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Rashmi, Shreya, and Deepa - "If we don’t create pathways and visibility for ourselves, who will?"

At Nüshu Network, we celebrate and support the spirit of entrepreneurship in women across the world. 'WE did it' is our effort to bring you stories of excellence in entrepreneurship by women leaders in different fields. Flexibees Co-founders Shreya Prakash, Rashmi Rammohan, and Deepa N Swamy tell us how the three of them combined forces to bring women back into the workforce and why women entrepreneurs need to strengthen their networking skills.

NN: What motivated you to start FlexiBees?

FlexiBees is a vetted talent platform for part-time, project-based and remote work via qualified women professionals. It helps businesses hire experienced talent in an on-demand and affordable way and enables women to return to work after a career break via flexible opportunities that lets them balance their professional and personal priorities.

It’s the personal story of one of the founders, Deepa, that started us on this journey. Deepa, a CA with a business degree from IIM Bangalore, a management consultant and an overall high-achiever, found it challenging to return to work after a couple of years of a career break. We, Rashmi and I, being friends and batchmates of Deepa, saw this and felt that it was a problem we could put our collective energies behind.

The bigger picture here is that there is a crisis brewing in women’s workforce participation, especially in countries in South Asia. India’s workforce participation is at a low of 23.6% vs 80% for men, and has been declining. Led by millions of women professionals dropping out of the workforce primarily due to caregiving responsibilities. While factors like gendered roles, lack of childcare infrastructure and a lack of flexibility at the workforce lead to this, the fact is that these women are ambitious, and driven, have created a professional identity over years of work, and want to retain it.

While the reasons behind dropping out are many, one that is immediately solvable is the lack of flexibility at work. And that is what we are here to enable and normalize.

As we were figuring out the solution for women professionals, we were also speaking with businesses. And we realized that businesses, especially small and growing ones, were very keen to hire talent via flexible models. It gave them the ability to hire experienced talent in an affordable way for part-time hours. And to hire in a more agile way, hire quickly on-demand, scale up or scale down as needed.

And we were in business! Today we have given talent to 500+ businesses across the globe and have a talent pool of 50K+ women professionals that we have impacted. It’s been a good ride.

NN: How did you handle the tough times and what made you not give up on your dream?

Entrepreneurship is a hard road. We are trying to change the status quo, with limited resources. We are attempting to change age-old behaviors and mindsets, while ourselves trying to figure out the best routes as we go along.

We have also had our share of downs. What helps is that there are also good days, there are wins, both big and small, that one has to remember and remind others too. So keeping the spirits and motivations high of the team in the face of adversity is one major responsibility that a founder shoulders.

The other aspect that helped us is that we are three of us in this together. The load, both physical and emotional, is certainly lessened because we are able to share it.

And finally, it’s the vision that keeps us going. We have been very mindful of how we want to build the business, such that it truly empowers women with choices that make sense for their experience and flexibility needs, and also work for businesses. When we see the impact of these decisions result in more matches, businesses being able to grow without compromising on the quality of their talent, and women being able to restart their careers in a meaningful way, it energizes us.

NN: What is your message to budding women entrepreneurs?

I would urge women entrepreneurs to work on building and maintaining relationships and networks. In many cases, the first few clients always come from one’s own network, and that enables one to build some case studies and learnings for the next many more to follow. Apart from clients, networks are solid places to get mentorship, feedback and even investment.

Sometimes we are fed the notion that 'networking' is bad. But that is simply not true. As entrepreneurs, if we don’t create pathways and visibility for ourselves, who will?

And the need to proactively create these channels is especially important for women, who due to certain societal constructs tend to have fewer active networks to draw upon.

So I would say, get networking ladies!

NN: What do you think needs to change in the system to provide equal/better opportunities to women-led startups?

The amount of funding that goes into women-led businesses is still abysmally small. Apparently, globally the number is as shameful as 2%. So we need more backers for women-led businesses.

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