In the press
A lot of buzz about women empowerment has been trending for decades now.
A country cannot have a progress without enhancing the status and the position of its women. True.
A holistic development requires having equal opportunities, affirmative action and inclusivity vested and balanced in its core. On one hand, where the importance on the growth of our country’s women literacy rate is being rendered, on the other hand, we have Sairee’s SHEROES, which offers a platform for the women who have a potential to make a stand of their own, maximize it, and lead.
The uniqueness of this platform lies in the fact that it also helps those literate women, who have taken a break from their work, to take care of the family and domestic happiness.
SHEROES lets you believe that every woman (She) is a Hero. Here is an inspiring story of this warm and widely popular start-up owner, Sairee Chahal, Founder CEO, SHEROES.
Tell us about yourself.
I belong to a typical middle-class family from a small town where studies and career are positioned as utmost important elements of life.
I was born in Yamuna Nagar, Haryana, but grew up in Uttar Pradesh with my only sibling, a younger sister. I am married. We have a young daughter whose life keeps us all busy and entertained.
From a career in advertisement & marketing to entrepreneurship, how was your journey?
I have had opportunities to explore diverse things in my life; hence, I have an assorted range of experience.
I used to work as a journalist for Advertisement & Magazine earlier. Newslink was my first startup that I built in 1999-2000, when internet was beginning to boom in India. That was kind of my training ground.
Tell us about SHEROES; its revenue model and annual turnover, so far.
SHEROES is a consumer-based internet company which builds a community of career-oriented women and offers a potent and sustainable platform for growth. We are all about catalysing women’s potential and growth. Therefore, we bring a huge network of people from different arenas of professions to share their experiences, valuable suggestions, innovative ideas and more to provide other women a ladder to climb and chase their dreams. We ensure that there is enough leverage to be rendered to women when it comes to SHEROES. Through SHEROES, the users get to use a plethora of products like “mentorship”, “career resources”, etc. The revenues come from different companies and from the platform itself.
Though we have extended our platform to different companies to recruit women, but we are not a recruiter.
Companies use different products and offerings that they use, plus we also provide solutions for certain companies for their managed remote workforce.
Since you are in a way supportive of affirmative action, how do you comply with it while choosing the talent pool for your organization?
Yes, it’s true that I believe in inclusivity; affirmative action and equal opportunity. SHEROES has evolved from these concepts.
I’m really glad to state that majorly we have women employees with a surprising ratio of 70:30 with the male employees. We have a slightly reversed structure here. Women who are working with us are a part of our own community. A lot of homemakers, young moms, and professionals are associated with us.
What are your expansion plans for SHEROES?
SHEROES is building communities and bringing talents together. It has become one of the largest women’s communities in the world with a small footprint across the globe as of now, but primarily focused on India where a larger base exists.
This is one of the reasons why we are investing a lot in the platform to make it more user-friendly & resourceful, in addition to promotions and advertisement it requires. Soon, you will see a global version of SHEROES.
You have been in the Leadership Fellowship Programme with Aspen. Summarize your learning experience there.
Aspen has polished my skills, thinking and analytical abilities, and so on, to carve a better individual & a professional out of me. All I have learnt from it is Challenge Yourself and Find New Frontiers.
#Mumswithoutbabysitters.. This is my story, your article, tells how you have been tiptoeing to keep your personal &d professional duties aligned, especially, when the babysitter was absent. But this is not allowed & appreciated everywhere. For example, breastfeeding a child in the pubic has become a social censure, across the globe. Working moms are criticized if they feed their baby when it feels hungry outside home. How women should cope up in such a scenario, keeping both motherly duties and profession in place?
I believe that there is never going to be a perfect set ready for you to align your priorities. For women, the fact is that the best support you can get is from the other women. Take my case for an instance. I wouldn’t be here, had my baby sitter, caretaker, younger sister, and my mom wouldn’t have been supportive. Women interact more in communities and do well when they work in communities.
So, help yourself and other women.
Apart from this, I think there should be a common consciousness floating in and around the society regarding the stance of women and her abilities. The biological needs of women can’t be underestimated so a certain privilege should be given to this multi-tasking gender.
