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Dr. Sumitha Nayak is among the growing breed of women entrepreneurs in India with a strong social purpose: promoting health and safety at Indian companies.
Interview by Aparna Vedapuri Singh
With fire and other workplace disasters in Indian organizations making media headlines regularly, we certainly need more women achievers like Dr. Sumitha Nayak who can build businesses while serving a very useful purpose.
A trained and practising paediatrician, Dr. Sumitha Nayak set up her venture, Idea Tech Associates to conduct health and safety audits and training for companies in India.
We caught up with her on the challenges and joys of being a woman entrepreneur in India in this emerging field.
How did you make the transition from being a medical doctor to being a health and safety entrepreneur? What were the challenges?
Dr. Sumitha Nayak: In a way, as a medical doctor, we are always trained to tackle emergencies. Along the way, we start looking at methods to avoid emergency situations and accidents, and that is how I realised the need for more awareness in this field. I worked for 5 years at a hospital in Abu Dhabi, where we had a lot of rigorous safety training within the hospital itself, and followed US standards. This set me thinking about the lacunae in the Indian context when it comes to health and safety.
The most significant challenge I faced was to make the decision of starting my own company, which could offer these services, on my return to India.
What does an average day at work involve? How do you manage two jobs, working as a paediatrician and a health and safety professional?
Dr. Sumitha Nayak: As we are still in the initial stages of the business, the daily challenge is continuing to stay afloat and not be pulled down by negative responses. Since it is still a fledgling business, a good amount of time goes in reaching out to people in various companies and following up on these leads. At the moment, since we are small, I have time still for my paediatric practice. When we grow larger and have more orders, I will have to see how to handle both!
What are the key services that your company offers?
Dr. Sumitha Nayak: We conduct Safety Audits and provide solutions. We offer health and safety trainings related to fire, electrical, office safety, hazardous materials (HAZMAT), ergonomics and health care.
Has gender ever been an issue? Is it tougher, being a woman entrepreneur in India in the health and safety field?
Dr. Sumitha Nayak: So far, I have not faced any gender issues. Maybe being a doctor brings in a lot of authenticity to what I say during the trainings. At least, people believe that I will have something worthwhile to say! However, I do feel some bias during the contract negotiating stages.
Globally, companies are looking at increasing the diversity of their vendor base, and buying more from women entrepreneurs, but there is still no definite plan on this in India. Companies say that they are working towards it but it is difficult to get that first step in.
How open or advanced is corporate India in adopting health and safety practices?
Dr. Sumitha Nayak: Corporate India has awareness regarding safety issues in certain fields like fire safety. However, the awareness of employees in other areas like safety inside the office, common hazardous material storage and safety, ergonomics and positive health would need to be furthered. In the case of larger companies, there are more mandatories; I assume that the smaller ones will also starting looking at these issues.
What advice would you give other Indian women who are interested in working in health and safety fields?
Be prepared for a hard struggle to prove your commitment.
*Photo credit: Dr. Sumitha Nayak.
Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
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