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Bhavna Toor, the Founder of Shenomics, a success and leadership coaching platform for women, on helping women find the growth they seek at work.
Before starting Shenomics to work with women, Bhavna has been mentoring entrepreneurs for the last 4 years, most recently as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the GSF Global Accelerator and previously as the CEO and Director of the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum in India.
Prior to transitioning to impact entrepreneurship, Bhavna led a successful 8-year long corporate career in finance, most recently as a Vice President and Client Portfolio Manager at Lazard in New York, where she managed product and business development for various hedge fund strategies on its $7 Billion+ Alternative Investments platform.
Bhavna is a passionate leadership coach and motivational speaker and has spoken widely on topics related to leadership and women’s empowerment, including at TEDx.
Bhavna Toor is our lead speaker at our upcoming Breaking Barriers To Business Growth event and will be conducting a session on key internal hurdles that stop entrepreneurs from achieving their full potential. Come to network, share and learn if you are an entrepreneur, starting a business, or work as a consultant or freelancer.
Event registrations on now for Mumbai, Bangalore as well as virtual passes!
From managing large client portfolios at an asset management firm, to coaching entrepreneurs on leadership: tell us a little more about your journey! What really propelled you on this trajectory?
I grew up in a simple, middle-class family, watching my parents do whatever they could to help others. I remember for years we did not own a TV, not because we couldn’t afford it, but because my parents wanted to save every penny they earned to pay for the education of their siblings and extended family members. I think I knew from a very early age that my life has to be defined by service of some form. A career on Wall Street, while it was financially lucrative and challenged me in many ways, somehow didn’t align with that value.
I reached a point in my life where I found myself asking how I could build a career that created greater impact in the world in a way that was personally meaningful to me. While I grew up around the world, I’ve always been spiritually and culturally rooted in India; that is what prompted me to leave behind all the glamorous trappings of life in New York and move here, over 3 years ago.
For years, I mentored young social change makers around the country as part of the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum and other start-up accelerators, which was an easy place for me to start given my MBA in Social Impact. It was during that time that I realized that not enough women were participating, raising their hands or speaking up.
It just dawned on me that there are too many incredible women in India, who for a variety of internal and external factors, are holding themselves back from expressing their fullest potential, and that I had come far enough in my own journey of taking risks to follow my heart to be able to add real value to all the aspiring women around me and make their journeys just a little bit easier. That is what led to the birth of Shenomics, a platform to help women live and lead from within, and fulfill their highest potential.
What are some of the common challenges you see many first-time entrepreneurs facing?
In additional to the challenges that all entrepreneurs face, be it around growing a team, finding customers, securing funding etc. there are often additional challenges that women face.
Looking at external challenges, women entrepreneurs are often not taken too seriously. The assumption is that what they are doing is ‘just a hobby’ or a lifestyle business. Investors can also fail to understand women-centric businesses. For instance, I know of at least two female entrepreneurs who both had the toughest time getting funding for their lingerie businesses from traditional investors. Eventually, one of them secured funding from a female investor, and the other was able to prove her model through crowd funding.
Internally, women entrepreneurs can often be plagued by a lot more self-doubt and indecision as compared to their male counterparts, sometimes due to a lack of role models, mentors, or a support system to turn to, and other times because we place undue pressure on ourselves to be perfect and get everything right all the time.
Coming to Shenomics specifically – what approaches will you be using to mentor women owned businesses?
Our work at Shenomics is a combination of inner work and outer work. In my experience mentoring entrepreneurs for the last 5 years, I’ve realized one needs both.
The inner work is centered around getting women clear on their personal vision, their core values and their passions, all of which I like to call their personal truth, and then using that as a foundation to systematically achieve whatever their heart desires, whether that’s a world changing business, a leadership position in a company or any other form of self expression that pushes them to their highest potential.
The outer work is focused more around practical skills training in areas critical for success such as negotiating, networking, communication skills or building a powerful leadership presence.
The greatest transformation and foundation for sustained success happens with the inner work, and the outer work then is like icing on the cake.
Having worked in the U.S. market, do you see a difference between the challenges women at work face there and here in India? Or are we more similar than we think we are?
I think the problems that we face in both countries are largely similar. It’s just that many of those problems get magnified in India. For instance, I’ve seen working moms experience the same challenge of finding work-life balance and dealing with the guilt of going back into the work force, but in India because of a lack of social support at times, women experience that guilt even more. And if you don’t have a supportive partner who is willing to do his share of the work, work-life balance can create a lot of stress for women here.
On the positive side, I do believe, as women we are more similar than we are different, and the way forward looks very promising for all of us. There was wonderful research done by the authors of the Athena Doctrine that suggests that the future of leadership belongs to women, because the qualities that are going to be the most needed of the leaders of tomorrow to succeed are thosethat would normally be considered feminine values or traits, such as humility, empathy, vulnerability and collaboration.
We’re delighted to have you as the lead speaker for our upcoming event, Breaking the barriers to business growth; what are you most looking forward to from this event?
What I’m looking forward to the most is the opportunity to learn from one another. The greatest thing that happens at events like these is the shared learning that comes out it.
Being an entrepreneur can be both lonely and frustrating at times. We keep chipping away at our problems thinking that we have to figure it out all by ourselves. And often when we are mired in our own problems, we feel we must be the only ones going through them, and feel bad when we look at the successful entrepreneurs around us. It’s only when we come together that we realize that we are all experiencing the same frustrations, and what a great opportunity there is to learn from one another and support each other.
I’m also excited about the fact we’ll be taking a holistic approach to helping women entrepreneurs, in that we’ll be looking at how we can move past both internal hurdles as well as external hurdles to building and growing impactful businesses.
Beyond work now! At this point in time, how would you define yourself? What excites you and what do you want to change around you?
I am, and will always be, a work in progress. The work in progress is the work of fulfilling my commitments to myself and to the world, which I am absolutely clear on. I am committed to constantly growing as a woman, pushing my limits in every direction and never settling for less than all that I can be. And I am committed to making a meaningful contribution to the women around me by serving them with sincerity and generosity so they can rise and shine like never before.
There is a story of a beautiful female white tiger named Mohini, who had been brought in to the Washington Zoo in the U.S. This large, magnificent creature was initially confined to a cage of just 12 feet by 12 feet. Eventually, thanks to a donation to the Zoo, the authorities were finally able to move Mohini to a much wider space. But here’s the irony: even after Mohini was moved to a larger space, she confined herself to a space no bigger than the cage that she was in before, until she died!
I don’t want any of us to be like Mohini. Often what happens to so many of us is that because of our social conditioning, and a mix of internal and external barriers, we keep ourselves confined to a small space. We keep playing small, short changing ourselves and denying our own potential when there is a world of possibilities before us.
I would love for women to view themselves in a new light, and realize that anything is possible for them once they make the decision to live from their personal truth.
To learn more about the individual coaching sessions offered by Shenomics, please visit shenomics.com.
And don’t forget – event registrations have started for the Breaking Barriers To Business Growth event where Bhavna will be leading a workshop session.
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