I Am A Founder First, And A Female Second: Yuktie Jhangiani
I’m a feminist, there’s no doubt about that. But when I run my company I try and tell myself that I have to do the right thing, not something a woman would do and not something a man would do. I try to take gender out of the equation, says Yuktie Jhangiani the founder of Kosha.
I was raised in Mumbai, being one of two sisters in the family. Nobody ever made us feel that boys are better than us in any way. My grandfather who is instrumental in making me the person I am today, was keen that I build the family business. He always told me that accounts is the foundation of a strong company but that it wasn’t enough to be successful. Then he said I should also know what to say to different people and keep them engaged. He asked me to read books ranging from Parmahansa Yogananda to George Orwell. He took me for walks on the hill, swims to the beach, never once making comments about my clothes or comparing me to the boys.
So life went on, I finished my CA, explored India, travelled the world, had push up competitions with a mixed team in the office, oblivious to the world where discrimination existed. And then one day, a prospective investor asked me about my marriage plans. I’d been meeting investors for six months at that time and was prepared for all sorts of questions. How will you use the money? How will you scale the business? What’s your competition? What’s your team like? But this question about marriage was a bit of a googly. As I discussed this question with other founders, I learnt that only 2% of funded startups in the US have women founders. So, I’m not just a ‘Founder and CEO’, I’m a ‘Woman Founder and CEO? What’s the difference, really?
As I discussed this question with other founders, I learnt that only 2% of funded startups in the US have women founders. So, I’m not just a ‘Founder and CEO’, I’m a ‘Woman Founder and CEO? What’s the difference, really?
My sister, Dipti, who runs a communications company tells me I should get a man to be the face of the company. It will help our case with investors, she says. I don’t plan to. Should I be practical, do what needs to get done and grow my business? I’ll have to live with the guilt of perpetuating the thought that men are much better at the helm of a company even if they are figureheads. That burden weighs a lot more than a few hundred crores.
While I was making presentations to bank officers for a loan a few months ago and simultaneously speaking to investors, a few well-meaning people asked me not to talk about my upcoming wedding. It would weaken my case they said. I sent my application with my wedding card. Application rejected!
As I build Kosha with a primarily female team, I understand that I have to set an example. Where else will they get their cues from? Four years ago, when I had to travel to a small town in North India that wasn’t connected by air or railways, I just put together a little checklist that I needed to be safe. Who would I complain to about safety in our country or the state of public transport? There was no question about the job not getting done. When I worked during my CA internship, we travelled in teams. Now that option doesn’t exist either. Resources have to be managed in an optimal fashion and if one person can do the job, there’s no need for the team to travel. So whatever your gender you got to go alone.
In 2013, we set up a warehouse to manage our e-commerce operations. From lifting cartons with the rest of the team, to instructing a team of male workers for the setup, I simply did what I had to. Being fit definitely helps. The training in the gym and regular running have given me the confidence to do some physically strenuous work. As a result of this, the girls who work as shopping assistants in our store have never complained about having to stay late if we have a customer. What makes things slightly better is that we have one of the best working hours in retail. There are two shifts, 10.30 am to 6.30pm and 12.30pm to 8.30pm. Typically retail shifts are for 10 to 12 hours. We keep ours at 8.
The one area where I feel that no matter what we do, as women we get pulled back, is our biological wiring. If the first day of the month is uneasy, you can’t but stay at home. Same for pregnancy. Having said that, I feel good that Sashida Bellarmin who has been with the organisation for more than 5 years, took a gap for her pregnancy. We gave her the option to work from home for the first one year. Come to the office for half a day after that and later resume her full time position. She is now working with a multinational firm and continues to work remotely for us.
I am reminded of the song from Dil Chahta Hai, ‘hum hain naye, andaz kyon ho purana’.
I know that a lot of the things I’ve done with my company have happened because I’m a woman. I can’t separate that experience from my existence.
While most times, I try to be ‘Founder first, female second’, I know that a lot of the things I’ve done with my company have happened because I’m a woman. I can’t separate that experience from my existence. But now more than ever, we need to be proud of being women. If we push certain things under the carpet in the constant attempt to be ‘equal’ or ‘as good’ as men, we might forget how to be at peace with ourselves.
Yuktie Jhangiani is the founder of sustainable travel-wear brand Kosha. She’s a CA, MBA and a certified mountaineer. The views expressed are the author’s own.