Society is still conditioned to have many biases against women: Stashfin Co-founder Shruti Aggarwal
On the occasion of International Women's Day, Shruti Aggarwal, Co-founder, Stashfin in a conversation with HT Digital said women are better off today but there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting their due.
Women have scaled new heights across different fields despite cultural restrictions, gender bias, prejudices, stereotypes and limitations. They are today leaders in various spheres of life - art, science, politics, business and research to name a few. Women's participation in work has been encouraging. They have been breaking through the glass ceilings to occupy top positions. The achievements call for celebrations but at the same time there are so many areas where efforts need to be intensified to help women get fair share of their due. On the occasion of International Women's Day, Shruti Aggarwal, Co-founder, Stashfin in a conversation with HT Digital said women are better off today but there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting their due. (Also read: International Women's Day: 5 ways to show appreciation to the important women in your life)
Where do women stand in the 21st century? It seems we have come a long way over the last few decades but are women getting their due?
The 21st-century woman has endured and conquered. Because women nowadays are better educated and more aware of how the world is evolving, their ideas and thoughts are valued more by others. The extraordinary capacity of women in the twenty-first century to alter and adapt to ongoing changes in their environment is another reason why they are so outstanding. Having said that, we still need more women in leadership roles. The tendency of women double hatting work and home responsibilities does put a lot of pressure on them to perform at every level. This is where family support is crucial in encouraging more women to keep going and take up leadership roles as the organizations need more women leaders. The unique traits that women possess brings in new perspectives, leading teams through empathy, effectiveness in crisis management are quite crucial for organizations to grow.
Women are better off today but there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting their due. I am happy that there are strong women leaders who are voicing out their opinions and concerns and standing strong when it comes to being at parity with the other gender. It will take time but at least we are making the right conversations.
At Stashfin, we’ve tried to break down all the stereotypes associated with women and finances. We encourage women to be financially independent by enabling them to access credit and make their own financial decisions. We know that the more financially empowered a woman is, the better a country will progress.
What are the roadblocks which women generally face at home and workplace?
There are so many roadblocks that women have to face on a daily basis. Society is still conditioned to have many biases against women that need to be removed. Biases also vary from ‘women can’t drive’; ‘women should prioritize home before work’; ‘women don’t need to work’ to ‘women don’t need equal pay’ - this now needs to end.
One of the biggest problems women face is the lack of family support and the feeling of guilt associated with managing both the worlds together. Even at the workplace, women face a lot of bias in terms of pay parity, role, and power hierarchy. Things are changing for the better, but it is very slow and gradual.
As an entrepreneur and a mother of two children, I've encountered both obstacles and pleasant surprises. For instance, women's entrepreneurship is hardly a concept in India, where just 14% of women own their own firms, most of which are micro enterprises. Although it's encouraging to see development on this front, one still worries about securing funds, managing a team, and networking. Chauvinism, misogyny, and patriarchy are all part of the reality for women in India. If you're a female entrepreneur, all of these factors certainly come into play in one way or another.
Are the workplaces gender-sensitive today or more needs to be done?
A workplace that genuinely values promoting talent will foster inclusivity and respect for one another, regardless of gender. Gender sensitivity is important in the workplace regardless of the sector. I won't say, there are no efforts taken however they are very limited. Gender inclusivity will always be a huge task for any organization because change is usually faced with resistance. Organizations will need to put in constant effort to create a task force that is gender aware across the board.
About 40 percent of our company’s workforce consists of women. We have hired women who are leading a number of functions across legal, HR, operations, product, sales and more. More organizations need to value the power of diversity as we’ve seen the value women bring in through a long-term vision, ability to think out of the box, empathetic leadership styles.
How difficult is it for women to climb the career ladder?
I think it is changing but we can’t say confidently that it is easy. There is a lot of bias and managing bias is easier said than done. That is due to the fact that everyone has predetermined views, even if they don't always act on them. Planning, communication, and in certain cases changes to policy and structure is something that is needed to help more women climb the ladder. I have seen cases where owing to preconceived notions about some of my female colleagues in the past, their point of view has been ignored; some women have been given lower salary growth just because of their gender; leadership roles often being reserved for men. All of this lowers the confidence in many women. Women need to believe in themselves and not be afraid to ask for growth or leadership roles. This is what is needed to bring about change. They don’t call us #changemakers without a reason.
I am fortunate that in my professional journey, I have been associated with strong leaders who have helped me grow in all ways possible. Hence, we need more women leaders to look-up to and aspire.
There are still many glass ceilings that need to be smashed. Do you agree?
The first and most pertinent step to breaking stereotypes at the workplace is to call ourselves just entrepreneurs or leaders, and not ‘women or female entrepreneurs/leaders’. Every perceived male space, importantly finance, now has women at the helm. Think about any industry – finance, healthcare, education, wellness, communication, automobiles – and you’ll likely find a woman at the lead. This is when women have been able to prove people wrong who believed 'women can't be good with numbers'; 'women can't run their own business'; 'women can't be the bread-earners'; and so many other biases. We have come a long way and now the mindset is also changing to 'she can' vs 'she can't'.
My company, Stashfin, operates in the fintech space where we firmly believe that ‘Nobody in India should be credit starved’. And this includes women. In fact, I take it as my personal mission to dispel any myth that one might have about women and finances, women and investments – essentially women and money. It’s not as confusing or as difficult as it’s perceived to be. Numbers are exciting. Being an entrepreneur in this space is even better, because it’s when I see more women being financially aware, when they learn to take charge of their investments, their taxes, their money, that I know that - 'women can'.
I think women have broken most of the ceilings. Take a look at the financial sector; I consider my ex-boss Sonia Toledo, a financial executive based in New York and Falguni Nayar, founder of Nykaa as my role models who have done exceptional work to break the ceilings. However, we can't ignore the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done.