When it comes to undertaking and celebrating the success of a growing business, we reserve a special amount of celebration for women and mothers, because we know that the business world is still structured to favor dominated by men ideas from leadership. Women and minorities not only seek to be successful in the same way, but in many cases they have to equip themselves with tools that help them overcome additional barriers.
That's why someone like Mandeep Shahi, managing partner and owner of the skin care brand Zenmed, is the perfect example of a rude person who shows other women and mothers that these barriers do not have to hinder their business ambitions. Over the past 20 years, Mandeep has led the growth of Zenmed and has overseen its latest product additions, brand upgrades and marketing strategies. Everything while taking care of your new baby!
Mandeep is a strong businessman who knows how to scale a business and account for competition in such a crowded space. She used her experience to build this brand and also to balance life after moving to New York from Canada, which represents a more recent addition to her family and ensures that her business has responsible practices, including PETA certification.
We talk to the woman who has many doubts about her immigrant education, how to navigate the business world dominated by men and why she chooses to address leadership and new challenges without fear.
Tell me about your education as a first-generation woman from South Asia born abroad? How was balancing your personal identity with the culture that surrounds you?
I am part of the first generation of children born abroad in North America. I grew up in a small blue-collar city, and since I was born into a newly immigrated family, I had very little exposure to the "Americans" who live in my home. Also having English as my second language, many daily conversations in the school ignored me. I think I always felt that I was outside looking inward.
I embraced my "difference" and went with her. I shaved my head at 12, started writing letters protesting fur, animal tests, human rights and environmental causes. I simply did not feel the need to fit in anywhere.
Your parents also raised you in a gender-neutral environment that allowed you to reject sexism as you grew up. How has this impacted your opinion about the struggles of women you see in today's society?
I think it was double because, in my opinion, gender discrimination did not really exist, so I had no idea about the inequalities in the outside world. But it also created a base where sexism is so strange to me that I just do not let anything escape me. It is so insidious, how it slips in every aspect of our lives on a day-to-day basis. I remember that at the beginning an employer told me that he was "too ambitious" and used comments like "too bad you're a woman". I remember being told that I was aggressive because I wanted something badly done for the business in which I worked. I remember being told in another job that there was no reason to stay because no woman was going to move beyond the position she was in. Sad to say, but I definitely felt that entrepreneurship was my way out of these stereotypes.
But in a broader sense, I am very happy that the #metoo and #timesup movements have really highlighted the role of sexism in poverty. The gender disparity makes our whole society suffer. Poverty is effectively sexist.
You have been running Zenmed for 20 years. How was the brand initially launched?
I also suffered from horrible acne and looked for an alternative way to treat it. The natural beauty industry was emerging and we launched ZENMED as a strictly online store when e-commerce was also in its infancy. It was launched as a bespoke skin care brand created for people suffering from acne and other skin conditions who might not want to seek help from outside sources and preferred the privacy of home shopping. All this came together as a self-help exercise, but also to do good to people who felt the same kind of emotional pain that I felt for having this horrible condition.
As a successful entrepreneur, what were some of the key ingredients in the way, mentoring, funding, community, etc., that helped you advance your goals?
The tutoring was # 1. My mentor was a project manager by nature, not at all related to skin care. But project management skills can be taken and applied to almost anything in life. I was inclined to perform multiple tasks, manage teams, delegate.
My mentor was also the most persistent person you could meet. There was no "attempt", there was no "I do not know". First he made me responsible to myself.
The beauty industry is a very busy space. How have you left yourself and the Zenmed brand of others?
I identified a niche in the market when it came to dealing with skin problems. All acne products were hard and stripping. We create natural formulas combined with active drugs and the ability to mix and match according to your skin type. We also have a balanced pH of all the products to work with your skin in a bioidentical way, so we let your own body help in healing.
Why was it important for you to create a brand focused on natural life with responsible practices?
For me it was important to create products that were aligned with my conscience. That meant there were no tests with animals or ingredients, and being free of toxins. It meant recyclable packaging, since I'm a self-professer who hates packaging. I believe that my beliefs really resonate with our clients and I am proud to say that we have followed this design model from the first day.
What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs who can see the barriers in front of them but do not know how to overcome them?
Being told "no" is never the end as an entrepreneur. It means that you innovate, you get resources. You have the ability to bring almost anything to fruition. Especially like us, being carriers of children and all … come on, all our DNA is loaded with creation!
As a mother of two children, what wisdom and values do you expect to share with them as they grow?
I hope that from my experiences and examples to follow, you can learn that there is no space in our society for "dress talk", sexism or harassment. Zero.
Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
I always know unconsciously that I am a decision of a complete life change, if I want that for me. Having that knowledge makes me powerful.