Smita Shah is one of the world’s most renowned female engineers and entrepreneurs, and she isn’t shy to share her tips for getting to the top of male-dominated industries. Learn more about Shah’s approaches to professional female empowerment and the experiences that have landed her in such an influential position.
About Smita Shah
Shah describes herself as a lifelong nerd. While her peers in elementary school played outside and kept up with the latest fads, she kept herself busy with math problems that would make high schoolers cry. As she progressed through her education, Shah applied her math skills to social events, and she became renowned for her talented performances in “math relays” during her university days.
In 1998, Shah founded SPAAN Tech, Inc., which is now one of the most in-demand engineering firms in the country. SPAAN is considered to be one of the fastest-growing engineering companies, and this firm tackles complex technical projects with ease.
Instead of resting on her laurels, Shah has dedicated herself to helping other women experience similar success in typically masculine careers. She’s involved in shaping the direction the country takes through her work in public policy, and Shah has made it her life’s ambition to guide up-and-coming female entrepreneurs whenever she can.
The Smita Shah Empowerment Method
Smita Shah tells us that the major impediment facing women in the workplace today is related to poor self-image. Since there is a profound lack of powerful female role models in the world of business, women simply don’t know how to imagine themselves as strong or successful. According to Shah, the starting point for success as a female entrepreneur is a self-image shift, and this shift is often brought about by encountering a strong, successful woman who has conquered the business world with her own power.
Shah points out that women are drastically underrepresented in the highest echelons of business. Women are different from men, and they face different challenges in life. It’s up to female entrepreneurs, however, to prove that women are just as capable of becoming CEOs as men.
Becoming a Successful Female Entrepreneur Isn’t Impossible
To back up her position that women can easily attain powerful positions in the world of business, Shah reminds us that there are over 100 million female-owned businesses around the world. While male-owned companies outnumber these businesses by a huge factor, these statistics just go to show that there’s no real reason a woman should give up on becoming a business owner.
According to Shah, all it takes is dedication and ability to rise to the top as a female entrepreneur. Not every woman can succeed as a business owner, but neither can every man. Talent is genderless, and if you have skill in a given field, Shah has some straightforward tips that might help you find the success you’re looking for.
1) Believe in Yourself
Smita Shah tells us that she strongly believes a healthy self-image is all-important for female entrepreneurs. She says that the skills that have allowed you to reach your current position are worthy of respect no matter how far you still have to go. Every experience, whether good or bad, imparts its own wisdom, and Shah believes that you can leverage this experience to become a confident leader. Instead of letting negativity get to you, Shah recommends that you should give yourself the same credit and recognition that you give to your employees. No matter who comes up with a good idea, innovation commands respect. If you respect yourself, good things will follow.
2) Thoroughly Examine Your Ability
When we asked Shah about the most important obstacles to overcome as a female entrepreneur, she told us that believing in your ability is just as important as believing in your inherent worth. In contemporary society, girls are often taught to develop passive traits, but business is an inherently active or even competitive arena. For women who want to be successful in the world of business, it’s necessary to “get dirty” by taking on male traits like assertiveness.
While there are plenty of role models out there for men who want to get into the world of business, women are often forced to rely on their instincts. Shah recommends that you engage in “self-talk” regularly to connect with your inner voice. By honestly and carefully assessing your experience and how it relates to a given problem, you’ll be able to make the right decisions that will get you ahead as a female entrepreneur. Plus, gaining insight into your own nature will make it easier to celebrate accomplishments and rebound from disappointments.
3) Exert a Strong Presence
In the world of business, how you present yourself is everything. Shah reminds us that first impressions are almost impossible to overcome; from the moment you meet a new person, you generate conceptions that will determine the course of your relationship from that point onward. Even if you’re more comfortable with flaunting your womanly charms, business attire is, by nature, mellow and neutral.
Shah says that adopting a traditional business appearance will command respect, but dressing like a typical woman will incentivize men to look at you and avoid listening to you. According to Shah, your posture is just as important as your attire if you want to make a good first impression. In every aspect of how you present yourself, assume a commanding presence that will show everyone in the room exactly who’s boss.
4) Don’t Let Anyone Else Take the Credit
Women are generally passive, but if you let others around you take the credit, you’ll never progress as a woman in the workplace. Women who have learned how to play the business game are just as cutthroat as men, and Shah warns that it’s easy to lose the spotlight to more assertive members of either gender.
No matter what level of success you’ve achieved so far in the business world, your story can serve as an inspiration to others. Therefore, Shah recommends that you avoid shying away from opportunities to share your accomplishments. Instead, use the experience that has brought you to your current position in the hierarchy to claim space back from men and show other women exactly how you got to your current level of success.
5) Focus on Short-Term Goals
According to Shah, staying in the moment isn’t just a New Age truism. Instead, she holds that focusing on past mistakes and worrying about how things will turn out in the future robs you of the energy you need to succeed in the task at hand. According to Shah, every day you spend in the business world provides you with chances to learn about your capabilities and help your business succeed.
Don’t let these opportunities go to waste by losing focus on the needs of the moment. Maintain constant awareness of the current situation, and leave the long-term worrying for later.
6) Don’t Comply with Feminine Stereotypes
In the past, women in the business world might have been counted on to fetch coffee or lunch for everyone in the office. Shah points out to us, however, that following through with these feminine stereotypes out of kindness might peg you as an easy target. In many parts of the world, it’s common for women to perform servile functions, but complying with these stereotypes in the business world can be disastrous for your career. Don’t accept special treatment just because you’re a woman, but don’t offer special treatment to the men around you either.
7) Take Cultural Factors into Account
Shah reminds us that women have different roles in different societies. Whichever culture you examine, however, you find that women commonly serve subservient roles, and at best, they aren’t considered to be as suited for the world of business as men. Coming from an Indian cultural background and living in American society, Shah notes many parallels between these two cultures when it comes to the treatment of women. In many cases, women have to work harder to get recognition, and if you want to succeed as a female entrepreneur in any culture, Shah believes that you need the audacity to grow outside your comfort zone.
8) Make Others Respect Your Position in the Heirarchy
The business world is naturally hierarchical, but women are hardwired to collaborate and cooperate whenever possible. Accepting slights to your authority, however, is a disastrous approach to take in Shah’s view. Even if it seems petty, it’s often necessary to exert your authority in business environments if you want to get the respect you deserve. One way to make others respect your position as a female entrepreneur is to refuse to tolerate being addressed by your first name. Making the men and women around you address you by your title and full name leaves no room for ambiguity about who’s in charge.
9) Keep Your Professional and Private Lives Separate
You’ve only been able to make it to your current position in the business world by working long hours and putting everything on the line. According to Shah, however, you’ll need to learn how to delegate if you want to succeed in the long term. Instead of bringing your work home with you and slaving away at your laptop late into the night, give others some of the responsibility to make sure you can keep your home and business lives separate.
10) Manage Your Time Effectively
Smita Shah knows one thing above all else: Being an entrepreneur makes incredible demands on your time and energy. The more successful you become, the more responsibility to take on, and it’s easy to get burnt out if you don’t manage your time effectively. While Shah is well aware that being your own boss takes a lot of work, remember that you can also take time off and focus on your personal life when you’re dying to get away from it all. Family time and rest are all-important if you want to lead a healthy life, so remember to take it easy sometimes.