Journey of a startup can be tumultuous, and perhaps doubly so for a woman entrepreneur. However, Neha Bagaria ventured into entrepreneurship more than once, setting an example for facing odds and overcoming them to succeed.
With an undergraduate degree in Finance and Business Studies from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania), Neha – who is originally from Mumbai – came to Bangalore a few years ago, and the rest is history.
Founded in May 2003, her first startup Paragon (based in Mumbai) introduced Advanced Placement Program for high school students in India. Later, Neha worked at her husband’s pharmaceutical company, Kemwell Biopharma, for over four years.
Now, she leads the Bengaluru-based tech startup JobsForHer that aims to help women to start, restart, and rise in their career. It connects women who are seeking employment and employers on their platform.
She had two children – a three and half years old and a six months old baby – when she founded the platform in 2015. Interestingly, it was motherhood that made her take a break for three years, that jolted her into this latest venture.
“Whenever my older kid was behaving cranky, I got mad even though he was doing everything expected of a three and a half-year-old. I thought he let me down that day and all my sacrifice to give up on a lucrative career to raise up my kids into model children went waste,” she has said about re-joining the workforce post becoming a mother.
Bridging Women’s Career Path
Neha believes that women taking a mid-career break falls under the framework of four Ms: Motherhood when a woman takes leave to take care of their child, Marriage after which she is not allowed to work, Mobility when women move to city or country of her husband after getting married, and Medical care to the elderly when women are expected more than men to tend to needs of aging members of the family.
Regardless, Neha says, the common unifying factor is a big loss of confidence among them. She shared that they either feel that they don’t remember how things were done earlier or think that a lot has changed and that it will be difficult for them to catch up.
The JobsForHer magic
The online portal launched on International Women’s Day in 2015 enables women to restart their careers post a break. Through this portal, women can connect with all they need to re-enter the workforce and companies can connect with experienced female talent. The job opportunities provided on the platform range from full-time, part-time, work-from-home to projects at reputed companies in multiple industries.
JobsForHer has partnered with companies like Amazon, PayU, Airbus, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, among many others for various returnee programmes.
Further, the women who register on the platform are reskilled in rewriting resumes, given training on interview techniques, and provided career counseling. They can also connect with over 1000 mentors across sectors through the platform.
“We also connect women with one another and make them realise that theirs is not a solo journey. This will also let them know that there are thousands of other women like them, who are also struggling but are figuring out a way to overcome the challenges,” she says.
The five-year-old platform has seen candidates being hired in various profiles across tech, writing, sales, tele-calling, and other jobs that support work from home facility.
Breaking Through Biases
According to Neha, being able to change the mindset around career break for women has been her biggest achievement. “We never asked companies to hire women out of social goodwill. We convinced them of the strength of the talent pool - in terms of being capable of fulfilling the professional requirements,” Neha says.
With more startups and corporates looking to hire women who are entering or re-entering the workforce, Neha says that it has become a self-confirming prophecy. Neha considers this a landmark because she noted that initially, women were told to hide the gap years in their resume. Neha, however, believes that they must feel proud of their life experiences.
On her Linkedin profile, Neha has mentioned ‘Career break owing to motherhood’ and stated that she gained critical skills such as ‘patience, perseverance, multi-tasking and obtaining a larger perspective on everyday challenges.’
To make the best of their skills, Neha strongly urges that women must stop holding themselves back. “Every step of the way, we are second-guessing ourselves and let fear, guilt, and doubt hold us back from our true potential,” she adds.
Still, the coast may not be all clear. She shares that there is the opinion that a mother’s top priority should be their children and they will fail at it by opting to work. On the contrary, entrepreneurs and investors are often prejudiced that a mother will not be able to give what is needed to a startup company. Either ways, women themselves should figure out their journey on their own terms, she says, adding that she sets a clear boundary at work and assure quality time at home.
Inspired by firebrand of women entrepreneurs like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Vinita Bali, Neha is nowhere nearly done in changing the narrative through action.