Rita Kakati Shah founded UMA to bring talented women back to the workforce after a career break
Success means… believing in yourself.
Three adjectives that deserve me are… ambitious, bold, persistent.
You can’t run a business without… Being prepared for resistance and hearing the word “no”… a lot!
In the next 10 years I will be… a role model for women and men to live their lives and work justly, without fear of failure or of taking the plunge to live their dreams.
We do a terrible job of helping people launch their families in this country—the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a mandatory parental leave policy, and the numbers of re-entrants into the workforce has gone down. Uma wants to help change that.
I had been a Goldman Sachs banker and a pharmaceutical exec with more than 15 years of experience, but when I thought of re-entering the workforce after taking four years off to raise my children, it was like none of that had ever happened.
As a Brit from London, with heritage from Assam, India, I couldn’t help but notice the startling differences with not only re-entry of women in the workforce, but the perception of motherhood in general in this country. Arguably, we have a broken system in the US and I want to fix it.
So I created Uma, a platform to bring talented women back to the workforce after a career break, through educational Uma Academy workshops, curated Umaship job placements and our Party with a Purpose networking events.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur? Is having your own business something you always wanted to have?
I felt firsthand the stigma attached to having a resume gap, and how taking time off to raise your children was perceived as lack of ambition and being a quitter. The current employment infrastructure does not do enough to help these talented women – once an integral part of the workforce – return.
Thinking about how to solve this problem became all-consuming. I lived and breathed this mission, and so for me turning this passion into a business was a very natural next step.
How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?
As I considered what I could do to address this problem it seemed that what was missing was a platform that could make it easier to bring these incredible women back into the workforce. And so Uma was born.
What were you doing before starting a business? How did it prepare you for the entrepreneurial life?
I was a former diversity champion and Goldman Sachs banker turned pharmaceutical executive of 15+ years, who took an almost 4 year career hiatus to raise my two children.
What so many companies do not realize is that once you have been a mother, you are quite literally the CEO of the family, having to juggle everything from raising and taking care of your children, to household tasks, family finances and being on top of everything. A mother is the most organized (albeit sleep deprived), multi-skilled and versatile person ever.
Living the life of an entrepreneur and having a start-up is like having – in my case – a third child, so even though I came from the corporate world, if any background is transferable to having a start-up, it is motherhood.
Do you have a fixed work routine? Is it important to have one? Any tips for our readers?
I am often commended on my ability to “balance it all” – i.e. spend time with my family AND run a successful start-up. However, in order to do both, you must be meticulously organized in everything. Although my days are pretty full on, no two days are the same and so in order to remain as efficient as possible, I set myself a routine on the hours that I can control. I rely heavily on my calendar, incredible team and loving family to structure my days and just keep going. I will often stay up late or wake up before the crack of dawn to finish off a client presentation or approve a new Uma Academy workshop curriculum, just so that I can also take my 2-year-old daughter to her ballet classes and my 4-year-old son to ice skating.
My greatest piece of advice would be to schedule time to yourself and the things that made you, you. For me, I start the day with meditation and collecting my thoughts for the day. I also love to dance and so I make sure to schedule in time for that too.
How do you generate new ideas to stay relevant on the market? Is it important to innovate in your space?
I am constantly thinking of new ways to innovate and stay ahead! The key is listening to what my corporate clients are looking for and my Uma Fellows are thinking, and then it becomes so much easier to address their needs.
What are your short/long term goals?
If I can empower women from all backgrounds and cultures to embrace their inner confidence, to be bold in their choices, to work and balance life on their own terms, then I have succeeded.
If I can change the mindsets of both men and women in companies, big and small and at all levels, to create a genuinely more diverse and inclusive work environment for everyone, then I have succeeded.
If these companies then in turn challenge the status quo, because they know that by empowering women and minorities from diverse backgrounds, they will enhance their own bottom lines, and thus the economy as a whole, then I will call that a success.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
In order to “do it all” – i.e. spend time with family AND run a successful business takes work. There will be mornings when I leave for work before the kids are up, and others where I will not make it back for their bedtime. I always make sure to balance that though. First and foremost I am a mother, and so if I miss them in the morning, I will make sure to read to them at night. Similarly if I miss their bedtime, then I will make sure to snuggle with them the next morning.
Was it difficult get capital/investors? Has anyone underestimated you as a female entrepreneur? If yes, how did you handle it?
Yes and Yes.
Perseverance and determination. If you are passionate about your mission, then the only barrier to your own advancement is yourself.
If you were a book, what would your title be and why?
My friends and supporters would attest to this: “The Goddess of Go-Getting!” After all, our company’s namesake, the Goddess Uma, is a mother, daughter, sibling—a bold, powerful woman.
What is one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
When you have a start-up, you invest everything you have and it takes time to see the return. Many times I have been told to quit and go get a real job by people very close to me. Statements like this actually make you stronger and more resilient.
Stick to your guns and have patience. Believe in your mission, believe in yourself and nothing can stop you from succeeding.
What is your proudest accomplishment of this year? What are you looking forward the most in the next 12 months?
Seeing the transformation in women’s confidence levels from when they first came to us, to when they leave Uma Academy is really heartwarming, and really confirms why we do what we do.
We have helped many, many, women to date (and some men too) from affluent to single-parent backgrounds, get career direction, rebuild their resumes and interview with confidence. Our Umaship job placements have been incredibly successful too, where both the companies and women that were placed, have been very happy. Our third pillar has been very successful too, where we have had some very powerful “Party with a Purpose” networking events where guests came away feeling strongly that our gatherings were indeed a catalyst for change.
These are our proudest moments, and we couldn’t have wished for a better year, however to top it all off, we were recognized by the United Nation’s Global Sourcing Council as a socially conscious business that is proactively helping to change the lives of others.
Looking ahead, Uma women will be the change-agents who alter existing beliefs and transform the current structure, just like our company’s namesake, the Goddess Uma. Our mission is to help those employees who want to re-enter the workforce find those enlightened companies that see the value in these powerful women’s talents.
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