*This post of mine was also published on Forbes Woman:*
As a child of Punjabi immigrants growing up in Buckinghamshire in the 1970s, Anjula Acharia-Bath was taunted with racist bullying from her peers. Now the founder of DesiHits! is a new partner at venture capital firm Trinity Ventures and a go-to for connecting Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
“It was really tough growing up, there were no South Asians where we lived,” Acharia-Bath says. “It was a leafy green suburb of England, and there was zero diversity for miles. People did not really understand our family and I guess they just relied on what they saw on TV or heard about South Asians to inform their decision on who we were.”
Despite being the one amongst her two other siblings who “could not get farther away from anything Indian,” today Acharia-Bath has built a solid track record around bringing more South Asian faces into western pop culture, and vice versa. She brought Lady Gaga to India and arranged the collaboration between the Pussycat Dolls and one of India’s great musical composers, Academy Award winner AR Rahman, in addition to other collaborations with A-List stars from East to West.
But it is the entrepreneur and angel investor, who appears on both Vanity Fair’s Next Establishment list and Billboard’s Top 40 Women in Music, and her latest venture that has America standing up and taking notice. As the manager of Bollywood megastar, Priyanka Chopra, Acharia-Bath is steering India’s sweetheart’s US TV debut in ABC’s hit fall drama, Quantico.
“I would say that pop culture has a really big responsibility in embracing inclusiveness and casting diversely,” Acharia-Bath says. “One of the driving forces behind what I did with Priyanka was the fact that I wanted to change the face of pop culture to inspire and make other young girls of all ethnicities feel included in the world, especially South Asian girls, because that’s so personal to me and my journey.”
ABC Executives appear to be on board with Acharia-Bath’s vision of diversifying mainstream talent, perhaps none more passionately than the network’s Executive VP of Casting Keli Lee, who is the woman responsible for the career-defining roles of Kerry Washington, Sophia Vergara, Viola Davis and Sandra Oh.
Lee, who Acharia-Bath describes as a blessing and counts amongst her closest friends, says the two women bonded instantly over their shared belief in exposing huge global talent to even wider audiences. It did not take long after Lee and Acharia-Bath’s initial meeting over dinner at Hollywood producer, Ron Meyer’s home to decide on their next joint mission: Getting the first ever Bollywood star on to millions of TV screens in America. At Acharia-Bath’s request, Lee went all the way to India, successfully convincing Chopra to sign with ABC.
“Wherever you go there’s a need for diversity,” Acharia-Bath tells me. “The more you can influence pop culture to put role models out there and tell stories about successful women, and powerful women and kick-ass women and brave women and bold women, eventually that’s going to make such a huge impact on how society views women.”
In addition to altering the landscape of Hollywood, Acharia-Bath also has her sights set on Silicon Valley where she describes the tangible gender-imbalance.
“It’s so interesting working in tech and working in Silicon Valley where you see a really strong South Asian male contingent killing it, but there’s still a lack of South Asian women, and women in general, coming forward,” Acharia-Bath observes. “That’s something I really want to help change, not just for South Asian women, but for women across all ethnicities. We all know there is a major gender gap in Silicon Valley that needs to be addressed.”
Acharia-Bath says that one of the main reasons she joined Trinity Ventures was because of how diverse they are as a company from the number of women partners to the kinds of investments they make which includes everything from Starbucks and Bulletproof Coffee to New Relic and Docker. Acharia-Bath describes how this approach leads to an environment that is not just “bros funding bros,” she says quoting renown venture capitalist, Chamath Palihapitiya.
As she spends more and more time in Silicon Valley, Acharia-Bath expresses her hope that she will be able to mentor more young South Asian women who she says are often being dictated to by both their cultural upbringing and social stereotypes, often simultaneously.
“I think that when we are raised in a certain way and our image is portrayed in a certain way,” Acharia-Bath says. “Those stereotypes kind of become our reality, which is why I go back all the time to pop culture being so responsible for how people view themselves and how they make their choices and how people view them. We have all these subliminal messages coming at us from all of these different places.”
Acharia-Bath also stipulates the importance of encouraging more girls in science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM), so they empower themselves to better compete in the world. She praises the work of Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a program Acharia-Bath believes could immensely alter the landscape for women and girls in tech.
“One of the companies that I backed really early on was called TheMuse.com,” Bath explains to me. “I was immediately really impressed by the female founder Kathryn Minshew, who I met at the Forbes Most Powerful Women Summit. The Muse is a recruitment/content platform for careers, skewing heavily on diversity and women. I just love the platform because I feel that it’s also helping women to make more informed choices, helping them to see things they may not have seen before as it allows you to look inside a company and really explore opportunities and the company culture. It’s interesting because when you look at social media you see that most platforms are dominated by women (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc.), all except for LinkedIn. That makes you think “Oh that’s not good,” a major social career site is not equally frequented by women. There is so much work to be done. It’s one of the reasons I so passionately invested in and advise The Muse.”
As Acharia-Bath shows women the roadmap to smashing glass ceilings and stereotypes, she urges women to be bold and “go for it,” stating the importance of inspiring people to join you on your journey instead of “selling” them.
“I really don’t focus on obstacles when I approach things,” Acharia-Bath says. “Often people tell me that I don’t know the rules, which is often true, so of course I don’t follow them… I just break them. I am an entrepreneur at the very core of me, so I am focused on disruption and how to do things differently.”
*This post of mine was also published on Forbes Woman:*