Neetha Sanjay

Neetha Sanjay is a Singapore based, ICF Certified Life & Career Coach who is passionate about empowering women to achieve their life and career goals. A dental surgeon by training, with more than a decade of experience in healthcare management, she enjoys sharing her learning by speaking on confidence, resilience, and positivity and helping women advance in life and career.

She previously served on the Board of PrimeTime Professional and Business Women’s Association, a non-profit organization with a mission to help women to live their lives to their maximum potential.

Being an advocate for women, Neetha is committed to working with organizations that help empower the next generation of female leaders, focusing on those from underserved communities. In addition to being a Board Director, she is also a member of the Communications Committee at SNM (Singapore) and a Mentor with Wedu Global, She Brilliance, and the National University of Singapore. She’s also one of the co-authors of Amazon’s Bestselling book on inspiration called #MyVoice

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative. 

I grew up in South India, surrounded by lush greenery and rich cultural heritage. Education was given top priority there, and most of the kids were encouraged to pursue medicine, engineering, or law. But it was a highly patriarchal society with strict rules for girls, and we didn’t have the courage to speak up or pursue our own dreams. Even though my childhood years were exceptionally difficult, witnessing all the adversities around me and how women struggled with domestic violence and mental health problems, I enjoyed my time at school as I loved learning and interacting with my friends. There was constant pressure from the community to meet ridiculous standards for beauty and academics and get married early.

I used to find peace by diving into the world of books and music, and somehow, I knew there was a very different world out there where people saw your value beyond your skin color, gender, or academics. And since I was passionate about science, I took up dental studies. I was also interested in sports and arts and tried to explore them whenever possible.

 Looking back, I think one skill that helped me through all challenges was the ability to compartmentalize, keep my adversities aside, and focus on my studies. And one thing I truly appreciate about growing up in India is the ability to adapt quickly in the midst of diverse cultures. Doing my schooling in Kerala in a convent school, then dental studies at a Muslim University in Karnataka, and after that, practicing Dentistry in Mumbai for two years before moving to Singapore taught me a lot about diversity and adapting to different cultures, languages, and religion.

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it. 

I think there were two crucial turning points in my life. 

When I moved to Singapore around 23 years back, I was devastated to know there was no way of practicing dentistry here. I nursed my broken heart for two weeks and then asked myself the most important question,” if not dental practice, then what can I do with my knowledge and expertise “? I started exploring the job space, and despite having no clue about how this new country worked , I went on to explore many roles in the dental industry . I started teaching for a dental technician’s program, moved on to dental assisting, became a dental clinical manager, and later dental sales and marketing. I finally landed a business manager role – all with no experience or expertise. Whenever I explored new roles, all I had was firm self-belief and fierce determination that when I got the role, I would prepare the hell out of it to do well. And I think each time I got selected, it increased my confidence and belief in myself. That was the first turning point when I did a pivot in my 20’s.

After having settled into work life and family life, we got an opportunity to move to Shanghai,China, and we lived there for five years. After coming back, I was at professional crossroads, wondering whether I should get back to management which I loved, but I was also curious if there was anything else I was missing out. So I started volunteering at a women’s association called primetime.

That experience opened my eyes to the difficulties women faced in their personal and professional lives. And somehow, they felt comfortable approaching me and began seeking advice. And I was surprised to see positive changes in them and started feeling more and more confident sharing my experiences and learnings. And that’s the time primetime launched their unique two way mentoring program where you’re a mentor and as well as a mentee. And I participated in that and found it truly life-changing.

And that’s when I realized that this is what I want to do in life, and got myself certified as a coach. And that kicked off my mentoring journey as well . So I do coaching for women to help them achieve their life and career goals and I also partner with different nonprofits and participate in their mentoring programs to empower young women leaders with high potential.

I truly believe that one can pivot at any age, and at any level of experience. Age is just a number, and you have the wisdom and unique skills you bring to the table. The key is to be aware of your true value and communicate it effectively.

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 that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”

I’m all about empowering women, and I truly believe that once a woman is empowered, there’s nothing she can’t do. And because I have survived through various adversities with resilience and compassion and explored different career paths confidently, I want to help women realize that anything is possible and empower them to achieve their life and career goals. In a way my own journey and also the transformation I saw in women after coaching ,motivated me to pursue this path and become a Coach.

Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?

So, I’m a Certified Global Life & Career Coach based in Singapore.

I do life coaching for women who come to me with any life challenges like relationship issues, low self-esteem, finding purpose and passion, improving confidence, and various other aspects of personal development and finding their potential.

I also do career coaching for women in 4 categories. The first one is for fresh graduates who are looking for a job; the second would be for women who are looking to get back to work after a career break; the third would be for women who are looking for career advancement, and the fourth for career transition.

