Women entrepreneurs in India boosting start-up ecosystem amid challenges, gender inequality

Written by Sharmita Kar | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Nov 19, 2021 05:15 PM IST

Amid the furore over Nykaa’s IPO success, India continues to be one of the worst performers among South Asian nations in terms of gender gap, a World Economic Forum report stated. And it is time that this view is changed.

At a time when women are hitting the bull's eye at the bourses and entering the billionaires club, Indian businesses are getting a much-needed non-androgenic perspective. In a largely male-dominated world, women are finally braving their feet to celebrate entrepreneurial ideas and pacing their way up to become successful businesswomen.

Women continue to face more challenges than men as an added societal pressure of maintaining a work-life balance falls heavy on their shoulders.(Representative image/Unsplash)
Women continue to face more challenges than men as an added societal pressure of maintaining a work-life balance falls heavy on their shoulders.(Representative image/Unsplash)

While November 19 is recognised as the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, women in business need to be celebrated, empowered and supported every day.

“There has been a significant shift in the way young women view entrepreneurship than in previous generations. They are confident, ambitious and passionate about their careers,” says Sabena Puri, the CEO and co-founder of Stage 3, a fashion retail and styling platform.

India has seen a rapid growth in entrepreneurship in the past decade and over the past few years many women have entered the league of leading start-ups. While pioneers like Kiran Majumdar-Shaw are there to remind us that nothing can come in the way of their fiery streak, newer unicorn owners like Nykaa's Falguni Nayar are taking the torch of inspiration forward.

“Not only are more women embarking on the entrepreneurship journey, but they are also building innovative solutions successfully. Nykaa’s successful IPO earlier this month is proof of this,” says Rashim Mogha, Customer Market Leader for Leadership and Business Solutions at Skillsoft.

However, despite these successes, women continue to face more challenges than men as an added societal pressure of maintaining a work-life balance falls heavy on their shoulders. For women, running a business is not enough but it means excelling at their domestic roles just as much.

“As a woman business leader, I know that I must put in double the effort than my male counterparts to prove myself. As I interact with other women founders, I realise that their story is similar,” Mogha says.

While success stories about women are on a rise, a recent report by the World Economic Forum stated that “eight out of every 10 media reports worldwide are about men: only two of them have women in focus”.

Furthermore, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 shows that while on one hand the proportion of women among skilled professionals is continuously increasing, along with the progress towards wage equality, albeit at a slower pace, “on the other hand, overall income disparities are still only part-way towards being bridged and there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27% of all manager positions,” the report stated.

According to the WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India has slipped 28 places to be ranked 140th out of 156 countries, amongst the lowest in South Asia. The gender gap in India has widened to 62.5%, largely due to women’s inadequate representation in politics, technical and leadership roles, decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, poor healthcare, lagging female-to-male literacy ratio and income inequality.

Dolly Kumar, the founder and director at Cosmic Nutracos, the parent company of health, wellness and beauty brands Gaia and Skinella, tells us that like any other businessperson, she also faced numerous challenges at the start of her career and these challenges were heightened because she is a woman.

“People had doubts about my entrepreneurial skills. A decade and a half later, I have dispelled all doubts by establishing successful brands in the FMCG industry. Today, I am at the helm of all strategic decisions at Cosmic Nutracos,” Kumar says.

So, what is then stopping more women from becoming entrepreneurial leaders?

Kanu Sharma, the co-founder of House of Candy tells us that this untapped entrepreneurial spirit of women in India can be accelerated only once the stereotypical gender roles are relaxed.

“A woman is expected to play many roles and excel at them. The unreal expectations to play parallel roles to be a perfect wife, mom and still excel at work to be recognised as opposed to a man where he can single-handedly concentrate on just work and won’t be held accountable for ‘home stuff’ is a bit unfair. Unfortunately, in India, the ‘woman of the house’ is expected to keep it all together. The pressure to prove herself and be judged in one more role certainly squashes this untapped entrepreneurial spirit in my opinion,” Sharma says.

However, encouragement alone is not enough if one doesn’t have the right skill set for managing their business.

“Leading a company requires knowledge and understanding of both strategy and operations. It requires taking that idea and building a product or a service and putting together a go to market plan. It is hard to have a complete understanding of the entire process without upskilling. Adopting a continuous learning mindset to learn new skills and leveraging coaches to gain confidence and build a strong network can help women to bring their ideas to life,” says Skillsoft’s Rashim Mogha.

At the same time, having a cooperative support system at home is crucial. “Anyone who builds a business needs a strong support framework and women are no different. They need the same support that men get from their families to be able to manage their businesses successfully,” she adds.

There is no doubt that education has played a huge role to help more women be courageous to step out of the restrictions within their household bounds. But, as Kanu Sharma says, “that’s all-in theory”.

“In reality, the positive shift has been marginal, albeit significant. I, for one, have chosen to celebrate the change, however slight it may be. I aim to keep the dialogue going towards making this issue so irrelevant that we can speak of it as something from the past day,” she says.

“The idea is to keep moving forward and lead a life on our terms.”

With more women embarking on the entrepreneurial journey, Rashim Mogha says the world is now getting used to seeing women leaders and their success stories and recognising that they play a critical role in today’s economy.

Gaia’s Dolly Kumar stresses on the need for a work-life balance. “Nevertheless, my work commitments have never got in the way of my personal life. I have managed to maintain a work-life balance,” she adds.

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