Challenges Women face as entrepreneurs
May I ask, how many successful women entrepreneurs can you name?
Even though the statistics about women’s participation in public life has gone through a lot of positive changes since the beginning of this century, women are still terribly under-represented in various industries, business and entrepreneurship being one of them!
Highlights of the Sixth Economic Census, as released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, says that women constitute only 14% of the total 58.5 million entrepreneurs in India. While this situation is mostly common to all developing countries, it is slightly better at least on paper in the developed ones. For instance, 40% of businesses in US are owned by Women and generates around USD 1.8 trillion a year in revenue, according to Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
But what we fail to take into account is that the theory and practical aspects of this are widely inconsistent.
Women entrepreneurs across the globe have concurred on the fact that it is exceptionally more difficult for them to raise funds from investors, than their male counterparts.
The general consensus amongst them is that it primarily occurs due to a deep-seated and inherent gender bias, which is prevalent in almost all workplaces, across all industries.
A survey conducted by HSBC Private Banking titled She's The Business reports that more than one-third of women fall victim to this gender bias when raising capital for their businesses. This is however not the only or even the single most concerning challenge that a woman, looking to set up and run her own business has to face. The prevalent work culture, society’s love for stereotypical gender roles and the fact that women’s work is often considered to be ‘just a hobby’ or a ‘part-time thing’ also adds on to the issues that women have to overcome in order to be successful.
Here are some major reasons why the world of female entrepreneurs is a tough one, filled with obstacles and trials:
Defying social expectations
However unreal it seems to read it, it is the truth that society at large still believes that women belong to their homes and not in the workplace, and in most office spaces male employees far outnumber female ones, which is a rather unnerving circumstance for any woman trying to make it big.
Many female entrepreneurs have reportedly had to assume more masculine attitudes, projecting a more harsh and aggressive nature in order to be taken seriously in the workplace, which has nothing to do with exercising their talent.
HBR.org studies also indicate that in elevator pitch competitions, masculinity is preferred and masculine traits appreciated more, thus putting anyone demonstrating stereotypically feminine behaviours like warmth and expressiveness, regardless of their gender, are at a natural disadvantage.
It's not that all startup founders need investors to kickstart their business, but it's definitely way more difficult for women to get investments if they so require.
A recent research by Harvard Business Review found that only 15% of companies receiving venture capital investment have a woman on their executive team and less than 3% have a woman CEO.
Even the loan approval rates for women are far lesser than that of men and banks also demand greater collateral from them, which is entirely counterproductive to the very concept of a loan.
Owning your accomplishments
It is often seen that women in leadership roles tend to downplay their qualities and talents, which may be an unconscious effort to placate the patriarchal system and structure prevalent in the financial sector.
It is essential for any successful business to have a robust support network. But it really should not come as a surprise that half of female entrepreneurs reported a lack of advisors and mentors, which hampers their professional growth by quite a big margin.
Balancing business and family life
The age-old idea is that a woman’s true destiny is at home and homemaking is where her true talent and interests lie. They are more docile and nurturing and thus the caregivers and not the breadwinners. Though this mindset is changing gradually, a discrimination on the basis of gender roles is still widely prevalent, which may even be unconsciously perpetrated.
The woman is expected to quit her job in order to take care of her family and never the man. On the other hand, a woman’s commitment to a job is also often under scrutiny because investors and potential clients are also apprehensive of the fact that they might abandon ship midway ‘to start a family.’
They often have to make private aspects of their lives - like how many children they have or wish to have, who manages the children and whether there’s any familial support available - public, though these are in no way indicators of their capabilities.
Bridging the Gap
The very idea of bridging the gender gap is easier said than done, because this requires not only a cooperative environment, infrastructure and system but to a greater extent re-evaluation of the ‘tradition’ in our societies and an understanding as to how it is patriarchal in nature, not providing women with space and scope required to succeed. An India based study by International Monetary Fund showed that measures to close the gender gap could lead to a 6-8% gain in India’s GDP.
If you are a womanpreneur, there are however some ways in which women can amplify their presence and importance in the industry.
Take no prisoners and never be ashamed of your stance, if it's a rightfully earned one. Standing in the 21st century it is essential for all women to believe that they belong here, not by hook or crook but as a result of their efforts and talents and thus they deserve to be heard.
As is the case in all types of business, communication is key to building a successful one. A clear vision, a functional feedback and redressal mechanism along with sound communication amongst with and amongst your team is the best possible way to ensure a company’s growth.
It is a known culture in businesses to help out ‘their own’ That is why we often see firms recruiting from specific institutes, in an effort to create a workforce who share the same kind of ethos. Similarly, reaching out to women investors and women run incubation centres will strengthen the community as a whole. Besides that, it is best to approach the market as a collective instead of competitors, so as to pull each other up.
There will always be some people who are not your genuine well-wishers and it is on you to not take their words of discouragement to heart. Believe in your and your teams’ talents and move forward. It is best to ignore people who are more often than not less capable than you in your field of interest.
Even though we are far away from the best possible work environment for women, there are some organisations and platforms and institutions that provide much-needed support and assistance to women entrepreneurs.
Always remember how hard you have worked for this to come to fruition, and all the challenges and obstacles you have overcome already. Remember that you are worthy to lead the company on your own terms, be confident of your skills and have faith in your own talents.
Rejections can be hard and that is true for everyone. But don’t get disheartened, and try to learn from them as the feedback received from these rejections are some of the most valuable feedback that you will ever receive. Use that to your advantage to be better.
“Follow your passion — and if you don’t know what it is, realise that one reason for your existence on earth is to find it.” — Oprah Winfrey