Short Takes: How to Balance Family and Business

A woman’s place is in the home and the office, but managing both can be a tricky balancing act.

January 09, 2024

Meet Sakshi Kapahi, head of Omam Consultants, an HR consultancy in India, and a mother on a mission to balance home and work life for herself and her employees. Hear about Kapahi’s journey — the hurdles and highlights — as she grew both her family and the business her father started over 40 years ago.

In India, a country where only 14 percent of entrepreneurs are women, Sakshi Kapahi has had to grapple with all the familiar obstacles that working mothers face… and then some. “You always get these questions, right? Oh, you must be working for your husband. Or you must be building this for your father or your husband. They assume there has to be a male member that will come through later,” she recounts. Having enough time for kids and business, what she calls “her two babies,” is a constant struggle.

Kapahi says that building both a personal and professional support system is critical to juggling priorities and managing feelings of guilt. “One thing I’m still working on is you have to be kind to yourself as a woman, which is what we don’t do. There’s always guilt that I missed something for the team, in the office, at home. Everyone keeps saying ‘be kind to yourself,’ but nobody tells you how,” she says. Finding a female mentor with kids was incredibly helpful for Kapahi, and she strives to provide that kind of support for her employees as well, 70 percent of whom are women.

Hear how Kapahi is tackling motherhood and entrepreneurship while growing a company that does the same for other women.

Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed, an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives.

Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Full Transcript

Sakshi Kapahi: Having kids and having a business are two babies, right, and two different babies that both need time.

Darius Teter: Life doesn’t just stop when you run a company, but there are only so many hours in a day. How do you balance having a business and a family without feeling as though you’re failing at both?

Sakshi Kapahi: So anyone who tells me it’s quality versus quantity, I think I don’t buy that at all. Both need a lot of time.

Darius Teter: Welcome to Grit & Growth from Stanford Seed, the show where Africa and South Asia’s intrepid entrepreneurs share their trials and triumphs. Happy New Year and welcome back to Grit & Growth. As we are busy preparing for season four, we want to bring you some short conversations we’ve had with incredible entrepreneurs over the past year. Even though the next few episodes are small, we’re still tackling big issues with fascinating people, people like Sakshi Kapahi.

Sakshi Kapahi: Hi, my name is Sakshi Kapahi. I’m from India.

Darius Teter: I know Sakshi from her time in the Seed transformation program, where she was somewhat of a celebrity.

Sakshi Kapahi: I’m very famous because I was pregnant when I applied with my second son, and my baby was three months old when I left for the first immersion week. I carried four bags with me to the immersion week. Someone walked up to me and said, “You must be the most academic person here. You carry all these bags.” I said, “No, this is my breast pump. This is the ice bag.”

Darius Teter: But while Sakshi was growing her family, she was also growing her business.

Sakshi Kapahi: I had a company called OMAM Consultants, and we are in the business of HR consulting. We are a 39-year-old company and we do HR advisory and leadership search. We provide senior level leadership assessment advisory, and we help firms with their organizational structure, design compensation structures. We work with a lot of large corporates, and we help international companies enter the India market.

In the ’80s, they opened up the Indian economy to encourage local manufacturing and bring in technologies, but every company that came in had to be a joint venture. When that was happening and all of these private enterprises were being set up, there was a need for leadership talent. People needed to go and understand how to find talent, how to recruit people, assess them technically. This is in the 1980s, and my father had set up the company. Actually, even though Dad was an entrepreneur, he never talked about it. You sort of grew up in a country where academics — at least back then, even today, but then even more so — were very, very important. There was a lot of pressure to do well academically. Everyone dreamed of a big corporate job. Success was measured more in terms of going to a big college or a very reputable college, and then getting a reputable job in a large corporate.

I’m an MBA from MIT. I worked in Deutsche Bank in banking as a structured trader, and then I decided that I’d done enough of the large corporate and I wanted to move back and be part of the India growth story. Here was a business that my father had set up, which had about 18 employees. We were based out of four cities and we were working with most of the large corporates. The idea was to see that with this platform and the entrepreneurial bug, where can I take it? How do I grow it to the next level?

Darius Teter: Sakshi had been around OMAM Consultants for most of her life, and her credentials were impeccable. But even so, entering the business proved challenging.

Sakshi Kapahi: When I moved back to India and joined the business, the reception of everyone around, the managers, the senior leadership, was very lukewarm. They’d all seen me grow up, so that was a little complicated. There was definitely love and respect, but it didn’t necessarily translate into acceptance into the company. There was also a lot of concern from the senior leadership, saying, “We’ve been doing this for far longer. How is this going to work?” I’d never worked in India, so my entire work experience of 10 years had been overseas. It was also a big learning curve, so it took a while. When I joined the business, my father gave me a particular vertical and I was put on the same metrics as all the other business heads. I had to prove myself as a business head before more responsibility was given to me.

Darius Teter: As a woman, Sakshi had additional hurdles to clear.

Sakshi Kapahi: The struggles that women face to come to work itself are huge, and then the acceptability at the workplace is still very industry specific. I mean, you’ll always get these questions. Right? Oh, you must be working for your husband or you must be — I was making my Bombay office and in a large building — and someone kept asking me, oh, you must be building this for your father or your husband. They assume there has to be a male member that will come through later, that you’re just here to add the curtains and the carpets. I mean, how could you be running the business? You do get that, even today, quite a bit. It has reduced tremendously, but to not expect it would be nice.

