#SheLeads: 'Was Considered Bad Hire' Says Woman Entrepreneur Who Launched Start-Up To Mentor Girls
Dr Chandra Vadhana Radhakrishnan is an alumnus of the U.S. State Department Exchange Program Small Business Development for Women Business Leaders (April – May 2019)
I had to quit my first job because my employer offered to transfer me to a remote location, to retain my job I would have had to accept the transfer and this was the time when my baby was just six-month-old.
At another point, I was offered a great job in a premium bank. But due to delayed recruitment process which lasted for more than a year, by the time I was asked to join, I was nine months pregnant and the posting was at a remote location away from family. Having a lot of responsibilities at home with the baby and my older child I thought it might be better to take a break and I quit the job.
After the said break, it took me around five years to restart my career wherein I would have sent out at least 500 job applications. Despite having the qualifications and skillsets I was denied opportunities because I wasn't "working" at the time of application, that I might probably have lost my touch with what I used to do and the fact that I had very young children to take care of.
Probably my recruiters felt that I may be a "bad hire" with all those burdens. However, due to a lot of such denials, I decided to work on my career strongly; I decided to work harder than I ever did.
I enrolled myself in higher education, updated my skills, and started freelancing as well as working online. These helped me to land a full-time job as a college faculty in 2010 finally after so much of struggle which wouldn't have been possible if I had not spent my time upskilling myself.
But how many of the women do this seriously in our society? If they did, India wouldn't be putting her heads down in shame as one of the countries with the lowest Global Gender Gap index (0.668 in 2020) in comparison to even some so-called underdeveloped countries!
India also fares poorly in terms of women workforce participation in the economy – less than 26% of women only contribute to the economy in some form leaving a vast majority of highly educated women back in the four walls of the kitchen and household chores.
Now years down the lane, being a "woman entrepreneur", I come across different sets of impediments. When my first start-up failed because of a lack of business knowledge or access to funds and technical support, I realised how the dreams of a woman can get shattered despite how hard she tried. A highly masculine start-up ecosystem, lack of learning opportunities, lack of investment, scale-up mentoring and the lack of family and societal support still are huge concerns for many women entrepreneurs.
I researched on the matter and found out further reasons why I need to pursue this mission and promote this cause of trying to introduce more women into the workforce. I along with a trainer friend, Keziah Thomas, did some pilot training and orientation for a small group of girls and helped them with their placement.
We found that there is a great difference when a lady trainer trains a girl to create necessary skills and helping in career orientation at an early stage of a career than when a man does the same thing. This led to the launch of the non-profit initiative Prayaana Labs in October 2017 and I was fortunate to rope in the strong team of Keziah Thomas, Dr Lalitha Mathew and Jessica Mundroina as the Chief Mentors.
In the past three years of Prayaana – the word meaning "Journey", we have been instrumental as a "life-changing journey" for more than 20,000 women in different parts of the country.
Our activities involve career mentoring, business mentoring, job/opportunity support etc. We are a unique ecosystem for employability, entrepreneurship and innovation. We did several offline training events including our unique "C2C Meets" – Comeback 2 Career Meets where housewives were oriented on the necessity of getting back to career and were presented with available opportunities.
We also did a touring training campaign where the Chief Mentors travelled to more than 50 plus campuses talking to over 10,000 girl students on the importance of Career Planning and Entrepreneurship as a career.
Prayaana is a complete women-run organisation where all our divisions/ activities are managed by women/girls. In 2020, when COVID-19 pandemic struck and all our offline activities were put on hold, I plunged into the online arena and in a short duration of six months scaled up Prayaana's activities to reach more beneficiaries in more Indian states.
We now have more than fifty Prayaana Fellows and Ambassadors from every corner of India who are driving the activities including conducting webinars, running our monthly magazine- SheSight and many more.
We also have a community platform and a Prayaana mobile app which helps women from any part of India connect with suitable mentors and peer professionals.
We are also piloting the e-commerce platform, www.Pracol.com (short form of Prayaana Collective) where women entrepreneurs can list their products and ensure regular sales. The platform has an attractive affiliate marketing model whereby homemakers can earn a small income per month by promoting the products in their circle and use the same for their home purchases as well.
Our key mission for this year is the "C2C Mission 2021" where we are trying to help 2021 women before the year 2021 ends. We have on-boarded more than 100 women mentors who will be mentoring them and we are planning to organise the Training of Mentors in September.
Thanks to technology, we can now connect rural women with women leaders and professionals who can inspire them with their experience and knowledge.
My vision is to empower 1 million women educationally and economically by 2030 and I believe Prayaana, as well as my other initiatives, will be made towards this vision.
I believe that a determined woman is the greatest creative power and we do not just need to remove the barriers but also fuel their potentials in the right way. I thank the US Consulate for the opportunities that I have got through the IVLP on Women entrepreneurship in 2019 which led me to fine-tune my organisational structure and revenue models.
Note: This series #SheLeads is in collaboration with the US Consulate General Chennai as a commemoration of Women's Equality Day on August 26.
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