For sure, India has come a long way with empowerment of women. However, the sixth economic census by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation showing women comprised just 13.76% of the total entrepreneurs in India is nothing to write home about. This is just 8.05 million out of the total 58.5 million entrepreneurs.
At a global stage, we hear more about Indian or India-origin C-suit bosses such as Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Starbucks’ Laxman Narasimhan, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, among others.There are definitely women top leaders running several corporations. But are the numbers fair?
There can definitely be no doubt about the potential of a businesswoman. Amid an IPO rush in India in recent years, remember the only profitable and popular startup to list on the markets was Falguni Nayar’s Nykaa. November 19 is celebrated as International Men’s Day. However, today is also Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, which is celebrated to promote a more conducive environment for businesswoman and to celebrate the rising number of women entrepreneurs running profitable businesses.
On this day, let’s hear from the following four women entrepreneurs of startups and a unit of a venture capital firm (in no particular order) about what are the highs and lows and what’s really up with this issue.
Meena Ganesh, Co-Founder & Chairperson at Portea Medical
The number of women entrepreneurs in India is growing but is still not encouraging enough. There are several reasons why women continue to shy away from pursuing the entrepreneurial path. One of the key reasons is that society and women tend to feel the need for a more settled lifestyle through careers in corporates.
Startups tend to be challenging with roller coaster rides. However, women do have the capability, maybe they lack the confidence.
“If we want women to become mainstream entrepreneurs, then it is imperative to level the playing field. They should feel supported and heard.”
The investor community too has a preponderance of men. This can create an unconscious bias against women entrepreneurs wishing to raise money. Women entrepreneurs tend to lack confidence in areas such as sales or negotiation and fund raise, these are traditionally seen as male dominated fields. However these skills can be very well developed through training and mentoring.
While there are several government policies to encourage women entrepreneurs, the change must begin at the grassroots level and in educational institutions. This will ensure that more women are educated on the various aspects of starting their own venture and provide the much-needed support on ground. Also, if we look at the overall percentage then it is definitely much lower than ideal, but the balance is steadily improving. There are a lot more women in the tech industry and IITs/IIMs today than ever.
The need is to take this momentum from the educational institutions to corporate hierarchy through continued support and opportunities.
The future is promising for women-led startups in India. However, their ideas and passion must also be supplemented with opportunities to network, get mentored, etc. There are various organizations today which offer support in this regard. Having said that, if we want women to become mainstream entrepreneurs, then it is imperative to level the playing field. They should feel supported and heard. Ideally, there must be more initiatives towards setting up academies and incubators for women entrepreneurs where they don’t just get access to funding, but also technology, skill development and mentoring.
IIM Bangalore has a decade long association with women entrepreneurs, and collaboration between IIM-Kozhikode and National Council for Women is among the efforts that are needed. We have hundreds of technology colleges all over India. If they start setting up such incubators then we would definitely see a strong wave of women entrepreneurs come up.
Lisa Suwal, Co-founder of Meatigo & CEO at Prasuma
With increased awareness of women’s roles and economic standing in society, their hidden entrepreneurial potential has been rising. Women may now be seen working in every industry, from pickles fashion to telecommunications, since the glass barriers are now broken.
Indra Nooyi’s successful journey of being the first India-born female CEOs to head an iconic US corporation is a classic example of how one’s upbringing reflects on the future. With the support of a disciplined family that had an incredible amount of focus on education unbothered by the gender, Indra soared high setting an example.
“Women have always been entrepreneurs, the challenges they have faced in their lives have forced them to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit.”
The percentage of female entrepreneurs has increased by 114% in the last 20 years, states Global Entrepreneurship Survey by Onepoll. Not all hard working women have the same limelight or our in the public. Having said that, the numbers are shifting and the women workforce in every industry is on the rise. We as women need to build our own sisterhood, and keep proving to ourselves and not just the society.
On one hand women are becoming the brand face, but on the contrary, the gender disparities in economic participation and opportunities remain significantly large. Women face many challenges while starting something of their own. From lack of family support, lack of capital to lack of self-confidence, women go through a lot of hindrances in their entrepreneurial journey.
