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Female Founders: Suky Sodhi of Professional Selection On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

Resilience: Women founders need to be resilient because of the challenges we face. When I moved to Canada, it was just me and the kids initially. My partner joined us later. I’d moved to a new country and was trying to sort out schooling for our kids, buy and settle into our new home, whilst trying to launch the Canadian business. I had to dig deeper than ever before to keep moving forwards. Most women face some variation of these challenges, and you simply can’t meet them without the resilience to get through.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suky Sodhi

As founder of Professional Selection, Suky has helped recruitment leaders build stronger businesses for over fifteen years. She is a trusted consultant, advisor, and partner to recruitment businesses and executives around the world.

Her clients include global staffing brands, startup and mid-sized agencies, and European recruitment businesses growing into the North American market.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I hadn’t thought much about a career in staffing until I found myself looking for a recruiter to help me make a move from my previous career in retail management. Anyone that has worked in retail will understand the diversity of people and challenges that you can face on any given day. Although it hadn’t been on my radar, temporary staffing turned out to be a very natural move. I was able to bring my retail experience to bear and here I am all these years later.

I started in sales and moved into leadership after a couple of years. That’s when I got really got to grips with what it takes to run a business and be fully accountable. But after eight years working in and helping to run a highly metrics-driven environment, I started to dread my one-on-ones with my own leadership. We spent more time focusing on how we could drive more activity in the team, meaningful or otherwise, rather than better supporting them. I’d learned a lot and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience, but I knew that wasn’t where I was meant to be.

So, Professional Selection was born. I’ve been focused on helping people throughout our industry find the right place for them ever since.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Being an entrepreneur, I’ve made many mistakes. I’ll probably continue to make mistakes. But I really believe that we grow when we learn from our mistakes. It comes with the territory when you’re out of your comfort zone and that’s where growth lives and thrives.

Launching my business was exciting and liberating and a little scary, too. I remember sitting down with my partner and going through the business plan I had put together. I knew exactly what I had to do in order to generate revenue. I’d anticipated when I’d need to make my first hire or take on some office space. I’d been running teams for years and was no stranger to building them out. But my husband looked at me and asked for my cash flow projection.

My response was that I didn’t need to worry about that just yet. In hindsight, that was the craziest thing that I could have said. Of course cash flow is important! It’s practically the lifeline of the business. It quickly dawned on me that I was still thinking like an employee. Whilst I had always been responsible for the full P&L I never had to worry about ensuring that money was in precisely the right place at precisely the right time to pay employees and vendors.

It was a defining moment that made me realize I was in control, this was my business, and its success was down to me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I recruit recruiters, salespeople, and leadership for recruitment businesses. I’m so grateful to one individual who is one of my longest-standing clients. I’ve recruited them across the world and throughout their businesses from top to bottom. And it all comes from them taking a chance on a new startup in a new country without much of a local track record.

As anyone in my industry knows, your reputation and network is everything. When I was starting out from scratch in Canada, it was so hard to open doors. The only way to really bootstrap a recruitment business is to get someone to take a shot and let you prove yourself. But you’d be surprised how many people in our industry aren’t willing to take a chance, including people who had been in your exact same position themselves. But my client did.

I delivered. I’m sure that, to my client at the time, I must have just been a minor vendor who worked out okay. But it’s turned into a relationship that has driven so much growth and success for both our businesses. I’ve helped them rebuild teams in multiple countries on multiple continents.

I’m sure every entrepreneur has a similar story. If you’re a buyer, I’d just say this: take a chance once in a while. Nevermind customer loyalty, the loyalty and hard work you will get from many entrepreneurs if you’ll just give them a chance isn’t something you can just buy anytime.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women offer different perspectives on how to meet the challenges ahead. I think we all agree that we need diversity of ideas to help the world confront the future for the better. Things won’t improve if we have the same people making the same decisions. This goes for business, too: you can’t innovate in an echo chamber.

Women can help change the landscape of many industries just by being present and being allowed to lead in their own way. Many women are gifted, knowledgeable and intelligent and that needs to be seen and celebrated. There can be value in leading differently rather than simply trying to live up to the established template for leadership. For example there is a mistaken belief, largely based on studies of male students, that the default response to stress is “fight or flight”. Subsequent studies have shown that females of species express a different response: “tend and befriend”. Women founders are instrumental in creating the kinds of structures that can let these differences shine rather than suppressing them.

Women are natural motivators. That’s not to say men aren’t motivators, but on the whole women will more freely manage others through compassion and empathy. Women founders help create environments where that’s not mistaken for weakness. As we create more safe spaces for different management styles to emerge, I think we all benefit. But you’ve got to have those spaces and leaders who will empower women to challenge the status quo and find new ways of doing things. Women founders are so well-placed to build these environments.

