Q&A with LadyDrinks Co-Founder, Joya Dass
We were thrilled to connect with another inspirational friend recently- Joya Dass, founder of LadyDrinks. Read on to learn more about the power of determination, lifting other womxn, and being true to your passions.
Sanaya Set: What is LadyDrinks and how would you describe your mission?
Joya Dass: I’m a long time television anchor here in New York City. I covered the financial markets for 17 years on-air. Many also know me as the host of the show, AVS, which ushered in the latest news from the Indian film industry into family living rooms every Saturday morning. I say that on pre-text because my goal of becoming a television anchor was a singular journey. It was something my immigrant parents weren’t behind. So I did it alone, financially, mentally, emotionally. My parents weren’t in the picture for the journey to New York City. If it weren’t for some very strong men and women who believed in me and supported me, I wouldn’t be standing where I am today. I believe in building my own support systems. Today, LadyDrinks includes 1,300 women. I’ve built that demographic over the course of six years by hosting events, both stateside and internationally. I’ve leveraged my journalism to host fireside chats with inspirational South Asian and minority role models such Payal Kadakia (founder of Classpass), Neha Chauhan Woodward (founder of Girls & Co), Misty Copeland (first African American female Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theater), and Anjula Acharia (Partner in Trinity Ventures, Priyanka Chopra’s manager). If I leave one legacy behind, its creating support systems for my and the next generation of ambitious South Asian professional women.
Sanaya Set: What was your inspiration to create LadyDrinks and how did you get there?
Joya: When my contract with ABC came up, I had been getting up at 2:30am in the morning for 4 years straight. I was TIRED. I launched my own documentary production company and immediately had a three-year engagement with the Rockefeller Foundation. I took on a partner to grow the business. She had started LadyDrinks monthly meetups in Toronto as a means for women in film and TV to network and get jobs. When she moved to New York and we went to City Hall to register our company, she asked me if we could host LadyDrinks networking events in New York. I said, ‘sure, do whatever you want.” I was so focused on the project in front of me. Lo and behold, the first few events we hosted, THREE HUNDRED South Asian women were showing up to the events. I was overwhelmed. But two things were happening. It was the first time I had come down from behind the glass screen of the television and was meeting folks in person. I had no idea that a whole generation of Indian women had grown up watching me. I also had been unapologetically telling my story- that I wanted to be tv anchor since I was four years old and made it happen on sheer will and grit alone. All of these ladies were coming to share that, they too, were launching small businesses and enterprises outside of the Indian-parent-approved professions of ‘doctor, lawyer, engineer.” I thought, shit. I’m in a place of responsibility here. Who had I interviewed for the 17 years I had been on television. CEOs. Business leaders. Thought leaders. Authors. Why not build programming to connect that demographic with this one? That first event was July 2012. Voila. Here we are almost seven years later. I’ve just hosted Ladydrinks London with a South Asian lady entrepreneur Aruna Seth, who is a shoe designer and designed pumps for the royal weddings. I go to Paris in June to set up LadyDrinks Paris.
Sanaya Set: What do you think is the most significant barrier to leadership for womxn of color? How do you think we can overcome this challenge?
Joya: Dammit. When I took stewardship of my own finances at 19 years old and started laying the bricks for my career in journalism, I realized that I knew nobody. NOBODY in the field. Indian women didn’t become tv anchors. I went to graduate school and networked the hell out of my time there. Contacts at Boston University got me my first four jobs. Men, since time immemorial, have SPONSORED other men’s careers. Sponsoring means making the right introductions to propel someone’s career forward. I don’t know that women, especially Indian women, are conditioned or taught how to do this. My work lies in changing that conversation. Folks look at my social media and say, ‘You’re out every night.’ Yes. But I’m networking. making connections, so I can, in turn, make powerful connections for ladies in LadyDrinks. Anything worth having –is work.
Sanaya Set: Name a womxn who inspires you and why?
Joya: Oprah. She is someone who does not look like a traditional tv host. She isn’t thin. She isn’t white. She was told ‘NO’ more times than she could count. And look at her today. She is a force to reckon with. I keep a Wall Street Journal magazine cover with her on it in my living room, where I see it everyday. I’m someone who can easily wallow in failure. I blame that on the perfectionist culture that Indian parents impose on their children. And I feel like a failure A LOT. I went to a wealthy school where everyone around me had fancy cars and vacations in Martha’ Vineyard, while I was working four little jobs to pay for college myself. But I remember her story and think about what she had to overcome. And then I remind myself of how far I’ve come on my own steam.
Sanaya Set: How does the Sanaya Set mission resonate with you personally?
Joya: Rising tides lift all boats. If my wearing the Sudara Anju robe prompts four more women to buy a subscription to Sanaya Set, either as a graduation gift or a Mother’s day gift, my work is done. If it raises awareness for women who are choosing a career alternative to being trafficked as sex slaves, and helps them to become economically self-sufficient, then my work is done.