second-career workshops and sounding boards, offering pro-Bono solutions to bring women back to the workforce. When we lose you, we deprive society of ideas, creativity, a soul and a perspective that indeed is different. We are better off when we have an inclusive, mixed cohort of entrepreneurs, investors and decision-makers. We remain committed to women wanting to make it back, fight the layers that weigh us down. And ensure we can give you a superhero kit to find the wings and flippers and propellers to shoot into the sky. Not all superheroes wear capes. But perhaps we can design some really insane ones for you.

About Author

Neha Sundesha is the Founder and CEO of Seven Hats Consulting, a leading global education and career advisory firm. She has advised over a thousand clients since she started Seven Hats in 2012. She is an alum of the University of Pennsylvania and has an MBA from Columbia Business School. She has previously worked at Bear Stearns, NYC, the World Bank, Washington DC, McKinsey &Co., NYC and Tata Capital Private Equity, Mumbai. She was named Times 40 under 40 in 2021z

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