Women founders have a better understanding of the issues that affect other women. Women founders can give advice and support to help women thrive in a business where their unique needs are met by design and not as a D&I afterthought. But if you’re a woman and you’re thinking of starting your own business, you can put all that aside: it’s enough to do it because you want to. Nobody ever asks why a man wants to become a male founder.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I absolutely love this question, because it truly resonates with me as my expertise is in recruitment. You’re right, 20% is still better than 10% but it’s nowhere near good enough. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

Culturally, women are seen as more family-oriented rather than business-oriented. To this day, many women are made to feel guilty about trying to balance their personal and professional lives as employees, let alone as entrepreneurs. Just look at Hollywood: movies continue to portray mothers as primary caregivers and fathers as primary breadwinners. This narrative is starting to change a little, but there’s along way to go.

We need to move away from these biases and offer real support to women out there. Too many women buckle under the pressure and self-select out of the game altogether because they don’t have anyone to turn to for help, encouragement, or motivation. The reality is that women do continue to bear the brunt of acting as caregivers which leaves precious little time to develop themselves or prepare to launch a business. And remember, as women are held back from leadership positions in general, they’re starting on the back foot when it comes to leading businesses of their own.

The world loses because these women with phenomenal ideas and great business strategies never really get a chance to get going. Women are simply expected to choose one or the other: a family life or career progression. Their worth in business is treated as less than her male counterparts’. Her business is too risky, too frivolous and as a matter of fact, she should be home taking care of the children. And when she does take the leap, it’s because “her husband’s paying for it”.

Men don’t have to deal with these types of judgements. Even the most unstable businessman is sometimes more revered than a woman simply because of his gender. A men can spend 80–90 hours a week working on building his dream and he still gets all the support and accolades because that’s somehow what “he should be doing”, but a woman doing the same is just not acceptable. We’ve got to change the way we think.

Social stigmas and expectations, unequal treatment and development in the workplace, and a lack of support as caregivers hold women back from founding companies.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think we’ve all heard this one before but I can’t emphasize it enough: affordable childcare. Affordable childcare takes a lot of pressure and burden off women allowing them to concentrate on their business or preparing themselves to launch their own. Making child care more accessible and affordable will really help women progress and focus on what they need to do. It helps remove a lot of the “mommy guilt” that comes with being a working mom helping women feel better about the choices they’ve made.

I think most founders will agree that there’s so much that goes into the decision to go out on your own. I think affordable childcare removes so many of the indirect barriers to more potential women founders even considering the decision. It’d let more women pursue higher education and professional qualifications, develop themselves and their careers, and take more risks. If childcare was readily affordable and accessible, we might finally put paid to the old myth that women aren’t suited to leadership roles because they might have kids and they won’t be able to focus on their work.

Lastly there definitely needs to be a mindset shift with society. We need to stop thinking that a woman’s sole role is that of running a household and raising children. Too many people define a woman’s success by how great she is as a mother but no one defines men’s successes by their role as a dad. That’s got to change.

As individuals, Carol Dweck’s work on mindset is absolutely essential reading. It also provides an actionable framework you can work within to help remove your own mental barriers. I also highly recommend reading Joe Dispenza’s writing on the topic. But if there’s one small step individuals can take, it’s simply to recognize that systemic barriers to women’s entrepreneurship exist.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

So, not every not every single person is designed to be a founder. Even Gary Vaynerchuck (Author of ‘Hustle’) who is a huge advocate of entrepreneurship recognizes that they are a rare breed. In addition, being a founder can be an extremely lonely road, especially when you’re starting out or you’re trying to launch something new. Let me share some of my own experience.

When I moved to Canada and launched my niche recruitment business — recruiting for recruiters — I was told multiple times that it would never work. Some even told me I’d lose the shirt off my back. Being in a new country and not having an inner circle I could turn to, I found myself second-guessing and questioning everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Yet that inner feeling, the one that had told me it was time to move on, was dormant. In hindsight it was still there telling me I needed to believe in myself and do it anyway.

Some of my darkest moments happened during those initial years but now I realize they were teaching moments for me to become the woman I am today.

In the end, it’s critical that you see your vision, work hard to lead a team toward that vision, and build a tribe around you. You’ll need to do this with no certainty of reward. You’ll have people relying on your ability to execute that vision. And you’ve got to stay the course and see it through for better or for worse. I don’t know whether to call it perseverance or endurance but if you can’t find that staying power somewhere inside you, being a founder probably isn’t the right choice.

