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Ravina Anand On South Asian Representation & Desi Women in Tech

Ravina Anand On South Asian Representation & Desi Women in Tech

Maansi Pandya

South Asian women are often underrepresented in the entrepreneurship and tech space. But Canadian entrepreneur Ravina Anand knew from childhood that she wanted to break the mold and pursue any idea that came to her. 

I am obsessed with how amazing Ravina is. Not only is she a hugely-successful social + tech entrepreneur and co-founder + COO of FLIK, she is also a powerful advocate for diversity, inclusion, and women’s rights. 

Ravina, an autodidactic polymath, has won countless awards for her innovation and creativity, most recently the Diana Award, spotlighting young people who are creating powerful social change in their communities. 

Ravina and I recently chatted about what it’s like to be a Desi woman in business and tech, and the importance and future of South Asian representation in the business community. 

Tell us about yourself!

I’m a born-and-raised, die-hard Albertan! I don’t think I realized how Albertan I was until I left this province and got super defensive whenever anyone else from Canada would hate on us (LOL). My grandparents came over from India and settled in rural Alberta.

Bigger picture, I am a South Asian woman navigating the complexities of life, from traditional family dynamics to pursuing “unconventional” and non-traditional career paths. 

I am also the co-founder and COO of FLIK, (Female Laboratory of Innovative Knowledge) a women-focused apprenticeship portal connecting women entrepreneurs with aspiring female leaders, along with my bestie Michelle Kwok!

What was your life like growing up as a South Asian woman, and did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? 

As strange as it sounds, I don’t think I really “identified” as being South Asian until very recently. 

I grew up watching Bollywood movies, and I remember going back to India and trying to speak Hindi and Punjabi with my cousins and getting laughed at for my North American accent! 

Despite being Indian growing up in a predominantly Caucasian area, I feel like my friends didn’t really see me as Indian. There were definitely aspects of my culture that I didn’t naturally embrace, or include as a part of my daily life. I was always respectful, but I remember keeping a distance from my Indian community growing up.

Fast forward about 2 years ago, I was selected to represent Canada at a summit in Switzerland called Global Changemakers. While I was there, I met these two amazing Desi women, Nandini Kochar and Serene Singh, and we instantly vibed. 

I thought, these girls are so cool! For all the distance I would keep from my South Asian community at home, I remember being at this summit and going, “Hey I’m Indian too!” and really feeling supported and connected to these women who looked like me. 

That was definitely one of the turning points for me where I really stopped to recognize that I am a South Asian woman of colour. I am here to represent my people and prove that it is possible for Desi women to be a part of amazing spaces like these.

In terms of my career trajectory, last summer I got into a program called Next 36, and when I went into that room, not only was I one of the only women of colour, I was THE only South Asian woman, and one of the few women who bothered to apply for this really remarkable entrepreneurship program. 

And I thought, Indian women are SMART. Why aren’t there more of us in spaces like this? 

One aspect of my childhood that had a massive impact on both myself and my life aspirations was my father battling Multiple Sclerosis. Things were really hard for him, but despite the struggles, he was still so dedicated to helping people and making an impact on the community. 

It also made me realize that time is of the essence, that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others just like he did. I decided I didn’t need to wait until some arbitrary time when I was done school or whatever to create change. I could help people NOW. 

And as for my mother, I recognized her sacrifices and resilience to preserve through the traditional South Asian expectations while taking care of my father and raising me into a strong, independent woman. 

South Asian people have GRIT and a dedication to achieving something bigger than ourselves. 

There’s a common understanding amongst South Asian kids that we’re under pressure by our parents to pursue “traditional” career paths like medicine, law or engineering. What are your thoughts on this?

Family is a complex thing no matter what, and when you’re a South Asian family in the West, it’s an added layer of complexity! 

Growing up, my parents gave me the freedom to learn and grow and explore a lot of activities. But like many South Asians, there are definitely certain fields we can sometimes be “expected” to pursue, namely medicine etc.

Interestingly, the number of “traditional” career paths has actually expanded from the popular trio of “doctor, lawyer, engineer”. It now seems to include software engineer and tech, which is pretty great in terms of watching the definition of “traditional” evolve!

We are aware of the sacrifices they have made, the barriers they have faced, and the difficult paths they have walked. I feel like South Asian kids grow up with this innate desire to make our parents proud.

There might be some pressure from certain Indian parents to get their kids to pursue law or medicine, but more often than not, from what I’ve observed, South Asian kids put part of that expectation on themselves. 

I am always reminded of that scene in classic Bollywood movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, “If you want to win, always listen to your heart. And if your heart doesn’t give you any answers, close your eyes and think of your parents. Then you will cross all your hurdles. All your problems will vanish, and victory will be yours.”

In the end, our parents just want us to have amazing lives, and reach our [limitless] potential. 

What have you observed as a South Asian woman in the tech/business space? 

While there’s still a LOT of room for improvement, I feel like we’re definitely making inroads when it comes to seeing South Asian women in the tech and entrepreneurship world.

Amazing Desi women like Payal Kadakia, founder of Classpass, Deepica Mutyala of LiveTinted, and of course Lilly Singh, are making waves, and it’s so inspiring to see. 

There are also so many programs and initiatives now in STEM that are encouraging women and WOC to pursue avenues they might not have considered before. Unfortunately, the issue is that not as many South Asian WOMEN in particular apply for these positions, for whatever reason. 

Names like Payal and Deepica are a big deal because South Asian communities are highlighting them the most, but I think it’s time for mainstream media to give more focus to South Asian women, not just in business and tech, but in the arts.

