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Women In New Tech: Barkha Sharma Of Bash.ai Talks About Challenges Of Founding A Startup In Patriarchy-Driven Space

Women In New Tech: Barkha Sharma Of Bash.ai Talks About Challenges Of Founding A Startup In Patriarchy-Driven Space

With the newer technologies like chatbot and robotics taking a centre stage, many startups have emerged in the space in areas like banking, finance, retail and even HR. Bash.ai is one such AI powered HR automation tool that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve HR processes and in turn employee experiences. This New Delhi based startup was founded by Barkha Sharma, a graduate degree holder in Computers Application and master’s degree in Business Administration, who has been part Human resource domain for more than 7 years.

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Her knack for the unknown, her passion for Human Resources and her love for technology pushed her to create BASH, and in less than a year it has gained immense popularity in the human resources circle. With an undying entrepreneurial spirit, she continues to inspire her team to bring more product offerings in the arsenal.

Bash currently announced the acquisition of Wemo, a New Delhi-based technology startup and creative development agency for design and product related requirements. With this acquisition Bash aims to integrate Wemo’s UX expertise of building mobile apps and websites to increase the scale of the company, and achieve the goals if building compelling experiences for its repertoire of brands.

This women’s day, we interacted with Barkha Sharma, CEO and founder, Bash to understand her journey as a woman in the new tech space, where we witness a scant number of women in senior and leadership roles.

Q. What does the career in analytics/data science/AI look like for a woman? Your thoughts on incorporating more women in new tech sectors.

The experience as a woman working in tech has been both challenging and wonderful. There have been times when I have realized much later that things that I experienced were due to gender discrimination. The Women in Tech ratio in India is abysmal. This comes from personal experience as a recruiter in the recent past and now as someone running a tech company. The world of analytics/data science/AI needs more women.

Here are some interesting numbers, Innovation-focused companies are $44 million more valuable on average when women hold their positions of power. Other research shows that female tech entrepreneurs generate 35% higher returns than male counterparts. An investment in both hiring and retaining more women actually leads to growth and greater returns for companies — hiring fewer women does not.

Q. What are the key changes in education/career choices that could change the current scenario?

People have started acknowledging that diversity is a priority. Many companies have started incorporating it into their plans. These are steps in the right direction. Though I feel, hiring more women isn’t the end-solution though. It has to be a wider cultural shift. Casual sexism needs to highlighted. Education amongst the team as to how to make a workplace friendlier needs to be part of trainings.

Also, more tech publications, such as this one, are featuring more women stories. It becomes important to emphasis that women or men in analytics are as good as the dataset they have 🙂

Q. Why did you choose this field as a career option?

Honestly, it happened extremely organically for me. I graduated in Bachelors in Computers and then went on to do my MBA. After graduating, I deep dived into the field of Human Resources and ended up being part of HR function for 7 years. Right from an employee’s feeling of uncertainty to the distress of the human resource team, working with enterprises with processes in place to consulting startups and building their processes from scratch, and having endless conversations with people who felt that HR is the backbone of the company to people who felt that the appendix is more useful than its function, I ended up working on all facets of HR.

Over the years, I became extremely passionate about HR and more so fascinated with the impact technology can have on it as a function and process.

In a world with driverless cars, the HR function has not embraced tech like the other functions. Our belief in AI to bolster efficiency in HR was our biggest motivator. It pushed us to imagine a world where businesses would use AI and deep learning to improve efficiency of HR. It was through the course of these multiple discussions about workplace HR processes that the idea of Bash developed.

Q. What is your growth story so far being a founder of AI based startup?

It’s been an incredible rollercoaster of a ride so far. As is true with any start ups journey. I quit my full time job and founded Bash.ai in January 2017 with 3 people working out of my living room, and after many sleepless nights and insane amounts of coffee, we launched it in March 2017. Today, just a year on, we’re a 15-person strong team of engineers, product developers, and operations enablers working with the HR processes of organizations helping them automate simple routine tasks, in turn, making their lives a lot more efficient. It has been incredible to see the fantastic response we’ve got from industry leaders and organizations in India, the Silicon Valley and Middle East. It is our belief in AI to bolster efficiency in HR which has been our biggest growth driver.

What keeps me excited about Bash.ai is that through automation we can bring about a massive change in the ecosystem. When I look at the team that we’ve built so far, and see their immense drive to build something meaningful, it drives me even further. Having the done the hard work, we are poised to take a leap. Its like preparing for years for your performance on the big stage.

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Q. Would you like to give a brief note about Bash.ai and the idea of founding it?

Bash.ai, which launched in March, 2017 in New Delhi-NCR uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve HR processes and, in turn, employee experiences. Essentially, it is an automation tool which uses AI and big data to power a virtual assistant to drive HR for businesses.

It mimics cognitive functions related to the HR function using a rule based AI powered bot resulting in increased productivity in the workplace. Quite simply, a rule-based bot can help in terms of employees getting information faster with a conversational interface, enabling the HR team to focus on more meaningful tasks rather than getting caught up with repetitive tasks and generic queries.

With Bash’s user-friendly front-end chat interface, it gives organizations a highly accurate and real-time way to automate conversations with employees within an organization’s intranet. It can also be accessed using instant messenger platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Kik, Google and Microsoft’s Skype. While, we keep adding to our repertoire of modules, currently Bash.ai has four modules:

  • Welcome Aboard: aimed at employees who have accepted the offer but are yet to join.
  • Post Hire Orientation: a virtual buddy to bring the new joiner in-tune with the company and its policies.
  • HR Helpdesk: the core engine answering all the queries an employee might have for the HR.
  • Employee Engagement: to get the pulse of the employees. More of an emotional and aspirational barometer.

It was the coming together of a few instances that resulted in the founding of Bash.ai. However, a particular incident which took place at one of my previous workplaces got me thinking about the need for technological advancement in HR.

Q. Being a woman, what were the challenges in incorporating a startup in tech space?

A big challenge is being a woman running a startup. There are small incidents that women not just in technology but across industries face. Patriarchy is real and there is so much to be done when it comes to closing the gender gap not just at work but also in our everyday lives.

While the gender gap continues to exist not just across technology industries in India but also abroad, it is high time we started closing this gap. Visit any technology conference and you’ll see the gap that I am talking about. I read last year only 2% of equity funding raised had a woman founder. I don’t claim to have all the nuances of this cleared, but this has to improve.

Q. Do you struggle to maintain a work-life balance?

I guess one never really stops thinking about the business, product and team – they’re constantly on my mind. I do, however, try to maintain a balance between work and my personal life. It took me a really long time to get to the schedule that I have in place right now. I have relapsed multiple times but now mostly I do stick to this. I give 2 hours to myself in the morning where I organise the day for my team and myself. My day is filled with a lot of phone calls, emails, Slack interactions and countless number of cups of tea. Once back home I workout for an hour. Then its either catching up with friends, family or Netflix. Not necessarily in the same order. However, I still need to work on my routine while traveling which goes completely upside down because of work demands.

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