Darius Teter: It’s these very attitudes that explain why only 14 percent of entrepreneurs in India are women. But Sakshi’s biggest obstacle is one that working mothers face all over the world.

Sakshi Kapahi: Having kids and having a business are two babies, right, and two different babies that both need time. Anyone who tells me it’s quality versus quantity, I say I don’t buy that at all. Both need a lot of time. Both my kids are very young. I have a seven and a three-year-old, and they want time. They don’t understand what is quality versus quantity. They want to know when I’ll be home. Can I give them a bath? Can I tuck them in? At the same time, the business needs you, right, every aspect till you get post-heroic. It needs you there. That’s also your baby, and there’s no right balance. It’s important to have different people supporting you. I have a great support and I’m also very blessed that I have such an amazing support system. My parents are very supportive, my husband’s very supportive, and my in-laws are very supportive. My mother-in-law used to run a business, so she’s probably my biggest support.

Darius Teter: A strong family support system was essential for Sakshi, but professional support was critical, too.

Sakshi Kapahi: I think as a woman, that is also an important aspect that you have women mentors to talk you through different parts of life. I had mentors who helped me guide when I was having children. It was really a stressful thing. How am I going to manage both? At that point, I wanted a woman mentor. I had two who guided me through it and could see when I was failing or falling through and help me get through it together. For women, scale is also a function of saying, “What can I manage while managing school schedules, or my parents’ health routine, or my husband’s work travel?” If both are traveling, then how do you manage? Scale there becomes a challenge. I’ve had some great mentors who are now helping me understand how to scale up, what to look for in the next growth phase, guide me where I am. You need to build your support group and your mentor group to make sure that you are getting pushed to the next level.

Darius Teter: Now, Sakshi is trying to provide that same support and mentorship to others.

Sakshi Kapahi: It’s very great to have women CEOs talk about it saying they have support. But an average middle-level woman in business or an entrepreneur can’t afford that support. How do you answer those questions? Even as an entrepreneur and a woman — and we are a 70 percent women employee company and we are very proud of it — but sometimes even I struggle, saying, how do I give them that balance? How do I make sure that the environment, the model, can cater to all those needs? Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody’s saying that child care is expensive. Nobody’s saying that day cares don’t exist, especially after COVID. I mean, I came back and half the places had shut down, and the ones that are open are open 9 to 5. That means that I will drop my baby at 9 o’clock and reach the office at 10, and I’d better be there at 4 to pick up my kid.

The minute there’s anything wrong, they go on holiday before us. School calendars are not synced to corporate calendars, so how is that supposed to work or make it happen? Those discussions are not happening. Unless you get governments to work with corporates, this is not going to change. You need an overall societal change. It’s not just the husband, right? The government has to step in with benefits. The government has to say, I’m going to be part of it, and then corporates have to support that.

Darius Teter: While some problems require large-scale solutions, for others, the answer lies within you. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Sakshi Kapahi: One thing I’m still working on is you have to be kind to yourself as a woman, which is what we don’t do. There’s always guilt that I missed something for the team, I missed something in the office. There’s guilt that I missed something at home. It’s always that constant struggle. In that you forget yourself. Then you tell yourself that everyone keeps saying, be kind to yourself, and nobody tells you how. Everyone who talks about it gives very superficial advice to you. It was amazing for me that one of the women who mentored me had two kids, and she talked about the fact that it’s hard. It’s sometimes very difficult to leave a sick child with even a family member and say, I need to go out or miss certain things. You have to pick those calls, and I would miss a lot of school events, and that’s okay.

It was a huge battle consciously. It was an internal battle. I think for a woman, the battle’s always in your head, saying, “What are you going to do?” I had to tell myself that no matter how active I was, there was something that was changing physically, emotionally, responsibility-wise. I know I told myself that. I said, if I can have this baby and get this baby to six months and keep the business status quo, I will give myself an A rating. I had to do this twice. I realized that there are times when I could have pushed more or grown the business more. It’s a very conscious decision saying, focus on one thing at a time and then come back to the next. Now when my younger one is three and a half, I’m telling myself I have to grow. This is my time now. I’m ready.

Darius Teter: To be honest, I feel a bit silly giving advice on how to succeed as a woman in business, but I can at least offer my perspective on Sakshi’s story. We learned that there’s no right way to be a woman in business, particularly if you’re a mother. You may be faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis, so develop a system of friends and family who can support you. Find mentors who know what you’re going through, and be kind to yourself. Understand that things may move more slowly now that you have other priorities. Someday you may be ready to mentor others or take on new challenges, but for now, take it one step at a time and you will come out on the other side.

Sakshi Kapahi: As a leader, I think I’m in a much more comfortable, confident spot than where I was years ago. It’s been 10 years now, so I’ve proved my mettle as a business head. I was able to transition the company through COVID, get everyone together, and not just survive, but we did very well in COVID. Part of that was the network support and the tools that we already had. I’m in a much better place. I think I’ll be okay leading everyone.

Darius Teter: I’d like to thank Sakshi Kapahi for sharing her story. We’ll be back next time with another short take as we prepare to launch season four.

This has been Grit & Growth from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m your host, Darius Teter. If you like this episode, follow us and leave a review on your favorite podcast app. Erika Amoako-Agyei and VeAnne Virgin researched and developed content for this episode. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator, and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media. Thanks for joining us. We’ll be back soon with another episode.

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