Women in Business Series: Jayshree Naidoo
Jayshree Naidoo is a thought-leader, entrepreneur, cancer-survivor and CEO of YIEDI, a company focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital solutions. In 2020, Jayshree was identified as one of the Top 500 African Doers by Tropics Magazine. We value her insight into how women can excel in today’s business environment.
Are you satisfied with South Africa’s efforts in regards to empowering and promoting women in field of innovation and entrepreneurship?
I think there needs to be more structured focus on recognising the role women play in the innovation, entrepreneurship and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), as well as the barriers to entry. Internationally, there are structured programmes and recognition mechanisms for woman in these fields. Two examples are the UK agency, Innovate UK and Inspiring Fifty. The latter was launched in the Netherlands and now has chapters around the world including South Africa. They identify 50 of a country’s top innovators in STEM who are important role models for encouraging more girls and women in technology.
From your perspective, what are some of the encouraging signs that women are entering more traditionally male industries such as entrepreneurship and innovation?
We run several programmes including programmes that help grow and accelerate entrepreneurs in the technology space as well as other sectors. Technology has long been a domain that women have had difficulty entering and being accepted. It’s encouraging to see more of our applicants in the past few years being female with powerful and impactful business models. We have also seen more women-led businesses applying to be part of our accelerators. This is indicative of a shift towards more women entering the world of entrepreneurship and seeing it as way to uplift themselves, their families and their communities.
What do you think are some of the most important skills and qualities that women need to have to excel in the entrepreneurship space
Resilience, tenacity, confidence, passion, financial acumen, business acumen, a strong value system and drive.
What has been one of your proudest moments in your current job?
My proudest moment is seeing first-hand how the entrepreneurs that we help through our accelerators used the skills they acquired to pivot their businesses during the crisis we are facing due to COVID-19. Some of the businesses we work with even went on to sign on new clients in new industries and remained sustainable during a very difficult patch.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in life and how did you overcome it? Did being a woman help or hinder you? And were there other women who helped you during this period?
My biggest challenge was being diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of 2018 just as I was about to relaunch my business. This meant me having three surgeries, chemotherapy, treatments and consultations for the better part of the year, without the use of my hands for 6 weeks at a time after every surgery. Being a woman defiantly helped me through this process as I was determined to overcome this and refused to be defined by it. But I was also surrounded by the most amazing women. In fact, a group of women entrepreneurs that I had previously worked with and were part of the Lionesses of Africa Network even went as far as to host a Coffee Meetup for me, where they presented me with a huge wall mount of thoughts they had captured recognising me and the contribution I made to their lives and their journeys. It was really special and a reminder on some of more difficult days that there are tribes of woman who will support you in your darkest days
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in your work and how have you responded to it/overcome it?
I did a TEDx Talk last year, titled “People are more than the Jobs they Do”. It was based on personal experience. (https://www.ted.com/talks/jayshree_naidoo_people_are_more_than_the_jobs_they_do). My biggest challenge in my work and in many workplaces is that we do not recognise that people are unique and each one of them has something to offer. I had overcome this by believing in my abilities and recognising the abilities of those around me. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs and especially women entrepreneurs suffer from “imposter syndrome” – they feel they don’t belong and have no right taking up that role or to be part of something bigger.
What advice can you give young women who are now entering the workplace and/or who want to be entrepreneurs?
Believe that you belong and believe in yourself and your skills sets. Do not measure your worth through someone else’s lens, it does matter what others think of you, only what you think of yourself. If you have an opportunity to help another female, do so, remembering that as we help others rise, we all rise.
What are some of the most important skills young people need to navigate the current reality and a post-COVID future?
Embrace digital skills. If you have an inclination towards technology, then try your hand at coding, you may just fall in love with it. Use this time to acquire skills that help you think critically and creatively so that you can help solve problems across many industry sectors. Read, Read and Read, it will open your world and give you access to some of the greatest minds and help you find your own path.
Are you involved in any initiatives where you assist less fortunate women to improve their circumstances?
Yes, I currently offer free one-on-one mentoring to women that are transitioning from corporate to becoming entrepreneurs or women that have an idea and need advice on how to validate that idea and transform it into an actual business. We have also created a series of webinars to help entrepreneurs navigate various topics. We have made all of our content available at no cost on our YouTube channel (https://t.co/9rAFnJUYso)