The roles that men and women are expected to play have been divided and almost set in stone for ages. While men are encouraged to become engineers, finance professionals or take up sports, women are asked to follow more 'low-key' career paths like nursing, arts or fashion.
Although we have been able to see some significant progress over the past few years, we are barely scratching the surface.
From being told she’s wasting her time trying to learn finance, to establishing her own company - Insta C.A. in 2018, here’s how 29-year-old Tanvi Loond, a chartered accountant from New Delhi, is scaling heights in an industry that women are usually discouraged from exploring.
Finance made simple
The way people seamlessly order food and book movie tickets online, Insta C.A. brings financial expertise to MSMEs through the convenience of the internet.
The company provides a B2B subscription service that offers services like bookkeeping, GST returns and income tax filing, and company incorporation. It also simplifies finance concepts through short and free explanation videos on its website.
At present, Insta C.A. has over 100 clients from 14 Indian states, and has access to more than five lakh SMEs across the country. It has also processed returns for entities grossing Rs 10 crore. Tanvi also says that around fifty percent of its clients are women entrepreneurs. Insta C.A. is also currently bootstrapped.
Ever since she was a child, Tanvi wanted to pursue finance. “I found it real, omnipresent, and extremely exciting,” she says. Tanvi and her two sisters were raised equally, and the go-getter spirit was instilled in all of them from a young age. She adds that she learnt her first skills in business from her father, a first generation entrepreneur, who always encouraged her to dream big.
Having studied chartered accountancy at ICAI and eventually becoming a finance professional, Tanvi says she was often approached by friends, family, and peers seeking help. She says they either expressed difficulty in understanding their finances or confusion caused by the jargon used by their advisors. Tanvi also found that while extensive resources are available online, they are usually overly technical, and fail to guide efficiently.
"I experienced the pain points of running a business first-hand when my sister joined my father’s business. I saw her struggling to understand business accounting and tax compliances. Shadowing her made me realise that business owners waste too much time on offline coordination and end up paying exorbitant penalties," she explains.
Determined to respond to these points of frustration, Tanvi finally decided to launch Insta C.A. in 2018. Through the startup, she provides accounting expertise with the efficiency of modern technology.
In 2014, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) reported that there were 50,000 women chartered accountants, constituting just 22 percent of the total. This shows a dismal two percent increase from 2012, pointing to women being discouraged from considering a career in finance.
Although Tanvi grew up in a supportive environment, her career has definitely seen rocky terrain.
Recalling an experience she had around six years ago at a previous workplace, Tanvi says:
“I was emotionally harassed by my senior on a project. He intentionally made me wait all day to be assigned some work, and would eventually just say he ‘forgot about me’ although I was sitting in front of him the whole time. When I insisted on being given tasks, he would tell me I was wasting my time, and that women are better off sitting at home.”
Tanvi says this lasted for about two months, and made her feel weak, incompetent, and disheartened. “I doubted my abilities for a long time and had to work hard to regain my self-confidence,” she adds.
Tanvi was driven to her wit’s end and finally decided to quit. She took a year-long sabbatical to reflect on what she really wanted from her professional life, and discovered that she valued inclusive work culture over anything else. After much introspection, Tanvi joined a new organisation in which she had women leaders to look up to, and that, she says, gave her new-found motivation.
Although Tanvi is now an entrepreneur with a successful company, she still faces instances of sexism. “I know for a fact that I have to work twice as hard as men, to win the trust of potential customers,” she says. She often finds herself being the only woman in a meeting room of twenty other men, and is met with hesitation from potential clients who can’t believe she is a chartered accountant.
A wave of opportunities
Growing up, Tanvi says, she always made decisions based on a list of pros and cons. However, this 'mathematical' approach to life kept her in the confines of her comfort zone.
She also realised that while she was busy planning, she sought people’s approval before making simple decisions, and this held her back from taking the leap to the next stage.
On how she made her way out of this rut, Tanvi says,
“I changed my approach to life by listening to my inner voice. I still weigh the pros and cons, but I use my intuition to make the final choice. I think this is the result of my varied experience over the years.”
Gradually, Tanvi started speaking at events, aiming to spread financial literacy among urban Indians. She says this also gave her a platform to gain insight about her target audience.
Tanvi recalls creating a presentation for her first event about GST, and decided to use simple language, make it more visually appealing, and even illustrate it with examples from Bollywood movies. This resonated with the audience, and she received an outstanding response. After this, she gained the confidence to hold several such workshops across Delhi-NCR and Mumbai, and soon, enquiries and invitations to speak at other events came pouring in.
So far, Tanvi has spoken at spaces like WeWork and 91springboard, and conducted webinars for various startup communities. She also occasionally writes for The Financial Express.
Just as how today one intuitively orders food using an app instead of going to a restaurant, Tanvi says her vision is to witness a day when the average Indian goes online for accounting and tax needs instead of looking at neighbourhood advisory firms.
"This requires a true change in the mindset of people, and some early signs of this change are already visible. Phenomena like these, while still nascent, will be the driving force behind digitising and empowering the SME sector," she says.
Tanvi says the plan for Insta C.A. is to expand in the domain of fintech by integrating Artificial Intelligence to enhance customer experience.
For the women aspiring to pursue a career in finance, Tanvi says there are three things to keep in mind - Take the leap, persevere and find mentors.
“As women, we often doubt our own capabilities and undermine our potential. Sectors which are conventionally male-dominated are harder to break into, not because of barriers to entry but because of the mindset of the people. Women in finance are often tagged cunning or selfish but that shouldn’t come in the way of doing what we love. Have courage and take the first step,” Tanvi concludes.