U.K.-based health care firm Vida Care has raised millions since 2016. On the way to establishing the business however, its co-founder was put in positions that she wasn't comfortable with — and now she wants to make sure that others don't have to go through what she did.
"When I started to raise investment, I was put in sexually compromised positions by some shareholders, and sexual harassment. I was told that if I took somebody's money, that I could take it, if I did something in return. And sadly, this happens far too often," Devika Wood, co-founder of Vida, told an audience last week. Her comments during The Telegraph's "Women Mean Business" event in London drew audible gasps from the crowd.
"I have a load of female founders, friends, who are on the same journey as me who have been through the exact same situation. And sometimes we just don't know who to go to and who to talk to about it — because we don't have an option."
Wood recalled that the majority of money raised for Vida had come from men — which she was thankful for, yet added that she would've liked more female investors involved, as she felt like she'd perhaps "have a better voice to be heard."
With an innate desire to do good by setting up a health-care business, Wood — like many other entrepreneurs — was put in situations that caused conflict and uncertainty.
"We need to raise money. We want to build a company and we want to do something incredible. I'm so passionate about what I do, and I'm determined to do it — but I'm not going to go through those lengths to do it."
"But it then gets to a point where (I think) 'Am I going to crash and burn?' and not be able to do what I want to do, because this is the scenario I'm facing every day."
In 2017, a State of Start-ups study by First Round Capital revealed that 78 percent of female founders surveyed had encountered or known somebody who'd dealt with sexual harassment at work. The survey interviewed 869 founders, of which 17 percent were identified as women. Overall, 53 percent of founders surveyed said they had or knew someone who'd been sexual harassed in a professional environment.
Speaking on the Telegraph's "What are the real roadblocks to women's success?" panel, Wood admitted that when she began this business journey, faced with mostly male investors, she had no confidence in herself — especially after recovering from an abusive relationship when she was 19.
"I found it very hard to go into a boardroom, I found it very hard to face men, I found it very hard to sell my story and my dream, to get even people to invest in me," she said, adding that she often dressed down in business meetings, so she'd be taken more seriously.
Following her panel participation, Wood tweeted that while the "journey wasn't easy", she was "truly lucky to have incredible shareholders and team" around her now.
In light of her experiences, Wood is now raising awareness about these challenges — telling event attendees that women should be educated from a young age on how to tackle such situations and give them the skill-set to prepare them to stand up for themselves in such situations.
Not only has Wood found support from other female founders, but she now aims to mentor people, to help them thrive career-wise.
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