The business world is different for women. Being an entrepreneur and succeeding at it aren’t the same for women leaders as it is for their male counterparts.
Vani Kola, Managing Director of Kalaari Capital that has invested in start-ups like Snapdeal, cure.fit, Urban Ladder among others, believes that the business world isn’t equitable for women.
After a career spanning over 30 years in Corporate America and India, Kola shared the five crucial tips every woman should remember to succeed in the business world – self-advocate, shun the guilt, apologise less, navigate through gender biases and embrace discomfort.
In a detailed LinkedIn post, the 57-year-old venture capitalist emphasised that women leaders have a shared responsibility to change the system. “The expectations and standards (of the business world) are different. If we understand this, we can navigate better,” she added.
What is it important to self-advocate?
A nostalgic Kola remembered the initial years of her career when she was conditioned to do certain tasks. Calling it a product of her culture and upbringing, she said she kept her head down and worked hard. “I assumed my performance would be recognised,” she mentioned. But she faced a massive jolt during her performance review. She pointed her mistake – “I’d assumed that my work would speak for itself and that I didn’t need to self-advocate,” she added.
The VC said that ‘women are often left behind because hey don’t want to call the spotlight on themselves’. “Remember, visibility = opportunity,” she wrote.
She stressed on the need to self-advocate, get comfortable speaking for yourself, raising hand for high-visibility projects, showcase accomplishments, and most importantly ask for what you’ve earned in the form of promotion, compensation, etc.
Also, when someone compliments, don’t rush to disregard them or divert them to someone else. Accept them.
Never be guilty of your choices
Kola highlighted that women usually grapple with some or the other kind of guilt all their life such as ‘mom guilt’ or the guilt of earning more than their husbands/partners. She also warned that, sometimes, guilt can be unintentionally triggered by a lot of well-meaning people around.
Sharing an instance from the time she was pregnant and had received a fresh round of funding, Kola said that she felt that investors would lose faith in her ability to lead as the CEO. “This kind of guilt can hold us back and drain our emotional energy. To be successful, let go of your guilt. Permit yourself you live by your choices,” she said.
No apology needed
Women often tend to begin and end their sentences with apologies. Kola said that women leaders shouldn’t be sorry to make tough decisions.
She said, for instance, “a man might not think it’s as big a mistake to interrupt someone, however a woman might apologise before speaking.”
Kola further added that a good leader is never too proud to apologise for an honest mistake, but being apologetic about everything must be stopped.
Navigate through inherent gender biases
Women at workplace face both conscious and unconscious bias. Citing a study by New York University, Kola said that the researchers found that men are more likely than women to be seen as ‘brilliant’.
The entrepreneur-turned-investor said that businesswomen can only succeed when they pick their battles carefully. Don’t exhaust yourself even before getting to the top,” she emphasised. “Anyone ever called you ‘tough to work with’, ‘over-confident’, ‘too straightforward’, etc.? It’s just bias”.
She said that female business leaders need to navigate an unfair system while trying to change it. “In that journey, we need to be adept at the language of the system. We need to find the right balance between going with the flow and putting up a fight,” she added.
Embrace discomfort & keep moving ahead
After being a part of Corporate America and India for over 30 years, Kola said she still find it hard to self-advocate or not feel guilty, but tried to do it anyway.
While she feels navigating a system that’s not stacked in their favour won’t be easy, women leaders must embrace the discomfort to achieve their goals. “We’re not powerless,” she wrote.