However, it is also a fact that we are progressing gradually.
At the beginning of this last century, women were not even allowed to get out of their domestic life and work.
But look at the things now. Time is changing. We are evolving (sixteen years in twenty first century), slowly though, but not stopping anywhere. And, as the old proverb goes, slow & steady wins the race.
When it comes to feeding an infant, people should understand that it’s a primal need. And, each one of us is required to keep this in view when it comes to making policies, rules, provisions, and perceptions, instead of creating chaos. Our institutions need to be designed to include inclusivity in their structure, vision, etc.
What keeps you going?
My passion keeps me going. This is all I want to do and I’m glad that I am doing it.
All work, no play is definitely not Sairee’s way. So, how do you spend your leisure time?
I spend time doing yoga, taking a walk, spending time with my pet dog, chit-chatting with my daughter, and so on, all in a stride to strike a balance in both professional and personal life and recharge myself.
You strongly believe in:
I think every person should build their own version of success and follow their heart. Don’t worry too much since you have got just one life.
The fact that climate change has taken a toll, causing havoc in the world, and that you are staying in Delhi, falling prey to air pollution crisis, what are those 3 quick things that you want your readers to do as their bit of sustainability?
· Plant saplings as many as possible
· I want people to be a little more conscious about their extravagance to reduce wastage. We tend to be a bit of extravagant when it comes to celebrations, maintaining status, etc. We need to take a look at it.
· We should also stay connected to nature as human beings and nature will take care of us
Your ideal persons:
Anita Roddick, the Founder of BodyShop; Dame Shirley, Singer; and Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the Founder of Paytm
Your resolution for 2017:
To be more watchful about my fitness. Practice more yoga and walking, but I also want to work harder.
3 wishes a Genie, what would they be?
I would ask for:
· More nature and greenery
· More serendipity
· More connections, to make a larger network for SHEROES
Your message to the startups:
Start-ups need to find their purpose, and give it a shot without refraining themselves because of the fear of failing.
A few words for the North East Women.
I’m very inspired by the women in the North East. They are well read, smart and strong. I want to see more women from the North East following their passion, and coming up with their own start-ups and making a firm imprint as an entrepreneur at the present time and ahead in the future. I want to get an opportunity to serve the platform of SHEROES to as many women as possible in the North East.
We are online, and have a career helpline to guide them. We are accessible, and they can reach us, on our app SHEROES and also talk to the counselors and mentors on our helpline whenever they want to. All the best and make the most out of 2017. Happy New Year!
‘The role of women is changing from nurturers and caregivers to disruptors, creators and growth hackers’ (Graphic by Ishu Vaid) (WION)
According to a United Nations study, only 50 per cent of women are in the workforce, compared to 77 per cent of men. The numbers in India are much lower.
“Where are the working women? Do they doubt their own skills or is it the fear of affecting their families? Do women in India face an identity crisis?” These were some questions that kept bothering Sairee Chahal, an entrepreneur who has been conscious about the theme of women in the workforce.
She doesn’t just talk about the problems but also takes charge. In 2014, she came up with the idea for Sheroes – a platform that helps women with mentorship, career resources, skills development, jobs and work from home options. With her start-up, she aims to put a million women in the workforce in the next coming years.
Kazimi: You are based in India. What is the status of women employment in the nation?
Sairee: India has some startling numbers, which are hard to ignore. We have only 17 per cent women in the formal GDPed workforce, only 5 per cent women in leadership and our gender ranking globally is at 113 out of 136 countries.
Out of the total women population, the age group of 30-49 years constitutes the highest proportion of working women. (WION)
Kazimi: Do you feel this is because of the lack of educational opportunities for women in India?
Sairee: India has the maximum number of women graduates in the world, so there are more women who study and far less who work in the formal workforce.
Kazimi: So where do you feel the problem lies?
Sairee: Almost 48 per cent women drop out of work before reaching mid levels and most do not come back. The problems are of all kinds ranging from
- lack of support system at homes
- loss of financial independence
- doubts about their own abilities to unavailability of opportunities
- battle with issues of identity and confidence.
We are a complex nation; women own and run the caregiving economy – babies, eldercare, weddings, big festivals, family – the list goes on and on. In that process, a woman’s career becomes nobody’s business, sometimes not even hers.
