[Written for Replicon blog]
Adding to her many accolades, Replicon co-CEO Lakshmi Raj was named a Finalist for three “Women in Business” Stevie Awards this year: Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Canada, Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Business Products (11 to 2,500 employees), and the Lifetime Achievement in Business award.
Despite being a self-proclaimed “female entrepreneur in a white man’s world,” Lakshmi has faced challenges head-on over the years — her persistence culminating in almost 20 years of success as co-CEO and co-founder of Replicon.
What are some challenges you’ve faced that are unique to women in business?
Lakshmi Raj: I knew that in order to achieve ultimate success, I had to “think big” and overcome human obstacles with pride, not prejudice. Even through the trials and tribulations of discerning burdens—such as proving one’s self through discrimination, humility, and doubt—I stood my ground and fought to create a voice in the technology sector of the Internet industry.
Having to prove myself made me stronger. Never for one second did I let my voice, my intelligence, and my dreams become a shadow of a “secondary” citizen. In time, my voice was heard. And 20 years after its modest beginnings, Replicon exceeds industry standards and meets business needs worldwide.
Do you have any advice to women on dealing with these challenges?
LR: Although the last 30 years in America have seen many important social changes, the perception that women do not fit the image of the ideal leader is still pervasive and resistant to change. I would say gender or the so called “glass ceiling” is still a big hurdle.
There are going to be people that take you less seriously based on gender. If you look for them, they’ll be there. You almost have to let go of thinking about this and looking for them. On the flip side, if you pretend that this bias doesn’t exist, it’s not going to go away either. You just have to move on, hoping you’re a part of this bigger revolution and that it will eventually change. You can do something about yourself, not anyone else.
What is the next big challenge for women in business?
LR: Especially In the technology industry, women CEOs are a rare breed.
A Gallup survey found that workers prefer male leaders to female leaders. This is concerning, it suggests that workers have a bias toward working for male-led firms. Even though Silicon Valley is full of innovation, most venture capitalists admit that start-up investment is a high touch, personal business – investors fund people they like and everyone likes people like themselves.
Getting more women to leadership is half the battle won. But the other half—which will prove infinitely more challenging—is getting people to change their mindsets to one where women are perceived as great leaders too.
How can women business leaders get more respect with such social bias? Women are advised to act like a man to advance their careers. This has not reduced the gender gap only acknowledged the gap. What has worked for me is to be comfortable in my own skin and lead more confidently.
What are you most proud of?
LR: I’m proud of Replicon and the people here. Some of our employees have been here for 10-15 years — this was their first job, they got married here, they made a life here.
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
LR: Enjoy your life. You get so caught up in wanting to take your idea to the whole world, especially when you really see an opportunity to influence people’s lives and make things better. Everything looks like something to be fixed, and you feel like there’s always more to be done. You need to take a step back and recognize what you can and can’t change, and be okay with that.