Why Celebrate 'Women's Entrepreneurship Day'? Indian Unicorns' Women Founders Tell Us Good Glamm Group co-founder Priyanka Gill, Mamaearth co-founder Ghazal Alagh, LEAD co-founder Smita Deorah, Nykaa co-founder Adwaita Nayar, and Pristyn Care co-founder Dr Garima Sawhney are among India's leading entrepreneurs
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All social justice movements aimed at empowering historically marginalised groups, including women, abide by two sacrosanct schemes: representation and inspiration. 'Women's Entrepreneurship Day', celebrated around the world on November 19 every year, is no exception.
While the history of women contributing to the world's economy as innovative entrepreneurs is a tale as old as time, the history of this particular day is fairly recent and a consequence of the United Nations recognising the work of WEDO, a not-for-profit organisation that works towards "igniting a network of women leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs" to drive economic expansion, bring awareness to the 250 million women living in poverty and inspire the 4 billion women populating the planet.
"A day like Women Entrepreneurship Day is definitely a good idea as it brings focus to the great work women are doing as entrepreneurs and also encourages and inspires other women to take the plunge and start their own businesses," says Priyanka Gill, co-founder, Good Glamm Group.
A Special Day For Women Entrepreneurs. Fair or Unfair?
Like other movements that draw special focus to a particular community, such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the Me Too movement, Women's Entrepreneurship Day similarly perplexes some people who question the intent, rationale and "fairness" of honoring women alone, rather than all entrepreneurs. Further, even within the community of women entrepreneurs, often there is reluctance against being defined so markedly by one's gender rather than professional abilities, something that feminists have long battled.
The answer to these conundrums, according to Gill, is simple: positive discrimination brings visibility, which in turn brings change. "It's great to celebrate entrepreneurs, be it male or female. Given that there is a significant disparity in the percentages of male and female entrepreneurs, not just in India, but globally today, we need to be visibly supporting women entrepreneurship as much as possible," she says.
She continues, "True equality for women in the workplace as both employees and business owners would be ideal. However, until such a time arrives, special notice and steps need to be taken to encourage more women to start up or excel in their professions. As more and more young women see female entrepreneurs being celebrated, it will give them the hope and encouragement they need to one day be entrepreneurs themselves or being at the top of their profession." You can't be who you can't see, Gill rightly points out.
Women Empowerment Beyond Superficial Tokenism
Recognition and celebration, as potent as they are, can only do so much, especially if they remain tokenistic tactics alone. In order to extend the learnings of Women's Entrepreneurship Day from a mere 24-hour period to the rest of the year, companies must instititue the right progressive policies for affirmative action in both hiring and administrative practices. For instance, startups such as Swiggy, Byju's and Zomato have introduced menstrual leaves in recent time to destigmatise as well as regard with due seriousness the severity of period pain that is routinely dismissed not only by society in general but even medical practitioners, despite multiple studies advocating attention, care and empathy for all menstruators regardless of their gender.
"As a responsible organization, we understand that women's participation in the workforce is crucial for India's economic resilience. Thus, we are going the extra mile to adopt women-friendly HR policies to boost their engagement by giving them extended maternity benefits, medical health cover for their family and supportive managers and supervisors. Furthermore, we acknowledge that women-centric endeavours can significantly contribute to addressing their woes and making them a part of the mainstream without fear or hestitation," states Dr Garima Sawhney, co-founder, Pristyn Care.
"In our organization, we ensure that for every job opportunity there is an equal number of CVs across genders and then it's all about abilities and experience. I strongly believe women don't need to be treated differently, they need to be treated equally," notes Ghazal Alagh, co-founder, Mamaearth.
'Move With The Times': Redefining Womanhood
At a time of growing queer activism in the world, companies are learning to not only adopt LGBTQIA+ friendly policies but also expand their horizons vis a vis the conception of 'womanhood' to treat transgender women and non-binary folx with empathy and flexibility. While there isn't yet a consensus in society at large between essentialist and anti-essentialist approaches to femininity, with the latter regarding both gender and even biological sex as 'constructs', entrepreneurs are beginning to welcome new ideas which challenge their conventional worldviews.
"I feel it's important to move with the times and be more accepting of the newer ways of life and identity. While there exists a school of thought which defines gender strictly in terms of biology, one mustn't ignore the physical, psychological and emotional journey of an individual. While I haven't yet directly worked with a person who identifies themselves as transgender or non-binary, if I meet a professional who identifies themselves as he, she or they, I will of course respect their chosen identity and look forward to some great work with them," explains Gill.
Battling Struggles With Strength
Given that the world of business is largely populated by men in various professional roles, women in the workforce, especially entrepreneurs among them, inevitably contend with challenges on a daily basis. "I did face resistance when we started on our journey with Mamaearth. One instance that I remember was when I had to connect with vendors and suppliers. Being a male-dominated sector, it was challenging to build a relationship with them. While the start was rough, we have been able to build long-term relationships with our vendors and suppliers," shares Alagh.
According to Smita Deorah, co-founder, LEAD, the lack of familial support for women is another factor that negatively impacts their professional contributions: "Some of the challenges that women in the workforce across sectors continue to face today include not having enough support from their parents/spouses towards their careers, and having to contend with a disproportionate share of home and childcare responsibilities."
She, however, notes a positive change emerging in recent time. "There has been a significant shift in the last decade, with more women finding ways to balance their personal and professional lives, and a growing contribution of men towards child care responsibilities. It is a very promising trend and I hope that Women's Entrepreneurship Day and the resulting conversations around diversity in entrepreneurship inspire more women in our country to step forward and play a bigger role in nation-building," elaborates Deorah.
Indeed, supportive family members who value female entrepreneurship have empowered Indian women to erect towering business empires, a case in point being popular e-commerce platform Nykaa that was founded by mother-daughter duo Falguni and Adwaita Nayar almost a decade ago. Nayar junior today is one the most prominent women entrepreneurs in India and finds ultimate inspiration in her mother, Falguni Nayar, the former managing director of the Kotak Mahindra Group.
"Mum is my all-time favourite icon; she is the ultimate risk-taker and I love her passion for life. After a long successful career as an investment banker, she quit her job to try something new. I was excited by the prospect to follow in her footsteps and join Nykaa," says Adwaita Nayar. Her story demonstrates the power of inspiration. In essence, that is what Women's Entrepreneurship Day is all about.