Kazimi: So how does your initiative make a difference?
Sairee: The idea is simple. We partner every woman to stay on a career path of her choice and excel at it – be it that of a first-time intern, work-at-home mom or a top corporate strategist or an entrepreneur. We are attempting to help urban women find choices that work for them, do well in the career they choose, turn entrepreneurial or make effective career comebacks. The core of our philosophy is to help women navigate career stages and find work that fits their life.
Proportion of women working in rural areas is almost double that of urban areas. (WION)
Kazimi: What should be done to bridge the gender pay gap?
Sairee: To reduce the gender pay gap, what could be done is – being more transparent about the pay-out for a specific role, companies should start looking at them as talent resource and not female employees and women must stop being shy to ask for what they think they deserve.
Kazimi: What was the initial response to your ideas?
Sairee: Initially, it was tough convincing everyone that women’s careers matter and that small changes can make big impact when it comes to gender diversity, remote work, entrepreneurship and women in leadership.
Being able to create business alignment with what will be financial value plus social impact has been a challenge. When you are at an early stage of a category, you are written off easily. Or being a bootstrapped start-up with a big audacious goal is not easily acceptable.
Kazimi: What keeps you going in the lows?
Sairee: I have an amazing team, a vibrant community and a goal worth chasing – giving every Indian woman a dream of the career of her choice. Very able mentors and partners also support the venture. One can either make way for fear and regret or one can be open and stay charged. We take charge.
Kazimi: How do you think the role of women in society has evolved over the years?
Sairee: The role of women is changing from being nurturers and caregivers to disruptors, creators and growth hackers. While women have come a long way, they still have a long way to go. Corporates are adapting to newer forms of work engagements, being more inclusive and building up a supportive ecosystem. It will take time, but we are moving in the right direction.
The role of women is changing from being nurturers and caregivers to disruptors, creators and growth hackers
Kazimi: What impact have you been able to make with Sheroes?
Sairee: Once a priest’s wife from a small village in the state of Bihar called asking for career help. She had studied before getting married and never worked. Now she was an empty nester, with kids settled overseas. She wanted to find herself an identity, a career and we managed to help her with an opportunity. Millions of women across the country have similar stories and they share them with us. That is why we are a community, where one comes in when you might be just curious or inclined.
Proportion of women working in rural areas is almost double that of urban areas. (WION)
Kazimi: What advice would you like to give to women struggling with their careers?
Sairee: Ask for help. Reach out. Talk. There is always somebody who will be able to show you the way.
(Coordinator and Editor: Devanshi Verma)
India is witnessing a major growth in entrepreneurship — not because of its X factor but out of the need for its citizens to create their own job. With more than 65 percent of the population under 35 years of age and a record-breaking growth in smartphone adoption and data services across the country, there has been a rising demand for next-generation services with simplified solutions.
While India has been seeing this increasing trajectory of entrepreneurs and new start-ups over the last five years, 2016 has been a major milestone year for all of the key stakeholders in the Indian ecosystem — including government, educational institutions, entrepreneurship support organizations, investors and entrepreneurs — to seek and provide support in sustaining the biggest hurricane of entrepreneurship to date.
All this, as India is set to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016.
Major factors fueling the momentum
january 16, 2016
The year started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the “Startup India” action plan to provide entrepreneurs with various subsidies, as well as relaxed norms for starting up businesses in India. The government of India’s Innovation arm, Niti Aayog — the National Institution for Transforming India — also announced there will be up to $2 million in support for those setting up and modernizing existing start-up incubators across the country — as well as to promote entrepreneurship right at the high school level. We at the Global Entrepreneurship Network also saw a growing demand from entrepreneurs seeking support through mentorship, capital assistance, legal advice and more to ensure the sustainability of their ventures.
It was also a historical moment for India at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Silicon Valley, where President Barack Obama announced India as the next year’s destination for the summit, as well as showed interest in participation at the summit.
lobal Entrepreneurship Network also announced its official affiliation in India and plans to set up a dedicated office, bringing all key stakeholders together. GEN India made progress in consolidating major ongoing activities by formal nomination from India through the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, as well as contribution to the Startup Nations Atlas of Policies through Startup Nations.
At Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016, the momentum is strong. Startup Ashoka, organized by GERN partner Ashoka University, saw more than 100 students on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 coming forward to pitch new ideas, showcase their existing start-ups and learn from fellow aspiring student entrepreneurs to make their ideas viable and scalable. We were also honored to have MakeSense community members visiting us from France and the United States that organized a meetup to talk about innovations to fight climate change.
From students and women entrepreneurs to policymakers and investors
we are getting to see everyone celebrate entrepreneurship, share their own entrepreneurial journeys and provide support to keep this momentum going. GEN India is focused and committed in supporting each and every entrepreneur in the country by providing them all sufficient means to take their enterprises to the next level.
Some of the major events during Global Entrepreneurship Week include the Think Big conference, organized by WeConnect India. The conference attracts more than 2,000 women entrepreneurs in Bangalore and is jointly hosted by the government of Karnataka and WeConnect. Think Big will be followed by keynote talks by the U.S. Ambassador to India, Richard Verma; Amitabh Kant, the CEO of Niti Aayog; a panel discussion with SlideShare co-founder and current head of India’s DigiLocker Project, Amit Ranjan; as well as the voice of women entrepreneur Sairee Chahal, founder and CEO of Sheroes.
With the newly launched Digital India initiative by the government of India, we are seeing a huge increase in tech start-ups and mobile applications. This is due to the adoption of digital practices. To catalyze the same, a digital marketing workshop was organized by Jaarvis Accelerator. The workshop witnessed great participation and enriching discussion on changing trends of digital marketing and upcoming challenges.
NEW DELHI — Snehita Mukherjee, 24, left her job in an Indian information technology services company to study interior design. But when she needed to supplement her income, she found a job through a website called Sheroes.in as a data processor working from home so she could continue her studies. Mukherjee then recommended the website to her mother and her elder sister.
Sheroes, a members-only career networking platform for women, is one of a handful of startups that have sprung up in India in the last few years to help women find full-time or part-time work, identify mentors, tap into networks or receive career counseling.
Some, including Sheroes, are exclusively for women. Others, such as Flexing It, offer freelance work for women and men, while the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi has started a mentorship program for female entrepreneurs. The networking startups charge companies for placements and recommendations; women seeking jobs or information join for free.
“The traditional job market gives you a burden of expectation,” said Sairee Chahal, founder and chief executive of Sheroes, which has roughly 1 million registered women on its platform, by far the largest such startup in the country. “This [flexible work] helps them take charge of their own way.”
About 21.2% of working age Indian men — those between 15 and 59 — have a regular salaried job, compared with 13.4% of Indian women of comparable ages, according to a 2014 report by the International Labor Organization. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that Indian women account for just 17% of India’s gross domestic product. Full employment equality would raise GDP by 60% by 2025, the report claimed.
The jobs and networking startups feed a real hunger from women, according to Chahal, who said that women in isolated and rural communities are now able to find work that they can do from home. A good example, said Chahal, was an online query from a young woman in a village near Lucknow, in the relatively poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who wanted to work from home. Chahal pointed her to Sheroes’ listings, and then coached her through the application process and the process of setting up at home.
Chandrika Pasricha started Flexing It based on her own needs. She left her job at McKinsey to freelance and found that there were few options for consultants. Seeing a gap in the market, she set up Flexing It, which says that 40% of the nearly 40,000 professionals registered on the site are women. The company finds work for mid-career professionals with a median work experience of eight years in areas such as marketing and branding, running business units, hiring and managing personnel, finance and analytics.
Struggling for talent
At least 55% of the paying companies at Flexing It are startups and small and medium sized enterprises. “Startups are always struggling for talent,” said Pasricha. “They can’t afford to throw money at talent, and we’re finding a lot of organizations are turning to people like us to get help on specific pieces of their businesses.”
According to the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard, produced by the U.S. research company ACG, India ranked 28th in a survey of 31 countries for gendered access to fundamental resources such as education, the internet, bank accounts and SME training programs. Only Bangladesh, Ghana and Pakistan were ranked lower.
