Women entrepreneurs have been around for a long time, but not celebrated as much as they run and manage businesses. In many cases, the financial needs of the family have pushed women into starting a business. In some cases, family-owned by businesses are headed by women. In very few cases they have started a business from scratch and made it into a large corporate entity. One example of this is Shahnaz Hussain who created a beauty empire and the world sat up and noticed. Another illustrious example is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw who built India’s largest publicly traded bio-pharmaceutical company. But why are there so few examples of women entrepreneurs who have become global business leaders?
What is it that holds women back from starting a business and making it big? Why aren’t women entrepreneurs earning what they are worth?
It is very easy to put it down to the patriarchal nature of the Indian society, which makes it difficult for women to step out and take risks. But times are changing, women are getting better education, entering the corporate world, and reaching the top echelons in some leading companies. If you listen to the successful women entrepreneurs talk about their journey, you will hear again and again how gender does not have a role to play; it is their determination and perseverance, which led them to where they are now.
If I look at my own journey, coming from male-dominated Bihari community to a male-dominated investment banking industry to finally entrepreneurship, it has been quite an evolutionary journey. But that story is for another time.
What is important is how women let circumstances impact them. What is also important is the choices they make. There has been no better time than now for women to step out and build business empires. Hence, it is important for us women to not let traditional mindsets hold us back from achieving more. Let us look at 10 specific areas where women need to break free from our traditional way of thinking.
Home and children are the responsibility of women – Sorry, women are not solely responsible for running the home and taking care of children. Both partners should share equal responsibility. Children need attention from both parents to develop well. So women need to start seeing this as a shared responsibility. I don’t mean that women should neglect home and children, but they should stop feeling guilty if work keeps them away from home sometimes. Children with working mothers tend to be more independent and self-reliant, which are desirable traits. Let them see you as successful individuals and draw inspiration from you. Running a business requires you to be willing to travel at the drop of a hat. Figure out a system that works at home for such situations so that you don’t feel shackled.
My husband’s work is more important than mine – Work is important, period. Whether it’s your job or business or your husband’s job or business, it is important. The gender of a person does not and should not determine the importance of work. Work requires professional commitment, which they must be willing to give for them to be taken seriously.
I am not into business to make money – Creating any business requires vision and a higher calling. The business leader needs to be able to inspire others to work towards this goal. But money is actually a tangible measure of business success. Without the focus on making money, the business will never break out of a hand to mouth existence and then eventually drain the entrepreneur, both financially and psychologically. Women need to take their own work seriously and plan as to how much money the business will make and how.
I can never grow my kitchen enterprise into a proper company – Every business starts small but grows over time into something big. What is needed is the ambition to grow big and think big. A lot of times women think that they will not be able to raise money or to hire large teams so they restrict their business to only as much as they think they can handle. While I agree that it is challenging for women entrepreneurs to raise money, it is not impossible. Once women snap out of this mindset and start looking around, they will find avenues for raising money. If women articulate their vision well, they will definitely find others to work with them in fulfilling that vision.
I am very good at what I make or do but I am not good at sales – Selling is at the core of any business. The day customers stop coming is the day the business closes down. So whether women like it or not, it is important to focus on sales. Whether they believe it or not, each one of them can sell. Think back to the time in college when you wanted a new phone or wanted to go out for a late night party and convinced your parents. You sold an idea. Fear of sales is actually a fear of hearing ‘no’. Learn how to get over this fear and start selling and negotiating.
I am not good at networking, it feels very sleazy – Sometimes women’s ideas about such things are so much influenced by movies or television. Networking is not about going out for late night parties and drinking, However, it is more about making a professional connection, creating an impact, and maintaining that relationship over time. Believe me, it is very important to network and have mentors who can guide you when you are stuck.
I can’t take time off to go for a training programme – Nobody is responsible for your personal development other than you. When women start a business and make it grow, they need to constantly keep updating our skills to handle different situations. If women don’t invest in training themselves, they will have to learn by trial and error, which sometimes can be quite costly. Instead, invest in yourself. Take up every opportunity to learn in a formal set up.
I find it hard to say no – Women are socialised into being nice, polite, and agreeable. However, they need to accept that time is the greatest resource at their disposal and learn to value their own time. Women need to learn to be firm and say no when things don’t make sense or take away from their productivity. They need to learn to stop being nice to everyone at the cost of our business.
Oh this is nothing, I could not have done this without the support of my family – Women so often tend to belittle their own accomplishments and give credit to others. Agreed that a supportive family helps, but it is the hard work and perseverance of the women entrepreneurs that takes them places. Women need to learn to take credit and recognition where it is due. Women also need to learn to promote themselves. P.T. Barnum, the celebrated American circus owner and entertainment impresario, rightly said – “Without promotion something terrible happens… nothing!”
I always have the choice of dropping this and going back to managing my home – When women give themselves this choice, they take away their determination and perseverance. No business can be created without determination and perseverance. There will be many obstacles in their way, there will be many conflicts. It is their ability to think independently and critically that will help them get over obstacles. Conflict is not necessarily bad. If they can avoid taking conflict personally, it is actually a way to get better decisions and better results. “You never fail until you stop trying,” said Albert Einstein.
This list can actually go much longer, but these are some of the key traditional mindsets that need to change so that women can make their mark as entrepreneurs. And believe me, we can!
About the Author – Sonali Sinha is the Founder and CEO of SoaringEagles Learning. During her twenty years of experience in the investment banking, consulting and social sectors, she realised that there is a dearth of skill building initiatives for youth and women in India. Based on these insights, she set up SoaringEagles Learning which is addressing skill building in an innovative fashion.