Power Women: Dr Sajani Barot of The Skin Consult On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

Being Humble — As a founder, I am putting myself out there to my customers, potential investors, and business partners. You have to always be listening if you want to get any critical feedback back from people about your business. This means when someone has negative feedback, you accept that with humbleness. It also makes you a respectable leader for your team and partners.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sajani Barot.

Dr. Sajani Barot is a mother to 3 kids, a skincare expert, a pharmaceutical industry professional, and the founder of beauty tech start-up, The Skin Consult. She has over 12 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry with 6 FDA drug launches. After years of educating and advocating for ingredient transparency in the beauty industry, her mission now is to provide affordable access to licensed skincare experts who merge science and expertise to bring consumers an elite skincare experience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Absolutely. I was born and raised in Vadodara, Gujarat, a western state in India. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, which I did not think much about back then. Then, when I was 15, my parents, sister, and I moved to Hanover Park, a suburb of Chicago. It was quite a transition. While I was very comfortable with the American culture and English language, it was the lifestyle that was very different. My family and I were starting a new life miles away from our home and it felt really hard at the time. I started focusing on education and dreaming about what I would be doing after high school. It was a pivotal time of my life, as it is for many teenagers. But, for me, it truly shaped me into who I ultimately became. That life-changing experience of moving continents, starting over, and making a new life in a foreign land at 15 years old built tremendous resilience and brought out confidence in me.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

I chose to go into the field of pharmacy because I was fascinated with chemistry and was interested in learning how to make different formulas that would help people. However, I was very wrong about what the career of a pharmacist actually entails. It is more geared toward the pharmacology of medications and how that is used to treat medical conditions. I liked working in the pharmaceutical industry because it was the perfect blend of research and medicine. My personal journey with my skin led me to seek a solution for clear and spot-free skin. I quickly learned it was very hard to find the perfect skincare routine and professional without doing a lot of trial and error. I wanted to help others find evidence-based skincare solutions and professionals without wasting time and money and, ultimately, get better care. That’s when I decided to go from pharmaceuticals to cosmeceuticals so I could bring a science-based approach to the skincare industry, which currently is a bit of a wild wild west due to the lack of strict regulations.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are so many stories from working with skincare brands, professionals, and consumers. The most memorable ones are customer stories that help us keep going. We had a customer on The Skin Consult platform who was pregnant and having breakouts. She, of course, wanted to get this under control without compromising the safety of her growing baby. She came to our platform to do a consultation and appreciated the recommendations our AI-enabled algorithm made to her skincare provider. However, she still wanted to be 110% certain, so she wanted to run everything by a dermatologist. It took her weeks to get an appointment with this dermatologist, who basically gave her an antibiotic for her acne. When it came to her skincare routine, she didn’t give her much detail, and when she asked about the recommendations from The Skin Consult, she was referred back to her OBGYN. This poor customer was bounced back and forth from the OBGYN to the dermatologist. This was very eye-opening and resonated with me because so many of us go through this. We spend time and money to make an appointment with someone, but you are sometimes stuck with a provider who doesn’t have expertise in cosmetic dermatology. Stories like this continue to give us encouragement to keep building our marketplace to help consumers find their ideal skincare providers and solutions.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Resilience

This is no doubt a trait we all hear most successful entrepreneurs talk about. Building and running a business comes with its own set of ups and downs. When we first launched our Beta MVP in November 2020, there was strong interest from consumers and professionals. What I didn’t expect were the technology challenges we were going to face in those early days. As a first-time founder of a tech company, this was very new to me. I stayed on the path of continuing to give our customers what they wanted no matter what. There were frustrating days and if I wasn’t resilient, we might have already shut down.

Being Humble

As a founder, I am putting myself out there to my customers, potential investors, and business partners. You have to always be listening if you want to get any critical feedback back from people about your business. This means when someone has negative feedback, you accept that with humbleness. It also makes you a respectable leader for your team and partners.

