The session will focus on importance of breaking access barriers to leaders and mentors for aspiring female leaders.
Kanchana Gupta: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to my session, Making access barriers. I'm Kanchana Gupta. And today I'm here to share my story and what inspired me to work in this space of breaking access barriers for women. But first of all, who am I? In a multidimensional career spanning over two decades. I have worked as a corporate leader and entrepreneur, an artist and now a diversity champion.
I started my career in the corporate world and then wandered into art making, and I continue to do so. Over the last many years, I have been managing dual careers of a corporate leader and an artist. As an artist, my practice ranges from painting to sculpture to video and performance. And I have done multiple solo and group exhibitions as a corporate leader.
As a corporate leader, I have worked across multiple geographies and have managed teams across many countries and organisations. Recently, I found my passion in the space of gender diversity, and especially in the space of how we can democratise the access to leaders. How can access not be a subject of privilege? And that inspired me to launch. We look up a not for profit social venture, a digital mentoring platform for women. It aims to break those access barriers, and it aims to facilitate access to leaders and mentors and to opportunity to a wider section of women. So today, I'm going to share with you that little journey and story of Beluga. But on a personal note, I'm also a mother, a hiker, a reader, and a yoga practitioner. Thank you for being with me today.
So what am I going to talk to you about today? I think it's important to talk about my story. Who am I? Where do I come from and what experiences have shaped me? Before I deep dove into the issue of access. I come from a very small town in India. And when I started my career in the corporate world in Mumbai, I realised that there were many kinds of access barriers that existed for someone like me who didn't come from a big city and who didn't come from a prestigious educational institution. I realised that most of the access to leaders were restricted to women who came from certain backgrounds, not certain educational institutions or certain kinds of cities. And to me, that was a very important experience that shaped my corporate experience. I was very fortunate that I found my access to very supportive leaders and mentors who taught me, guided me, taught me to take risks, grab opportunities and grow in multiple directions. I'm very indebted to them. In fact, I find their role very, very important in my career. And where am I today? And who I have become as a leader, as a risk taker, as an entrepreneur.
And that's what made me reflect on this whole issue of access. How can we make this access wider? How can every woman, whether she's from a small town, whether she's from a different country, whether she's from a different domain, a different experience or different age group or different educational institution, can have the same access to a leader, to a mentor, can reach out to any leader or mentor and can get the guidance and coaching without any barriers, without any barrier of privilege. And that is the mission of we look up. That is what we look up tries to achieve through digital platforms, through connecting the dots in the world and through connecting diversity champions and mentors with women across borders, across domains across all backgrounds.
So before we look at the vLookUp story, let's look at some stats. I know numbers are boring, but numbers do give us some context. So it's good to look at some numbers. And I'm going to share some very quick numbers, which are projects led by a study by McKinsey and Lean In. A lot of research has been published in the last two years, you know, on the impact of COVID 19 on the workforce, especially on the impact on women. And in some places, the dial on gender diversity has moved back because a lot of women had to leave the workforce during the pandemic so that they can manage and focus on their family. It made it very difficult for them to take care of the work and the family. So while overall, yes, the needle has moved on from 2016 to 2020, yes we can see an increase in the number of women in the workforce, but still a lot to be done. Still a lot can be done to make it a level playing field. A lot can be done to retain them in the workforce to expand them in the workforce.
The other thing that COVID 19 studies have brought very clearly is the burnout rate While there has been a general burnout rate in the workforce, I think the burnout rate among women has been very high, especially because they had to manage family and career and children and homeschooling. And many of them actually decided to downsize their career or exit the workforce or take a lower position or cut in the salary. The study shows that every four and ten women they've considered leaving the company or switching their jobs, and many of them because they have felt a very very high burnout rate. Also, not just the felt their own burnout, they also felt a lot of pressure of managing the burn out of the team. And it's very interesting that this third study by McKinsey and Leanne shows that while everybody pitched in to take care of their employees during the pandemic, women leaders stepped up more compared to men in similar positions. It seems women managers are taking more consistent actions to promote employee well-being, checking on the team members, checking on their mental health, providing them support, while it is good as a leader for them. It takes a toll on them, isn't it? And all these complex things that have happened in the last two years have really not helped with the already kind of lowered gender diversity ratio in the workforce.
So I've been doing a lot of research in the space of what's happening in the diversity space and what are the key challenges and how we can help overcome some of these challenges. Even pre Covid, during COVID studies, one common theme that has come across multiple studies across countries, across different sectors, different age groups, is the need to provide allyship the need for mentoring, the need to give them connections, the need to give them access to connections, access to leaders, access to mentors across geographies, across domains, across all backgrounds, And that made me thinking, and that made me relate to my own experience More than 20 years back when I started in corporate world. And I thought you know the issue of access still remains the same. What I experienced at that point in time, and even though the world is very connected, we have so many professional networking platforms. But still, still, we have not been able to solve this issue of access and the issue of democratising access to a large extent.
