“By empowering women, we don't just uplift individuals; we elevate communities” Dr. Pragya Sharma, Founder and CEO, Gran Lab

Dr. Pragya Sharma is on a mission to revolutionise steroid-free dermatological skincare through her emerging business, Gran Lab. From challenging cultural norms to spearheading ground-breaking research, her journey from academia to commerce is a reminder of why the whole business community benefits when female innovation is supported.

Growing up in the vibrant chaos of Delhi, I was familiar with the directness of Indian interactions. When I moved to Belfast in 2018 to pursue a PhD in in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I was introduced to a world of subtle nuances and reserved politeness. Suddenly, deciphering what people meant became a game of reading between the lines. It was like learning a new language, not just in words but in unspoken cues and gestures.

Adapting to this subtlety required a different communication style and a dimming of my inherent straightforwardness. Although I enjoyed my time in the academic medical community, the decision makers are predominantly men and I think I presented a challenge. I felt like I was losing a part of myself so a couple of years ago I decided to reclaim my voice and embrace my authenticity. I’ve realised it’s more important to please yourself than it is to please others. ‘Cancel Culture’ is often considered a negative, but from my point of view it means it is more likely that people and organisations are called out publicly for their actions, making change more possible.

Establishing Gran Lab wasn’t just a career move; it was deeply rooted in personal experience. Witnessing my grandmother’s battle with psoriasis, I developed a steroid free skin care formula which has changed her life. This sparked a desire in me to share the product with others who were struggling with their skin. After years of test studies and funding rounds, Gran Lab has passed clinical trials and is moving into the manufacturing and production stage. Transitioning from the academic realm to entrepreneurship was challenging but I am ready to embrace the business world fully and call my own shots as my own boss!

My family are supportive of my career, but I come from a culture where societal expectations often dictate a woman’s priorities. I do feel the tug of tradition urging me to prioritise marriage and family life over career ambitions. It’s a struggle many women face—a constant balancing act between societal expectations and personal aspirations.

Joining the IoD community has given me a network of support and mentorship that I really appreciate. It has opened doors that I never thought possible with invitations to exclusive events where I can forge invaluable connections. It isn’t just about access to prestigious gatherings, but being in rooms where decisions are made, where visions are shared, and where aspirations can take flight.

As a member of the IoD British Asian community, I have found camaraderie and a platform which has empowered me to embrace my cultural heritage while navigating the intricacies of the business world. Diversity isn’t just about representation but about amplifying diverse voices and perspectives.

In reflecting on my journey, and the importance of supporting women in STEM, I think it is not just about breaking barriers but dismantling the structures that uphold them. Business leaders have a pivotal role in fostering inclusive environments, from challenging stereotypes to providing mentorship and resources. By empowering women, we don’t just uplift individuals; we elevate entire communities.

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