COVID-19 impact: Kool Kanya builds an online community for women

IANS
Sunday, 12 July 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic the focus has been on women supporting each other to help build financial security. In these uncertain times and an economic slowdown, women are working harder than they ever did, both at home and at work.

New Delhi: During the COVID-19 pandemic the focus has been on women supporting each other to help build financial security. In these uncertain times and an economic slowdown, women are working harder than they ever did, both at home and at work.

Kool Kanya is a digital platform for women to network professionally, exchange opportunities, share opinions and ask questions. The digital space also offers career guidance, mentorship and opportunities for women to help them build careers they love and want to explore.

IANSlife got talking with Vanshika Goenka, CEO and founder to know more and get an the idea behind the platform. Read excerpts:

What's your primary goal with the platform?

Goenka: We are on a mission to help every woman out there create a career she loves. Our platform provides extensive career resources and community support from peers and experts. We are also launching a marketplace for independent women professionals and freelancers. The vision is to build the perfect ambition destination - a one stop solution for everything that has to do with a woman's career.

We also want to go regional soon. The dream is that every time a woman thinks of her career she should think of Kool Kanya.

What was your motivation for starting Kool Kanya?

Goenka: I am from a business family. I was only five years old when I overheard a conversation between my father and his relatives. 'You have only two daughters,' they said. 'Who will manage the business later?' This conversation left a deep impression on me. I wondered why this question even needed to be asked. 'What about me?', I wondered.

Many years later, I was working for a company that manufactured sanitary pads. I realised that I was the only woman in the room, working with an all men team to create a product for women. It was then that it hit me that there were just not enough women in workspaces. I started delving into this skewed ratio. This is what led to the start of "Kool Kanya".

What kind of challenges did you face in your entrepreneurial journey?

Goenka: In the beginning, when we spoke about building a product that helps women in their careers, we were immediately seen as an NGO. This also made hiring challenging. I started off with freelancers until we had the content to attract people to the company.

Another challenge that I faced was having people a lot older and more experienced than me on the team. It took me time to trust my own decisions and to always keep my vision in mind when making decisions. I have also learnt to not chase perfection, especially for a digital product. We did this a lot in the beginning which slowed us down. Now we launch as soon as the feature is ready, learn from user interaction and feedback and then re-iterate.

What's your approach towards consistently delivering relevant content that resonates with and is valuable to a diverse audience?

Goenka: We are constantly studying trends- analyzing what is working and not working. We also monitor conversations that are happening in our community to understand pain points we can cover. Along with this, we have monthly calls scheduled with users to understand what we can do to help them more effectively.

How do you work to understand and cater to the needs of a market as diverse as India?

Goenka: While there is a lot of diversity, there are also universal issues that all women face. A working woman in Punjab or Bangalore could both be experiencing similar issues with their careers- looking for a career change, exhaustion from having to manage both house and work etc. We started with a focus on tier 1 cities, and are slowly expanding to tier 2 cities as we add more languages.

Our audiences are from all over the country so what is really important is to make sure that the content is accessible. If you see our videos or content a lot of them are in "hinglish" and address issues that are universal to most professional women.

What has your strategy been towards facilitating meaningful peer-to-peer mentorship and interactions on the platform?

Goenka: Our objective is that every user finds relevant guidance, community support and answers to their career questions that are meaningful and helpful. If a user finds advice that is helpful and she feels like she is supported she is more likely to help someone else on the platform. We also want to encourage our users and their efforts, and every week we showcase the best answers. Users who we see are experts in areas also have the chance to hold zoom sessions and write articles. We also have an anonymous feature where users can post queries that they would otherwise shy away from. Moreover we have mental health experts, digital marketing experts and other industry experts to also pitch in to help users with their career questions.

Do you have any tips for other founders to be more conscious about representation (especially at higher levels)?

Goenka: Three aspects are important: inclusion, retention and development.

In inclusion, what is important is to bring more women into the workforce. The government has set a ruling of increasing women in the workforce by at least 30 percent. Large and mid-size companies need to join the bandwagon to make this happen.

In terms of retention, women tend to leave the workforce because of household reasons, pregnancy, lack of child care etc. While culturally this might take time to change, it is important for companies to provide support at work and improve work culture. Introducing paternity leave can help as they improve mutual appreciation for work between new mothers and fathers, and also reduces gender stereotypes and gender based work inequalities. Some other no cost programs can be activities like "bring your mother in law to work" like what General Electric did. This helps shift mindsets at home.

Additionally, development is also important. Investing in employees, training them is always helpful, especially after maternity. Companies could look into having mentors post pregnancy to guide women. Also, having more women leaders in key positions also sets up role models for others. Women leaders are more likely to also set up practices to retain women in the workforce for longer.

Having said that, we focus on women entrepreneurs and freelancers because while there is still conversation about women in the formal economy, independent women professionals often get left out of the conversation completely. By creating a space for conversations around the issues faced by independent entrepreneurs and giving them a platform to showcase their work and find opportunities, we are making sure that we represent them as well.
 

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