And as I mentioned before, I also partner with nonprofit organizations to mentor young women leaders. My main objective is to give all my clients clarity of where they are now and where they want to go and co-create the path to get there. Women are the strong pillars of our families and communities; when one woman is empowered, it creates a ripple effect and impacts the community as a whole positively. My entire work revolves around helping women increase their confidence, get clarity, and be committed to achieving their goals.

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?

Yes, sure. I love my work as it’s truly rewarding, but I have to admit that, like any other entrepreneur, a lot of time goes into all the planning, the paperwork, social media, and of course, branding. I sometimes wish I had people to help me with admin work and marketing. But since I have some digital marketing experience, I enjoy strategizing and designing collaterals. So, for now , I totally rely on time management skills and get things done at my pace. And to be honest, I’m not looking to scale my business at a very fast pace and have a full calendar as I do want to spend time giving back to the community.

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? 

So I have clients globally and had started conducting mentoring and coaching sessions on skype and zoom even before the pandemic started. Once the lockdown happened, I had to stop all face to face sessions and move to zoom for my local clients too. It was especially difficult for my life coaching clients because the sense of true physical connection was lost, and their adversities like abuse and such were also aggravated during lockdown. It was mentally and emotionally draining for my clients and me, and I’m glad that life is back to normal now.

And as I was spending too much time sitting on long calls, it also impacted my health and gave rise to physical ailments. So I slowly started learning how to manage my timings and schedule my sessions better, so I have time to do some stretches and walks.

Personally,I was happy and relieved that my daughters came back from the US as their universities closed down.But having a full house plus a dog and every member going through work calls and classes did create a lot of chaos at home😊

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention? 

Thank you. As a coach and mentor, it gives me a lot of job satisfaction to see my clients and mentees hit major milestones and see them create an impact. And It always makes me proud when I see them interested in mentoring others! 

I remember a life-coaching client from South Africa holding on to guilt for ten years, even after her divorce. When she came to me, she kept a low profile, was in a demotivated state, and always broke down during sessions. We had many sessions, and there was a moment when she realized that she was not the one to blame, and everything shifted! She started showcasing her true personality, changed into this person with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and started planning her travels and her journey of self-discovery. It was a major achievement for me to help her with her transformation.

Another would be helping my mentee get a job after 18 years of career break !! I have helped clients get back into the work space after 5 plus years, but this was a very unique case where the client was going through a lot of adversities as well. So I had to keep toggling between being a coach and mentor , a friend and an advisor. But once she realized her potential, she pursued her ideal job with fierce determination and nailed it! This only cements my belief that once a woman is empowered, she can achieve whatever she wants. One piece of advice for all those job seekers pursuing careers- keep focusing on progression and keep moving. Failure happens only if you quit.

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?

That’s a great question. 

What I would like to see is women taking ownership of their lives. Really own their strengths and quirks and embrace their true selves.

Rather than conforming to societal rules, women should think for themselves and pursue what they are really passionate about. And I would like to see more women speaking up, voicing their opinions, being brave, and raising their hands to any opportunity they are interested in. This is exactly why I tried to step out of my comfort zone and write a book and share my journey about my adversities and overcoming them. I want to do everything I can to inspire and influence young women whenever I can.

I would like to share the same advice I give my daughters who are 24 and 22 years old. “Do your best to pursue your passion, excel in it, and at some point, when you feel that you have made it , then use that position or platform to inspire and influence and uplift more women “.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life? 

 I’m looking forward to celebrating my 50th birthday next year, and I feel that the challenging first half prepared me for a beautiful and adventurous second half, and I’m always grateful for all my blessings.

The most important lesson I learnt would be that, “no matter where we are in our lives and how adverse our situations are,we must hold on to our strong self-belief and leverage on it to propel us forward.” If you have self-belief, you have everything. Without self belief, you have nothing and will be easily swayed by the opinions of others “.And to have strong self-belief, you have to look inwards, reflect, and truly get to know yourself, your values, strengths and interests.

My personal motto is ,” Be strong and travel your own road & if there’s no road , pave one for yourself!!”.

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?

I’m a part of a few women’s associations, and I get to interact with many women leaders and understand their struggles, challenges, and achievements. In this male-dominated world, I would say women are making progress despite the slow pace. I see more women stepping up and taking up more leadership roles. And I love seeing women who are board directors or policymakers fight hard to make policy changes to create a better and more inclusive workspace for women. I think we will be able to speed up the pace if we can focus on progress rather than perfection, create more awareness about the challenges women face daily, and mentor and recommend more women to take up leadership roles.

Focus on the hammer to break the ceiling, rather than the ceiling itself. Add more skills to your toolkit and deepen those cracks 🙂

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?

Nothing is impossible. It only feels impossible until you do it.

Honor yourself, start where you are, bring in fierce determination and self-belief, adopt a learner mindset, block out all negative thoughts and naysayers, keep your eyes focused forward, and keep progressing.