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Five Fundamental Challenges Faced by Women Entrepreneurs and How to Overcome Them "A woman's liberation is the liberation of the feminine in the man and the masculine in the woman."- Corita Kent

By Archana Khosla

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Over the years, women entrepreneurs have remained a minority. If we look at 2018 and also the first quarter of 2019, the trend of growth in women entrepreneurship and consequently funding in women-led ventures has been a little disappointing. While some of the women-led ventures are working in cutting edge technology areas, the number is miniscule. In spite of there being an improvement in perceptions and validations of scalability in a few women-led ventures, in comparison to our male counterparts, a huge imbalance still persists.

Traditionally entrepreneurs have been viewed as innovators who come up with new ideas for the markets, products and various techniques. They have the capability to shape the economy by creating new wealth and jobs and inventing new products and services. Although this has been a traditionally male-dominated phenomenon, some women have become successful entrepreneurs in India.

Women are no longer viewed as traditional resources confined to the household, however, despite being educated, knowledgeable and capable of contributing towards transforming economies, women face fundamental challenges trying to enter the entrepreneurial sector. They are constrained by gender values, norms and stereotypes in the environment in which they operate. Some of the fundamental challenges faced by women are:

1. Gender Disparity- Lack of Access to Education and Training:

Due to the inherent gender bias in the society, women lack access to knowledge about business development, maintaining accounts, understanding money matters and even day to day activities of the company. Lack of such skills and the difficulty in access to such information and necessary resources can make running a business very difficult and the chances of turning a business into a success even more minimal.

Apart from access to education and training, women also have very limited access to policymakers and lack representation in policy-making bodies. It is widely argued that men should not be making laws that control women. Furthermore, such policymakers are heavily influenced by large companies which are predominantly male-dominated, and they focus solely on their needs.

Developing and monitoring courses and training facilities designed in accordance with the needs of women entrepreneurs and making them aware of such services through literacy programs not only meets the objective of financial inclusion but also adds to the overall socio-economic development of the country.

2. Lack of Access to Finance in a Patriarchal Society:

Finance is a crucial resource for venture creation – due to hereditary reasons and transfer of property traditionally to the male child, women are deprived of access to finances that they have the immediate right to. We live in a society where giving or accepting dowry is a punishable offence, but still exists as a widespread phenomenon. Women most times, do not have assets to their name and hence encounter a problem while applying for loans due to lack of collateral.

It is important to be aware of the schemes available through various institutions rendering financial services who also aim to incentivise women. They also need to be made aware of hidden costs and appropriate cash requirements. Traditionally, banks and government funding agencies are quite alien towards the business needs of women and are also known to be restrictive and unfriendly towards them.

Financial support should be provided to women, which could translate to low-cost start-up loans, loan funds specifically aimed at women entrepreneurs, grants for business startup or investments, made available not only for women in smaller towns and rural areas but also for women in bigger cities.

3. Lack of Access to Markets and Networking:

Four things primarily required to be a successful entrepreneur are knowledge, expertise, practice and contacts. A lot of women entrepreneurs are forced to operate on a small scale due to mobility restrictions and find it harder to be a member of professional organisations and other networks.

Furthermore, such places are inundated with male colleagues who are sometimes unwelcoming to women and not inclusive, therefore, it makes it harder for women to have access to markets. A lot of these networking activities also take place after working hours and it makes it harder for women to attend them due to familial constraints. Women also have a high fear of sexual harassment and may find themselves restricted in their ability to travel.

A constructive solution to this could be establishing more women only or women majority networks, a safe space, where a woman could enter, gain confidence and move further. Support networks should be created where they can leverage both their professional and personal lives. A good network could provide women with more access to role models to look up to. Women entrepreneurs around the world should be encouraged to share their stories, to inspire women who aspire to start up their own business.

4. Traditional Gender Roles and Societal Pressure, Balancing Family Life:

Men usually play a secondary role when handling household responsibilities. While most cultures traditionally see men as the breadwinner, the situation is changing gradually, with more men, especially in urban areas accepting responsibility in the household and the traditional image of a woman, as being a homemaker is being diluted. Sometimes, a woman who exhibits her entrepreneurial prowess is presumed as wanting to take over the leadership role from her husband. Furthermore, even from the outset, male children as usually groomed to run the family business while the female children are conveniently left out of this process, and stereotypically encouraged to follow a field that is more "creative'.

Balancing business alongside family is a challenge in itself, as it demands efficient time management as well as delegation, these skills are equally as essential when it comes to building a successful business. Many times, when a woman starts a business it is viewed by her family as a hobby or a side project to family duties, rather than an enterprising opportunity.

An efficient way to counteract these problems is by creating effective schedules and systems to manage responsibilities. It is helpful to find a support system.

5. Management Problem, Stigma Attached with men Working Under Women:

Women are perceived as aggressive, dominating and bossy where the same behaviour would be perceived as assertive and confident in male counterparts. Societal discrimination still dictates that certain businesses or tasks are better handled by men and women are generally assumed to be incompetent or less capable of performing such tasks. As a result of this societal view, many women fear that they will not be taken seriously. Moreover, when women are managing such people under them it might be harder to give instructions that are seriously followed. Often, this also results in unsolicited advice from a person who thinks they are more capable, it is essential to maintain a high level of confidence in such situations. All women who would like to be entrepreneurs are urged to develop a tough skin towards criticism. The feminine gender should not be seen as a weakness, rather it should be viewed as a strength and they should endeavour to prove themselves by striving to be better than their male competitors.

It can be very daunting and intimidating to talk business with primarily male executives. It is suggested, in situations such as this, women should have confidence in their abilities to run a business, be well prepared to explain their rationale, be prepared to answer any questions and embrace their intuition and common sense.

Women have a long way to go to achieve equal position and rights because traditions are deep-rooted in the Indian society where the sociological set up has been a male-dominated one. We have to strive to achieve the goals of equality enshrined in our constitution and take positive steps towards it.

Any entrepreneur, be it a man or a woman has to battle a number of doubts on a daily basis and to add to it there are challenges which make it extra difficult for women. It is important to actively work on nurturing your networks and seek mentorship and advice from experts, break out from the stereotype and start believing in yourself. It is also absolutely imperative to make a commitment to education, to learning as much as you can as the idea should be to be at high competence levels at all points time.

"Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism." -Oprah Winfrey

Archana Khosla

Founder Partner, Vertices Partners


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