Dr. Rita Kakati-Shah
Dr. Rita Kakati-Shah is an entrepreneur, businesswoman, advisor to Fortune 500 companies, mentor, author, gender equality and DEI changemaker, wife, daughter, sister, and above all a mother to her two children and puppy.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I was born and brought up in London and have a younger brother. We have Assamese heritage, and were brought up with Assamese traditions, culture, and British values. After graduating from King’s College London, I started my career in investment banking and after a decade in finance went on to lead business development globally in the CNS pharmaceutical industry. I got married, and after multiple wedding rituals in five locations around the world, settled in New York City. I started Uma after my children were born to empower confidence, communications and career trajectories of women and minorities around the world. I am very passionate about the work I do, particularly as I get to witness firsthand the impact of this work on the futures of these women and their families.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
When my children were very young, I couldn’t help but notice how my new “career” of motherhood was by far the most challenging and demanding career to date. Not only do mothers work 24/7, but they pick up many professionally adaptable skills, such as communication and negotiation, by virtue of their experiences as parents. I saw a disconnect with how these skills were not being recognized in the paid workforce, so helmed Uma to bridge that gap.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you to say “YES, go for it!”
There was nothing out there to directly address the confidence and communications gap felt by women and minorities as they looked to rediscover their passions post motherhood. There was plenty of data showing the need for an intervention, and so I felt I had no choice but to follow my gut and make a difference.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
I joke all the time that my nickname, particularly when I first started Uma, was “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,” because of the proverbial doors that would get shut back on me. When you are an entrepreneur you develop a thick outer skin, you become more resilient, patient and need to keep reminding yourself of your mission to keep driving you forward and spirits high.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
The pandemic was hard for us all. From an Uma perspective, we had to pivot overnight from an in-person training and consulting platform to developing new strategies and curricula for a remote and now hybrid client base. Reading the room, being mindful of changing goals, and being able to switch gears at a moment’s notice were key.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
That’s kind of you to say so. During the pandemic, aside from my work with Uma, I was doing a lot of mentoring and volunteering to inspire and uplift schoolchildren, youth, girls and women in STEM, students and alumni, women from underprivileged backgrounds, and military veterans. Unbeknownst to me, these efforts were being recognized in the background, which culminated in a few awards, such as the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from US President Joe Biden, an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Commonwealth University, and the Helen Hudson Award from King’s College London.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
Following the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 8 (workplace), and SDG 17 (partnerships), I would love to see that by 2030, we are in a place where because of the work done towards these goals, that women entrepreneurs gain their place in equal standing on the world map of influencers, and the movers and shakers, and shapers of tomorrow!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
My company was formed to honor the Hindu Goddess Uma, a mother, daughter, sibling, wife, who depicts boldness, strength and courage in everything she does. She truly is the “Goddess of Go-Getting” which is why I named my recent book by the same name. The motto therefore I would impart to others is our Uma tagline, and that is to always: “Be Bold. Be You. Be Uma.“
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
There shouldn’t be a competition about leadership. There are plenty of women and men that have led with conviction, compassion and dignity, and skills such as empathy and decency should be promoted as essential to leadership. These skills are more naturally prevalent in women, and so as these skills gain natural traction, especially as companies and boards are focusing on diverse and inclusive leadership teams, we will see a wave of chance, so be prepared!
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Never forget who you are, always be true to your values, and go forth and evoke your inner “Goddess of Go-Getting!”