The Future of Female Execs
Webber Kerr's president Adam Lloyd meets with Ana Shukla, CEO of Rewards Pay Inc. to discuss her first-hand experience and insight of female executives present, past and future.
RewardsPay® is a consumer payment service that enables consumers to use credit card reward points, cash rewards, hotel point or frequent flier miles to safely and securely pay for goods and services at merchant websites.
AL: Anu, some would still say you may be the exception to the rule, a female CEO/entrepreneur multiple times. How have you gotten here?
AS: I have worked in big companies that acquired smaller ones I was with and have always enjoyed an entrepreneurial environment. I have experienced the peaks and valleys in representation of female executives, especially in start-up land. I was initially fortunate to be a part of winning teams, taking companies to liquidity events and IPO’s. In ’97 I took a leap of faith and started my first company, which was a success.
AL: What are today’s challenges to being a female executive?
AS: Leading up to 2000 we saw a rise of female executives and entrepreneurs with the internet. After the bubble burst, entrepreneurship was down while scrutiny towards female executives existed. I don’t think this has changed much today. When pitching for funding or selling to large companies, there is a risk associated with women. Will she be less productive due to domestic duties? Does she have long-term interest and commitment? Will she move for her husband? Will she be as persuasive? Will she want children? Over time, my track record speaks for me. I also believe today there is a lot of non-performance related attention associated with female executives, such as their wardrobe choices as an example.
AL: You have founded and held executive roles in more than 4 companies. How has your leadership style helped you acquire and retain talent for these new companies?
AS: In all of my companies, I have hired and accommodated my employees without bias and learned to leverage them. I have young children myself and look for ways to make it easier for working women. Instead of a black-tie holiday party, we had a family-friendly barbecue with face painting and balloons, welcoming children. On days where kids are off school, I have set up a room with painting, activities and a study area, so women can work and not have to worry about finding care for their children.
AL: As an established female leader and entrepreneur, what are your personal thoughts looking at the obstacles of say, a rising GEN Y female leader? Do you think the path will be easier or different for this generation?
AS: I believe it will be easier for a few reasons. As time goes by there is enough attention to the topic, creating awareness. Additionally, there is a structural shift in the start-up world. More angel investors and incubators are funding and prone to take risk, making it easier for female entrepreneurs to acquire capital. Lastly, at least in technology, the popular trend is to seek the next young CEO. It is more of a youth issue than a gender issue. Companies and investors are looking to pattern matching rather than experience, this will benefit Gen Y and take the attention away from gender.
AL: I have a young daughter and welcome advice. What do you say to future female generations seeking an executive career path?
AS: I would say it’s never too early to get started. I am a big believer in education, plus college is a great time in life. I would add, satisfy your fears. These days, failure is as good as success because you learn from it. Also, I teach my younger employees to not be afraid of success and what comes with it. Life is extremely short, enjoy and learn from your experiences.