If you do not have the resources to take these risks or that does not sound like you then maybe paid employment is a better path for you and your family.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the myths I want to dispel about becoming a founder is that you’ve got to be an expert at everything it takes to run a business. You don’t: you’ve got to be good at the bits that you do and smart about hiring in outside talent to do the rest right.

For example, I think nowadays people expect a founder to be tech savvy. I think there is a danger that a potential founder thinks their lack of technology smarts means they don’t have a shot or they’d just get overtaken by someone more tech-focused. But it’s just not true: surround yourself with the right talent and hire in services to complement your own skills.

I won’t pretend you don’t have to wear a lot of hats — or even all of them — as you get off the ground. But if you recognize your limitations and invest in hiring the right expertise, things will go a lot faster and a lot smoother for you. If we were as open to hiring outside help for something like your service delivery processes as we are to hiring outside help for the accounting process, there’d be a lot less burnout. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed trying to do it all yourself.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Resilience: Women founders need to be resilient because of the challenges we face. When I moved to Canada, it was just me and the kids initially. My partner joined us later. I’d moved to a new country and was trying to sort out schooling for our kids, buy and settle into our new home, whilst trying to launch the Canadian business. I had to dig deeper than ever before to keep moving forwards. Most women face some variation of these challenges, and you simply can’t meet them without the resilience to get through.

Tribe: In the book “Tribes”, Seth Godin outlines a key human principle of having a tribe of true believers. I firmly believe you need a tribe to keep you going, whether it’s personal friends or a professional organization or your family. You need those extra eyes to see if you’re slipping and those hands to help pull you up when you need it. And you will need it.

Your tribe, what Seth Godin calls your “One Thousand True Fans”, will keep you going, help you solve problems, and be there to bounce ideas off. Even when you’re having a bad time and you’re on the brink of a meltdown your tribe is going to help you pick yourself back up and, without judgement, give you the motivation and inspiration to continue.

Balance: There is no getting away from hard work as a founder. As female founders in addition we need to balance our family life with our business life; our client’s wants with our individual needs. When you’re starting a business, you are giving so much of your time and your energy and at times it can become overwhelming to try and be there for everyone. If you’re not careful, you can give so much that you don’t leave anything for yourself. Taking that time for yourself or even taking up a hobby can truly help you achieve that balance. But you’ve got to carve out that time.

Boundaries: One of the things that I feel strongly about is managing your emotional bank account like an actual bank account. If you’re not careful, people can drain you emotionally, your friends, colleagues even your family may just keep taking and before you know it you’re exhausted. Like your bank account, you can’t keep withdrawing from your emotional bucket without replenishing it.

As you become a leader, more and more people will start coming to you making demands. They demand your time and expertise or your money in the form of loans, freebies and discounts — make no mistake that “a friends and family discount” is demanding money from you. You have to stand strong and do what’s right for you. That may look like changing your circle from time to time with people who can actually recharge and replenish you rather than take advantage. When you view emotions, energy, and time as “currencies” you’ll soon realize how little some people offer you in return. Those are the people you need to put strong boundaries around.

Learning: I think you’ve got to have an inquisitive mind that is open to learning new things because the truth is you don’t know what you don’t know. Learning how to take feedback and criticism is also crucial. I know it may make you feel a bit uncomfortable but understand that it’s an opportunity to grow so take the information, learn from it and do better. Stay open.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have made a few mistakes in my business, but I pride myself on helping others by being transparent about the lessons learned. I’ve launched a Facebook group called Elite Global Recruiters where I coach once a week free of charge to help my members grow and build their brands. It is my way of helping elevate my industry and helping business owners evolve in business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It’s funny you should ask this as I was having this very conversation with a friend of mine recently. We were talking about how everything is extreme: the attitude that “you’re either with me or against me” translates to so many of the conversations in our society, whether it’s politics or even a simple television show. There’s just a huge lack of tolerance.

Stephen Covey said that “strength lies in our differences and not in our similarities.” I firmly believe in embracing this and having more constructive two-way conversations in all aspects of our lives. I have spent my whole career working with people from all walks of life and it’s always been so important to me to be able to really understand and empathize with the person across the table.

I couldn’t have built my business by myself. None of us could have. I’m sure I’ve dealt with people that I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with on some issues. But I’ve always tried to put pointless divisions aside and I’ve had all the more success for it. You’ve got to see people for who they are and do your best to find a way to work together.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Ashley Horner has been a great inspiration for me and I think she is a great role model for founders everywhere. She has created a tribe of women from all walks of life and helped them empower themselves. She’s made it normal for women to recognize when they are looking after themselves, everyone around them reaps rewards. She inspired my own personal love of weight lifting and kickboxing. I would love to meet her and thank her for everything she has done for promoting strength for women.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Suky Sodhi of Professional Selection On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.