Are Subconscious Biases Making Entrepreneurial Journey Challenging For Women In India?
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The Indian economy definitely has huge growth potential, however the story has left the women behind. While urbanization and increased rate of literacy has improved the social status of women in India, but economic inclusion remains low.
According to a recently published report titled Powering the Economy with Her-Women Entrepreneurship in India by Bain & Co. and Google, of the approximately 432 million working-age women in India, about 343 million are not in paid formal work. An estimated 324 million of these women are not in the labor force and another 19 million are in the labor force but not employed. Women’s participation in the labor forces has also been stagnating.
Similarly, a 2019 study by the Centre for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE) showed women graduates are more than 3.5 times likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts. The study showed that while overall unemployment in India is 7 per cent, unemployment rate among women is 18 per cent.
While women's participation in the labor force has the lowest bar in the world, the situation is also grim in this thriving start-up and entrepreneurial space in India. India has been ranked 52nd among 58 countries surveyed for the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs in 2019 report.
The growing Indian start-up ecosystem has witnessed several women lead their firms and also invest in the ecosystem, however challenges for women in the ecosystem is more than their male counterparts.
Subconscious Biases Behind the Gap?
Speaking with Entrepreneur India, Naiyya Saggi, founder and CEO of BabyChakra said the underlying biases make entrepreneurial journey more challenging for women. She said that while she rarely faced any gender biases during early her stint with McKinsey & Co., or during her studies at the Harvard University, it cropped up when she was looking for angel investors for BabyChakra.
Saggi said during one such meeting with a potential angel investor, she was asked who would be responsible for running the company once she becomes a mother. “I was shocked with the question as my level of ambition was being questioned, but I might not have been questioned if I am contemplating family at any point as a man.”
Concerns about a woman’s career effected due to menstruation or motherhood is not new in India. Even though situations are moving towards better, women are still questioned about their passion and ambition if they choose to become a mother at some point. The reasons behind such biases are the patriarchal rules of the society.
Highlighting this point, Simpl co-founder and chief operating officer, Chaitra Chidanand, explained that many rules at workplaces are defined by the patriarchal system. Stating an example, she explained that office gatherings and parties often involve bonding over drinks and smoke. While the act is considered essential for employee bonding, it may not sit well with female employees. Due to this reason, many fail to participate in such gatherings. Thus Chidanand feels that gender neutral rules should be in place to make women comfortable.
Chidanand also explained several challenges that women deal with are sometimes internal in nature. According to her, women tend to hold back and believe that they are not as good as they think thus doubting their own selves.
Speaking about entrepreneurial journey, Sneha Choudhry, co-founder and chief business officer of Zolo, said the initial years were tough for her especially as a woman entrepreneur leading the business team in the company. “It used to irk me when I was the only woman in a room of start-up founders but now it is heartening to see so many women break the glass ceiling and move ahead to consciously make their role in their own start-up more visible and speak up for the entire sisterhood,” Choudhry said.
Choudhry believes such discriminations are not always intentional but arises from underlying patriarchal rules which bind our society. While she herself hit the glass ceiling, Choudhry chose to fight back by not recognizing any prejudice based on gender and push her way forward till she infiltrated.
While challenges subsist for women, it would be wide of the mark to deny that the society is in fact altering its outlook. With digitization, awareness, and development, things have started to change. Earlier while speaking with Entrepreneur India, Shailja Dutt, founder and chairperson of Stellar Search, a global executive search company, said that women entrepreneurship was difficult 20 years back and the situation is still the same. However, the ecosystem is growing and more dialogue around women entrepreneurs is now happening due to digitization.