That’s why it makes me happy to think that women like Lilly are finally “mainstream”, and that everyone in the world knows who she is. It feels nice to be represented!

There’s also Netflix shows like Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever, which is the first of its kind to feature an almost all-Desi cast, or reality shows like Indian Matchmaker (which might be controversial, but it’s still a big deal!) and Family Karma

I remember watching Indian Matchmaker and observing how even some of the women on the show are in non-traditional roles, like running an events + wedding planning business or openly declaring they don’t want to get married. Things are definitely changing! 

What’s also cool is South Asian women like Payal, Deepica and Lilly being like, if I’m not going to be INVITED to a space, I’m going to make a name for myself and get my own exposure! And what often happens from that is they make enough noise that exposure comes to them! 

Who inspires you? 

My mom! I would say all these crazy things as a kid about what my dreams were, and she’d never shoot them down, she’d always encourage me. 

I also have so much respect for Meghan Markle. She is such a strong recent example of speaking your truth even though society wants to put you in a box. She refuses to fit into a mold and follow tradition, even though she had such intense pressure to do so. 

People hate that she breaks norms, but despite all the backlash, she always speaks her truth. 

I’m also inspired by women like Zoe Harveen Kaur or Ravina Toor who are using their creativity to create spaces for fellow Desi women. Or Deepica Mutyala, who saw a gap in the beauty world for makeup specifically for Brown skin and decided to do something about it! 

Oh, and Nandini and Serene, of course! 

Can you think of a time you felt self-doubt and did any of that stem from being a South Asian WOC? 

YES. It’s a bit hard to pursue something unconventional when you’re a South Asian woman, because you want to make your parents proud. I think along with self-doubt, I also feel imposter syndrome.

It’s why I don’t post much on Instagram or LinkedIn, despite Michelle encouraging me to (shoutout to my amazing Co-Founder who continues to work hard towards shattering the bamboo ceiling). It’s definitely a struggle and something I’m trying to get over!

I remember when I would share a few of my aspirations with people, I would get this vibe from them that they didn’t get what I was doing–even from those who supported me–and that would exacerbate my doubt. 

On the race front, someone doesn’t need to be blunt or direct for you to know that you’re being perceived differently because of your skin colour, even in slight ways. It’s the little ticks that are noticeable to you, and it makes you uncomfortable and feeds your doubt.

When Michelle and I started FLIK, people around us thought we were just having fun, they didn’t think we were actually working. That bothered me. 

We were once asked to do this video about FLIK and we had to be like, “We are entrepreneurs!”, and it felt SO cringe. But I realized that we ARE entrepreneurs. We are SOCIAL TECH entrepreneurs. To that point, I think it’s important that Michelle and I are encouraging people to rethink who is allowed to be part of the tech space and how we frame what technology is, and how it can be built.  

I guess I had a negative connotation to that label at the time, in part because of self-doubt, but now I know that business is one of the hardest things you can pursue. 

What else needs to change for there to be more Desi women representation? 

South Asian women need allies in their family, spouses, and partners. Desi women are expected to do and be so much, from a perfect partner and mother to a well-educated woman.

I want to see spouses and communities support South Asian women as they pursue their big dreams and goals. There is SO much potential in our community, we just need space for us to thrive. Chase your convictions with courage. 

What advice do you have for Desi women who want to get into business but are hesitant because of family structure, imposter syndrome etc.?

Take a look in the mirror and just realize that you are limitless. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to in a way that no one else might understand. 

You need to be comfortable with discomfort. South Asian women tend to be big planners, but the only certainty in life is UNcertainty. 

Everyone has their path, but I would also say, approach everything you do with humility. This can be applied to anything, but if you are going to pursue business, you have got to be humble. 

This will allow you to challenge your own biases, prove you’re adaptable and accepting of feedback, and show you can handle whatever challenges come your way. Business requires you to be vulnerable and authentic, and humility is a huge part of that.

Also, you do NOT need to have a degree to become a mission-driven entrepreneur. I really want to see more South Asian women actually pursue their creative ideas and speak their truth. 

What is your message to tech companies and CEOs on how they can be more inclusive? 

My message to companies: Think outside the box. What can you do to be more inclusive? Don’t just post a job position that says “We need X, Y or Z”, or “We are committed to diversity and inclusion”, and leave it at that! Reach out to these communities in an active and engaging way. That’s what FLIK does. We meet you where you are, and we come to YOU. 

If you hire a Chief Diversity Officer, make sure they have a supportive team behind them. Check in with your staff and listen to their feedback. Foster relationships with the South Asian community on a day-to-day basis.

A few years ago, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, was hosting a fireside chat, and he actually brought the whole cast of the Bollywood film Happy New Year to the Google offices to discuss the movie! That’s some real, creative leadership, because he knew his employees are South Asian. 

Then Cisco sent all their South Asian employees to an Indian music concert! They showed that they care, beyond just virtue signaling. And this is just with South Asian men in executive roles. Imagine how incredible it would be to see more South Asian WOMEN CEOs!

That’s what I mean by creative; Really think outside the box (And to be honest, I don’t ever even think there’s a box in the first place!).

Are you hopeful about the future of Desi representation?

I am so happy and inspired by the initiatives taking place with the Black community, which is LONG overdue. That gives me hope that people are paying attention to conversations like these. 

South Asian women are creating AMAZING content nowadays and having powerful and meaningful conversations. We are super creative, which as it turns out, is a huge asset in the tech and entrepreneurship space. 

I want to see more companies, tech or otherwise, encourage their teams to be CREATIVE and artistic. That’s where the really great ideas come from. 

Connect with Ravina: 
Instagram: @ravinacanand

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