The survey inspired IIT to set up the Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Foundation, which launched in October, offering a three-month mentorship program for 30 women entrepreneurs. Aparna Saroagi, the foundation’s co-founder, said India’s burgeoning startup companies tend to be run by so-called “boy’s clubs” with very little female representation at the top levels.
“Women have the potential and they only need the support to rise up,” said Saroagi, who also heads market risk reporting and control at Royal Bank of Scotland in India.
Lack of internet access in some areas could hamper the growth of startups, but Chahal said: “We believe that internet access is only going to grow, even on low bandwidth. Our endeavor is to build an ecosystem that can serve anyone as India grows.” About 32% of the women on the Sheroes platform are from small towns.
“There’s a huge rise in aspiration, in understanding that work is integral, and there’s a huge hunger for growth from wherever they are,” said Chahal, who grew up in small towns across the country thanks to her father’s job as a consultant to the steel sector.
“I come from a big Punjabi family where the women go through college and get married to a jeweler or a builder,” said the 40-year-old. “In my head I had written that off at 18.”
She moved to Delhi for a degree in Russian studies in the mid-1990s — a time when several Central Asian countries were setting up embassies in Delhi — and got her first taste of financial freedom by helping them with translation and public relations. Since then she has worked in, and helped scale up, several businesses.
Chahal launched Sheroes in 2014, and has since raised $2.6 million from the U.S. private equity firm Lumis Partners, India’s HR Fund, the venture capital fund 500 Startups and the digital media startup Quint Media. Other investors include Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Google India managing director Rajan Anandan and Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal.
“We’ve built a category — women and their professional space,” said Chahal. Working from home used to be a scammy thing and we’ve made it a respectable option.”
Do angels really help?
Sairee Chahal, founder and chief executive of Sheroes, a career platform for women run by Applied Life Pvt Ltd, says the most important advice Bansal has given her is to stay true to the ‘core focus’, which is women for Sheroes.
“He is just there. If we ever get into trouble, we know who can get us out. He is a big door-opener. For us he’s always there when we ask for help,” she said, adding that Bansal invests in the creation of a strong platform and a strong community.
Promoters say as these investors have been entrepreneurs themselves they are typically more patient than pure play investors.
Within days of applying, she landed a work-from-home project with UrbanClap.
Lumis Partners-backed Sheroes is among a slew of women-focused recruitment startups that have come up over the past few years to help women who have taken a career break find work, including jobs that offer flexibility in terms of hours and place. JobsForHer, Her Second Innings, V-Pact are among the other popular organisations.
“We work with women at different stages of their career. While we have hiring opportunities, our approach is to build a system to support, advice and provide skilling around the job,” said Sairee Chahal, CEO of Sheroes. “We also have a career helpline through which candidates can talk to a coach or mentor.”
Bengaluru-based JobsForHer is a similar online portal with primary focus on women who have taken a break and want to restart. It not only helps job seekers connect with potential employers, but also helps bridge the gap with skills upgradation.
“Usually, women are told to hide the gap in their resume,” said Neha Bagaria, CEO of JobsForHer. “But when they apply through our portal, they know that they will be evaluated on the basis of their qualifications and experience, rather than get dismissed because of the gap.”
Opportunities provided by such portals have seen a significant increase in applications by job-seekers and postings by recruiters. Sheroes, which has built a base of 1 million users since its inception two years ago, has witnessed a seven fold growth in job opportunities on the portal in the last one year, said Chahal.
With over 1,600 companies as potential recruiters on JobsForHer, including the likes of The Future Group, Genpact and Unilever, the portal is receiving over 50,000 applications on average every month, which is nearly 300% increase from last year, according to the company.
“MakeMyTrip has hired 40-50 holiday experts from us for sales of their travel packages and all these women candidates work from home,” said Bagaria.
Sheroes’ founder Sairee Chahal
A community platform, a career destination, a guide in all spheres of life, Sheroes aims to be a one-stop shop for women for all their personal and professional needs. It currently has a one million strong community of women, who come together to share experiences, use resources for self-development, and find opportunities to improve their work and life prospects.
