"Women have to work 10 times harder than men to prove themselves": CEO Mom Malika Datt Sadani
“I have changed as an individual to handle the kind of treatment women receive in the start-up space”
When she got pregnant, Malika Datt Sadani really started to focus on the skincare products she was using. She realised what may be a great serum in a beauty routine could be pretty unsafe to use when pregnant — thanks to ingredients like retinol and hydroquinone which doctors say you should avoid.
Based in London at the time, she had access to other options, but when she returned to India, she noticed the lack of pregnancy-safe skincare for expecting moms.
In an attempt to bridge the gap, the banker made the leap into the entrepreneurial world, and launched The Moms Co alongside her husband Mohit Sadaani in 2017 — one of the first skincare brands in India that really focuses on the health and safety of expectant and new mothers. It took a few years of research, conversations with over 200 moms and collaborating with experts in the field to launch the start-up.
Sadani explains how she juggles the personal and the professional, shining with a filter of composure that we can only dream of as we struggle to feed ourselves and our cat adequately, and log in to work on time.
“I want my daughters to think of me as someone who had a dream and was resilient enough to stick with it and achieve it. I always tell my daughters that the world is their canvas, go paint it,” says Sadani.
Her drive and passion make Malika Datt Sadani a welcome part of our series CEO Moms, which turns the spotlight on those women who seem to be able to juggle it all – professional achievements, family and self-care. We know that what you see on Instagram is never the full story, so we’re asking these inspirational women to give us their cheat sheets, dirty diapers and all.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a business and are worried about balancing your work with your kid time, let Malika Datt Sadani’s journey inspire you.
CEO Mom Malika Datt Sadani on starting a business as a working mother
What does a typical day for you look like?
To strike the right balance between the girls and my third baby, The Moms Co, I’ve learnt to define my priorities and ask for help, shamelessly.
My days tend to be quite non-stop, so I like to start them with exercise and time with Myraah and Syna. I used to really enjoy getting them ready and dropping them to school. Post-COVID, they have classes online so we grab breakfast together.
How would you describe your approach to efficiency: multitasking, focus on one task at a time, delegation?
I manage work through discipline, routine and prioritising. My team members look to me for decisions, so if I need to do something really focused, I block off time for it on my calendar. I work on four-five projects simultaneously, and it helps to have dedicated teams at work which makes it easier to delegate tasks and focus on important things.
I do the same with the girls. I ensure that my daughters are able to use their time productively by listing the activities that they can do when they’re bored and details of extracurricular activities they need to go for.
There are days allotted to specific activities like dancing and playing board games which my daughters enjoy. The time we spend as a family doing these activities helps us bond. I catch up on work or make calls once my daughters are in bed which is relatively early.
What’s the one area you’ve seriously improved in, from when you first became a mom + entrepreneur?
Calendering everything. When I started off as an entrepreneur, I was confident that I would remember everything I had to do without noting it somewhere. As teams grew, it became difficult so I took to calendaring important meetings, projects, personal time and such.
The lockdown has taken this to another level and I now even block time for lunch, spending time with kids, doing homework etc. With everyone working remotely, my calendar gives my team clarity on when I will be available for them.
What’s the one thing that you still struggle with?
It becomes difficult to separate work life from home life, especially when your husband is your co-founder. The boundaries between the two are hazy at best, because your work gets transferred from your home office to your dinner table.
My husband and I often brainstorm solutions or new products before going to bed and continue the discussion as soon as we wake up.
How important is the role of the spouse in being able to do what you do? How did you arrive at the dynamic you currently share?
There will be times when your partner may be expected to take the backseat so that you can take on challenges at work but more often than not, women are expected to take the back seat. That’s why it’s important to have a partner who is supportive and understands the value of what you do.
My husband has always been a hands-on dad who tucks our daughters in in every night, spends time helping them with their homework and so much more. At the end of the day, it’s important to respect each other and focus on helping each other achieve goals.
How do you balance your ambitions with working parent guilt? Where do you draw the line on how you spend your time?
I went through my own phase of doubting myself as a mom when I started off as an entrepreneur because I was able to spend very little time with my daughters. Over time, I realised that it wasn’t the number of hours that mattered, but how we spent that time.
We would spend an hour a day together, reading a book or watching their favourite film. We have always maintained two-way communication with our daughters and we share with them all our new developments at work.
Over the years, I have seen my daughters’ understanding change to respect and elevate to admiration for what I do and they take immense pride in talking about my work which helps keep mom guilt in control.
What are the advantages and disadvantages, in your experience, of being a CEO Mom in India?
I have never had a nanny or a full-time house help but I am lucky as I have a good support system in my family members who look after the kids and spend time with them.
For when they’re not available, I have to juggle work and match my daughters’ schedule to mine. Initially, people found it difficult to take me seriously because I was a mom of two who was trying to set up her own company and believed that I won’t be as available.
You do have to work a little harder to prove yourself and be taken seriously.
Do you feel women in India are treated differently in the business world, especially after they get married or choose to start a family?
It’s unfortunate that women are judged for their gender and have to work 10 times harder than men to prove themselves. There have been times when I have walked out of meetings and I have changed as an individual to handle the kind of treatment women receive in the start-up space.
How do you want your kids to view you, and what are the ways in which you’re establishing positive gender roles in the home?
I want my daughters to think of me as someone who had a dream and was resilient enough to stick with it and achieve it. I always tell my daughters that the world is their canvas, go paint it.
My husband Mohit and I have consistently defied gender roles. I have led boardroom meetings and our daughters teach Mohit ballet. We have always strived to create a gender-neutral household.
We strongly believe in these values and while the world outside may want to box my daughters into roles that are appropriate for their genders, my husband and I constantly tell them that they can achieve anything they set their mind to.
What’s the one piece of advice you were taught or learned the hard way, that could seriously sort out a lot of fellow professionals?
Surround yourself with positive people and mentors who believe in you. Having mentors is important because there will come a time when you won’t have answers to questions and that’s where you can turn for guidance.
Ensure that you have a strong support system, both personally and professionally as well.