It is very important to talk about these barriers and encourage women to come out of their comfort and utilize their potential for personal and professional growth.
We must celebrate women but as much as we celebrate life everyday! Such days are like a reminder for us to appreciate ourselves and others. Interestingly, women have always been entrepreneurs, the challenges they have faced in their lives have forced them to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit. They have now become an important part of the global business environment and their contributions are getting counted by the economy as they have entered the formal market.
Yamini Bhat, CEO & Co-Founder at Vymo
There are many women who are heading global business in both chief executive roles as well as self made entrepreneurs running their own businesses. Jayshree V Ullal, CEO of Arista Networks, Neha Karkade, co-founder of Confluent, Leena Nair, CEO of Chanel, Revathi Advaithi, CEO of Flex and Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo.
I also agree that the numbers are fewer.
“Women should take the first step towards entrepreneurship, seek role models and build a support system for themselves to move ahead”
Women comprised only 13.76% of the total entrepreneurs in India according to the Ministry of Statistics and we fall behind some of the other countries- both developing and developed.
A few ways to tackle this include:
● Creating a strong support system that allows women access to the know-how, skill development and the funding to give their entrepreneurial initiative momentum.
● Designing women entrepreneur friendly financial products to give them impetus to take their business forward.
● Encouraging successful women entrepreneurs to champion entrepreneurship and mentor other women through this journey.
● Lastly, more corporate organizations should introduce programs to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and motivate them to start their own businesses – from ideation to planning to giving it wings. A good example would be Sequoia Spark, Sequoia India and Southeast Asia’s platform for women entrepreneurs and Herstory from Yourstory.com. The Sequoia Spark fellowship provides equity-free grants, immersive mentorship and community support to aspiring women entrepreneurs in India and Southeast Asia.
We definitely have many role models today and it is only going to increase in strength. If every woman entrepreneur runs her business by fostering an entrepreneurial culture, encouraging her team to keep working on their ideas, find solutions to problems and thereafter carve their own paths, we will surely have many more successful women-led businesses in days to come. Women should take the first step towards entrepreneurship, seek role models and build a support system for themselves to move ahead. Here it becomes very important for family and well-wishers to provide that support system so women can surge ahead.
Anju Gupta, Co-founder & President at IvyCamp (an initiative of IvyCap Ventures)
I think there have been a growing number of women leaders in global companies – Leena Nair (Chanel), Sonia Syngal (GAP), Roshni Nadar (HCL), Sharmista Dubey (Match group), Anjali Sud (Vimeo), and Indian women in leading roles at Capgemini, HP, etc. Some of these companies may not be our top MNCs like the likes of Google and Microsoft but are huge global organizations. And beyond these, let us look at global organizations like the Chief Economist of the WMF.
I do not believe there is a “rush” of women entrepreneurs. The number is growing over time but I don’t see a “rush” and the percentage is still low in the overall number of new entrepreneurs. I think more than “holding back” it’s a question of not becoming a “mainstream” choice for women and one of the key reasons I believe is the same key reason why it was slower for women to reach top slots in MNCs, – the cultural aspect of not enough family support and the family responsibilities which typically become a priority for the woman vs the man.
“Let us not target simply growing the number of women entrepreneurs but making the path easier for women who do want to become entrepreneurs”
Many entrepreneurs are now starting with more work experience under their belt, at an age where women are starting families and thus ending up in the same tussle of choosing between family and a career, while the male entrepreneur does not have to make.
The stability and less variability of work hours of an MNC are more attractive to many women, especially in new situations of working from home.
I think the way forward is not simply to compare the number of male and female entrepreneurs but to look at what are the roadblocks that women who want to become entrepreneurs are facing and how to remove them. Let us not target simply growing the number of women entrepreneurs but making the path easier for women who do want to become entrepreneurs and I don’t think this is any different from making the path easier to get to top slots in MNCs – it is removing any biases, providing more social and family support, flexibility. One thing that I think we can also do better is providing more networking support.