How often have you looked at a photo of a company’s board members only to be faced with an image full of men? Deepti Patankar, Co-Founder of Hostmaker, shares her experiences.
Women on boards is sadly a rare occurrence, with 100 companies on the FTSE 350 having only one or no female directors. We are seeing more diversity on the boards of start-ups, however the reality is that it is still an upwards battle. Having made the leap from being a corporate lawyer to co-founder of a company and member of the board of directors, I wanted to share some advice that I learnt on the way which will help guide women on their journey to the top:
Don’t doubt yourself
If you feel you are in a position to go for a board role, hold your hand up and put yourself forward. In business, you need to have the confidence to ask for the position you feel you deserve, as for women, the option of simply performing well at work is not enough. If you want to move upwards, you need to make yourself indispensable to the founder or CEO and demonstrate a strategic mindset, using every opportunity to demonstrate your abilities to the right people. All of this will be crucial when you make your case to be on the board.
Always keep an eye on the bigger picture
When working towards a role on a board, it is easy to solely focus on your part of the business, but it is important to also keep an eye on the entire operation. In the first year I was very involved in the detail of the business and our founder relied on me to get that right and make him look good on the operational side in board meetings. You have to balance the detail with the big picture.
Keep on top of the news in your industry
Read financial papers, magazines and other relevant books and articles. You never know where inspiration or information will come from. A lot of people can run a team and hire people, but you can give yourself an edge by learning about macros trends in the economy or your industry. Carve some time for yourself every day, even it if it’s ten minutes, to do a quick scan of news that could impact your business, and if you have some more time, I would recommend the FT’s in-depth analyses and long pieces.
Use your background to your advantage
My background before joining Hostmaker was as a transactional lawyer at Linklaters, and I found this really helped me add value. A young team may not have access to high quality lawyers, and in my case, I was able to appoint great external advisors and also direct them during our fundraising round. Having a background in law or finance really does help bring strategic thinking and structure to the table. If you don’t come from these backgrounds, do some research and even some courses, to help you learn the basics.
Once you are on the board, the final thing to remember is that there is a high chance you will be the only woman in the meetings. I was very aware of that fact when I first joined the board, and I am always conscious of the stereotypes working against women who are in a position of responsibility. I work hard every meeting to avoid becoming these stereotypes, staying calm and collected in heated discussions. I also avoid playing ‘mother’ and only serve lunch and coffees if a man helps me – a small gesture that reminds me that I’m equal to them and deserve to be there.
About the author:
Deepti Patankar is the Co-Founder and Head of Account Management at Hostmaker, Europe’s largest VC homestay management company. Since founding the company in 2014 with her husband Nakul, Deepti has been instrumental in the company’s growth, taking it from its London roots to being present in eight cities across Europe. Before starting Hostmaker, Deepti worked at Linklaters as a banking lawyer after winning a training contract from her university in Bangalore. Utilising her legal background, Deepti successfully negotiated the four rounds of funding for Hostmaker, helping the company raise over £20million – making Hostmaker one of the most well-funded start-ups in Europe.
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