I felt that with digital platforms and digital being the new buzzword and our way of life, why not try to break that access barriers? Why not try to make it for a wider and wider group of women? And that's where came vLookUp. That's where I dreamt, I dreamt of creating a platform where leaders can come and say Hey, I am a diversity champion. I am interested in mentoring and guiding women in workforce across borders, across domains, because I believe in expanding the mentality in workforce and a platform that empowers women, no matter where she is from, to go and reach out to a leader and say, Hey, I would like to talk to you for a few months. Hey, I'm going through these questions in my career and I think, you know, you've gone through similar experiences and I would like to connect with you. So in a way, you know, when I talk to my younger mentees, I always joke and say it's like a dating platform for mentoring, you know, where you can go and right swipe a mentor and say Hey, I want to be mentored by you for a few months, and yeah the platform connects.
So that's the genesis and inspiration behind vLookUp and I'm very happy to share with you that our dream is growing, our communities growing. And I'm very passionate about it, as you can see, I want to help grow this community. I want to take this to the smallest towns of India, smallest towns of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, connect them to the best of the leaders and mentors in different roles. Be it social sector, finance, culture, digital, any area.
When I started working on the concept of access and started researching it, I realised that there are few models of access to leadership and mentoring that exist for women. And I started analysing each of these models. The most common model, obviously, is within an organisation. Anyone who has been part of a corporate world knows that there are many organisations who have mentoring programs for the government, but a lot of these are limited to bigger organisations, organisations that have the resources and capability to invest in their leaders. There are many smaller organisations who do not have that kind of resources and investment in their leaders. They can't afford to have those kinds of programs or mentoring for the women.
So the first part that came to me was how can these leaders who are really great and their organisations have invested in them and they have invested in them, can be accessible to women who are working in smaller organisations, traditional organisation, manufacturing sector, where necessarily this may not be accessible to them.
The second model that exists is women mentoring women. It's a very common model, and it's a great model because, you know, there is a kind of camaraderie, shared stories and experiences that we go through but I felt that any solution to gender diversity or any solution to access barriers should not exclude leaders who are men or who are not women. So I felt that the solution has to be inclusive of all kinds of leaders and not just women leaders.
And the third very common model is the alumni network. So if I have gone to a particular location, an institution or university or MBA school, yes. You know that the alumni network is accessible to me and I can reach out to them all the time.
And the fourth common model of mentoring is within close networks, like friends, acquaintances, ex bosses, leaders, friends, etc.. So these were the common models of access that I stumbled upon. During my research within organisation women networks, alumni networks and close groups and contacts and through common connections and acquaintances, etc., etc..
And I thought, let's disrupt these models, let's create something which transcends and cuts across all of these traditional models of access. Let's create something that does not reinforce the existing circles of access and privilege and excludes those women who are outside these circles, but creates something which breaks this barrier, which merges all these frameworks and models of access together. And at the same time, it also empowers each woman to reach out to a leader on her own, to be guided by, to be supported by. And that's the dream and vision of vLookUp that how do we keep collapsing these barriers and boundaries? How do we keep expanding our community? And we are a growing community.
Today we have more than 70 mentors, 100 plus mentees, and we've supported 75 plus active mentoring engagements. We are constantly trying to enhance our user experience, and we are constantly trying to bring great leaders and mentors on board to nurture those strong and meaningful relationships, to give more and more options, to give more empowerment of women, to choose from. Yes, a digital format helps, do a digital format on a model which actually selects and prompts and suggests mentors helps also. And here are some quick benefits for both sites, which is kind of very obvious in any mentoring model.
Coming back to my story again, I have been a mentee and a mentor, but my journey as a mentee has been shaped by many fabulous mentors and leaders, who gave me valuable advice, offered me opportunities, encouraged me to take risks and their contribution in shaping who I am today. It's significant. And perhaps that's a very big reason for me to take this jump into creating this platform. I was very keen to extend similar opportunities, similar advantages, to others who may not have my kind of access. I have also been a mentor myself for the last few years. And it has been a very fulfilling experience connecting with young women, listening to their stories, finding common stories, understanding their challenges, and just sharing my own experience, my own learning and creating that bond. Watching them grow, watching them learn has been very fulfilling.
Whenever I speak to the mentors on vLookUp platform, they say how amazing it is for them to help shape and to be part of someone's success story. Also, they find the whole reverse mentoring, learning from them very interesting. I continue to learn so much from my mentees. They are shaping their career in a very different time and space, and the concept of careers have changed a lot and I learned a lot from them. It has been an amazing journey of give and take. At some point I have taken. At some point I have given but one thing that remains the most exciting part is to build a community, to be part of a community. To connect the dots to create those connections, and to try to make a tiny, tiny impact in an area where a lot can be done.
I would love to have you on this journey with me. There are many ways you can reach out to me. Here are some ideas. I would love to have a conversation with you. I would love to hear your question. Comment suggestions. Please feel free to send me your questions, comments, suggestions. If you are in Singapore, I would love to have a coffee with you, and to discuss more about it. There's a chat box where you can put your questions. I'll be in the chatroom answering your questions while this video is playing in the background. I look forward to interacting with you. Once again, thank you for joining me. Thank you for listening to my story. Hope it resonates with you in some parts. Have a good day.