When it comes to employment, the World Bank ranks India’s female labor force participation rate amongst the lowest in the world. Despite increased efforts to improve higher education, establish skilling initiatives and create jobs, the number of women that are able to find and sustain careers continues to hit global lows.
Sairee Chahal, CEO of Sheroes, explains that this is a problem that is deeply rooted in the societal expectations that surround an Indian woman’s life. “Conventionally, if a woman gets pregnant or has to take care of her parents, she leaves her job,” Sairee explains. “Unfortunately, once you step off the job ladder in this country, you end up falling off completely. It’s either up or off. There’s no easy way to weave your social expectations with that of a regular job.”
Inspired by the potential that the vast numbers of unemployed, talented women presented, Sairee decided to establish Sheroes, an online platform for women professionals looking for sustainable work options. Unlike other similar initiatives, Sheroes specifically works with educated, professional women. “Until now, most of the conversation has been directed towards empowering women at the grassroots level or getting highly educated women into the boardroom,” Sairee explains. “The ones in the middle have been entirely left out.”
Sheroes recently closed an angel round of INR 5 crores (USD $760000) from Quintillion Media, 500 Startups and a group of individuals including PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Flipkart founder Binny Bansal. While the social impact of Sheroes is obvious, Sairee explains that the business angle is just as important. “We provide companies with access to an entirely new demographic that’s interested in things like part time, contract and remote work. More importantly, we create access to an entire group of brilliant minds that deserve the opportunity to contribute to the growing Indian economy.”
Targeting a diverse set of problems
Signing up with the website opens up access to the three main objectives behind Sheroes: a supportive community, a network of mentors and a diverse range of opportunities. Although the site is popular for its job listings, Sheroes also caters to women who are just trying to learn more about their career options. “Let’s say you’re a mid-career woman who wants to pivot and start her own business,” Sairee explains. “You can come to Sheroes and find a mentor for that. Conversations about work have never been a priority for Indian women and we want to change that.”
Finding a career in a formal sector also solves issues of safety for women in the workplace. Sheroes allows women to avoid problems like irregular wages, unmonitored work environments and abrupt employment terminations by finding jobs that are regulated. “We’re looking to answer questions of sustainability,” says Sairee. “What long term benefits will this career path provide to the life of a woman? How can we help her map out her professional life?”
Sairee Chahal’s personal target for Sheroes is to impact the lives of 1 million women in three years. “The idea for Sheroes came from the observation that I was surrounded by so many women that had left their career options behind for social responsibilities,” explains Sairee. “I just want to show them that this doesn’t need to be the end of the road.”
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