Being Mission Driven

My company, The Skin Consult, was born out of a strong passion and mission to help raise the bar in the skincare industry and help people find their personalized solutions. When you have a strong mission that you can voice and stick to, others start to resonate with that and come aboard, even when you don’t have a large volume of customers. This is how we brought our early skincare brands on board. They resonated with our mission and were eager to help. This is one way we build a community around our business.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

There is some cultural bias to this notion for sure. I don’t necessarily think everyone feels uncomfortable with strong women. A lot has to do with our own attitude and how we present ourselves. As women, we have to think like a man and not dwell so much on this idea. Sometimes I find women are unsupportive of other women and intimidated by a woman’s power. So this is not gender-specific anymore and I try to not even think about it. I am an individual who is smart, capable, driven, and has a wonderful idea with a strong work ethic. Whether you’re a man or woman, you should continue to do your thing and just know that eventually, people will start looking at you because you set that tone for yourself.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

I honestly can’t think of an experience for this. I haven’t felt this knowingly. If someone is uncomfortable with me, it’s their problem.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

You have to present yourself with humility no matter how powerful or successful you are. I like to bring out the good in the other person when speaking to them so they feel equal. This is what my guru has taught me. If you stay grounded, people shouldn’t feel uneasy around you.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

Let’s change the dialogue. Instead of focusing on why, there should be more recognition of women founders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact on society. Media can contribute to sharing the stories of such women and influence the way we all think about this subject. We as women have to put ourselves out there and be confident in our own merit. If we stop thinking about others being uneasy around us due to our roles, only then can we try to shift the mindset of others.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

Sorry, I have not.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

In my own experience, the biggest challenge lies within ourselves. As women, we are naturally more empathetic of others and apologetic even when we don’t have to be. When we continue to be indecisive, it gives everyone the impression that we can be walked over. In addition, as a mom, I tend to have “mom guilt” often. When building my career and business, I tended to put myself and my ambitions aside for the sake of my kids. My kids have always been a priority. Many women leaders also struggle with this “balance” which can be hard to achieve at times. As mothers, we are often the ones to hold the household together, no matter how much help you have from others.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

There are many pivotal times in our lives when the intersection of our professional ambitions and personal life might not match up. In the early days of my career, the emphasis was all on my career and building skills that could be leveraged in many ways in the future. As my family grew from 1 to 3 children, that’s when I started to question where my business and professional life fit into my personal life. Being a CEO of a startup company meant long hours of work, working on weekends and holidays, and a never-ending list of things to do. Often this has been hard to manage when you also have to drive your children around, take care of them when they are sick or when you lose your nanny, cook for the family, and other constant motherly tasks. You don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything, so eventually, you have to start to change your expectations and prioritize. I still struggle with this balance. I imagine any woman with young kids who is running her own business does. Ultimately, what keeps me going is my passion to help women and men get personalized and better care for their skin and overall wellness. Knowing your limits is key when finding this balance so we don’t lose ourselves by forgetting to also take care of ourselves.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

It was late 2020, and I had been working on the development of our current platform for almost 8 months. We were in shutdown due to COVID so there was already a lot of anxiety and stress around the world. I was so focused on this and the kids that I stopped wanting to do anything that I typically enjoyed like working out, watching TV, socializing with friends, or even creating content on social media related to skincare. It took some time for me to look into myself and be introspective. I had to draw the line somewhere and create expectations that were achievable for my sake, which ultimately would help me be content with where I was with this lack of balance. I created specific times to focus on business and devoted other times to myself and my family. This helped shift the pendulum. Just like any startup journey that goes up and down in the first 5 years, my pendulum does the same. I am a lot more conscious now of when my own “cup” is getting empty.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

Awesome! The beauty tech industry is in its infancy stage, and there is so much potential for it to shift the way we define “beauty.” In a traditional sense, beauty was thought to be a concept for making yourself look better. Now the question is: look better in whose eyes? We all are beautiful in our own way and the industry is shifting toward helping each of us do things to meet our own personalized goals. This is what we do at The Skin Consult. Its very purpose is to help people find their own personalized skin solutions to meet their personal goals. Beauty is more than just superficial appearance. I believe it relates to us as a person, how we feel, and how it changes our life for the better. Soon, we will see beauty and wellness be used interchangeably.

How is this similar or different for men?

The definition of beauty has become less gender-specific. Men also want to look and feel good about themselves in their own skin. Sure, the needs of a woman may be different than a man, but the end goal of feeling a certain way about ourselves is the same for all.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Develop a thick skin
  2. Think big picture
  3. Learn from your mistakes
  4. Hire people better than you where you lack
  5. Lead by example

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Indra Nooyi. She is such an inspiring South Asian woman leader that I can relate to. We both are immigrants and came to America in our young adulthood. She has, of course, gone through so many life experiences in her professional and personal life that I can learn from. It would be amazing to have someone like her support and guide me as I navigate the waters of being a woman leader.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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