Run by Applied Life Pvt Ltd, the platform raised $1.8 million from private equity firm Lumis Partners; country’s first human resource-focused investment platform HR Fund; entrepreneurs Rajul Garg and Raghav Bahl in August and followed it up with two acquisitions.
In an exclusive conversation with Techcircle, Sheroes’ founder Sairee Chahal says she is looking for more acquisition opportunities especially in content and career development segments. In the short-term, she is open to acqui-hiring, too. Maintaining that Sheroes is well-funded for the next six months, Chahal says a consumer-centric company that is in scale-up mode will need consistent funding.
How do you see Sheroes shaping up in future? Any new segments you aim to enter in the near future?
We see Sheroes as an ecosystem of women and their career and aspirations. Within this ecosystem, we are lining up elements
such as opportunities, support, network, content, learning and growth. Within these elements, wherever we find relevance, we will acquire.
The challenge in our category is that there aren’t many people. The women and career space is a new one. We hope to find some new synergies. Acqui-hires are always welcome, but not as a long-term strategy. We are looking for acquisition in content and career development.
Sheroes has recently made two acquisitions – LoveDoctor and Gharkamai. What led you to the decision?
In the case of LoveDoctor, we run a career helpline and mentorship network, but we weren’t equipped to handle emotional or non-career related queries. We needed competence in that. Its trained counsellors are now integrated with us.
Gharkamai had a lot of women looking for work from home, a common use case with Sheroes, and a lot of companies we were working for were looking for work from home candidates, so it made sense to match them.
What is Sheroes’ target market?
We are targeting urban educated women. All women who can read/write and can use a phone are our target market. Careers are not linear, and an average woman makes four to five transitions throughout her career. Sheroes is your partner through all those phases, so we are not just a job site. We have jobs as one of the enabling function to the community. A Naukri or Monster would monetise job listings, Sheroes runs them for free. We work with about 300 companies for our paid product.
Women get various things from Sheroes, such as support, advice, information or resources, and not just jobs. Somebody who took a career break uses Sheroes differently from somebody who is just starting out.
What is your revenue model?
We are like any other community platform, like Facebook or LinkedIn. They build a user-base and engagement, and then monetise. We also have two B2B service lines. We help companies manage remote work force, and the other is hiring on demand service. Our monetisation is from companies only, we don’t charge the users.
We have long-term relationships with companies, but we have an on-demand model, where companies can give us a call with their requirements and they will get the person in the next 24-48 hours. So, we help them from spotting people to managing people.
How much traction does the community see?
Sheroes has almost a million women using it, and 15,000-18,000 companies use it actively at any given point of time. The way it works is that some companies use our services while others use the do-it-yourself platform. Our estimate is that there are one lakh women who have found value here, whether it is job, startup help, fellowships or being a part of managed workforce.
Moreover, tier 2 is about 40% of our user-base. Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi top the list in terms of absolute usage. We are also the largest database of remote and work from home jobs anywhere in Asia. The average profile is 29 years of age, with seven years of work experience.
Would you be looking to add skill-building resources to the community as well?
Currently, we do share career resources and advice on the platform. At some point of time, we will do more experiments in this space and add more use cases.
How gender-oriented is the hiring process in India?
There are two kinds of companies. A lot of these companies come to us because they find good hires here and authentic users. It’s not that they hire women, it is just that women get hired. They also find value in the manage remote work process, they are doing it for their business. There is a small diversity in the hiring process, which we do end up catering to. Hiring is not a gendered process, but most companies realise they don’t have enough women, and they realise they can’t ignore this work force.
I don’t think it is about gender, it is about serving underserved markets. You don’t serve saturated markets. Women of India haven’t got representation in the professional network. LinkedIn, for instance, is 75% men; Naukri is 80% men.
For women, it’s hard to make a comeback, especially in India. There are hardly any opportunities. Jobs, as a category, is shrinking. In that scenario, we help women manage their transitions, when coming back from a break. The companies are not there yet when it comes to gender parity consciousness.
Would you be looking at another fund raise?
I think when you are a consumer-centric company, you have to raise funds. As the platform scales, we would need more funds. I would give it at least another six months. We have adequate support from Lumis, and strategic support from HR fund and Raghav Bahl. So, we are not worried about funds right now.