Opportunities & Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs in Tech Start-ups
Indian history is replete with names of great women leaders. Charismatic, modern Indian women are all over the system taking important job roles in almost every sector. Their immense passion for their work, the drive for excellence in their jobs, and the change they are bringing about in society is taking them to the pinnacle of their game. Women are not only succeeding in the fields of arts, commerce, politics, and business, but also in science and Information Technology (IT).
By contrast, this was not always the image India portrayed. Nearly two decades ago, “technology” and “women” were rarely spoken in the same breath. As a matter of fact, very few thought that women, who seemed relegated to doing home chores, would make it to the entrepreneur world, especially in technology.
IT was always a male-dominated sphere. All fanfare and credit for entrepreneurship and business was given to men because of the immense hard work they invested in building their brands. Even society and media gave impetus to their success-and-failure stories because women were never forthcoming with telling the world that they had similar or better capabilities to do the same job. This was also a major reason why women thriving in cottage industries like producing pickles, hand woven sarees, shawls, paintings, and other crafts never got the same coverage.
With time, women have grown bolder in bringing their ideas to the world. Today, things are gaining momentum for women, who are not only venturing into multiple business arenas, but working with perseverance to establish and coach society in building brand-worthy initiatives.
Lucrative career and technologically intense options such as IT, Software Engineering, and hardcore subjects like Rocket Science were dominated by men, and it was some time before these fields began to accept women. New-age, career-oriented women like Sunita Williams, the late Kalpana Chawla, and Tessy Thomas broke the myth of women not being technologically inclined. However, even today, women continue to face challenges in male-dominated sectors.
While a lot of initiatives are being taken to encourage women entrepreneurs in technology, tech startups owned by women entrepreneurs are always regarded with scepticism. Can a woman run an organisation as efficiently as a man? This question is always served up to every woman entrepreneur in a client or investor meet, along with doubts about whether she will make it big, and whether IT is a woman’s thing at all. The overall portrayal of women in the field of technology entrepreneurship and IT hints at her being “less worthy” of this role compared with male counterparts.
From Kitchen to Cabin
The transition of women from kitchen to entrepreneur’s chair has been a long and full of hardship. In the 60s and 70s, sending a girl to colleges far away from home for a technical education was a huge stride many refused to take. For instance, when my dad was in Engineering College in 1967, there was only one woman in an entire batch of 2,000 male engineering aspirants. After almost 27 years, when I joined the same engineering college in 1994, the stats were still not encouraging as there were 60 women in an entire batch of close to 2,500 male engineering aspirants. Even today, only about 30 per cent of the IT sector is made up of women. It may come to you as a surprise that developed nations like Japan also have fewer women participating in tech jobs. Another alarming statistic is the number of patents filed in the sector of science and technology by women. The year 2014 reported 3,044 patents filed in India, of which 0.50 per cent were women, which mean 99.5 per cent of the patents were filed by men.
Even though many women are now seen acquiring high-ranking designations in the IT Industry and successfully venturing into their own tech startups, one of the biggest challenges they face is proving that they have the same level of technical expertise as men. It is a pre-conceived notion, worldwide, that women are not cut out to handle jobs that are technically demanding. For women techies, writing the complex part of an algorithm or designing system software may not be as challenging as it is to fight this prejudice.
The silver lining is that even after all these notions, prejudices, and challenges, women are proudly making their mark in IT and business sectors. There are many successful tech organisations solely run by women leaders. Women entrepreneurs are developing world-class applications and rendering unique IT solutions all over India.
More women are coming up as thought leaders and industry experts, and even the Government is proactively encouraging women-led organisations to flourish in India and generate funds through schemes like Stand-up India CGF. IMADE, another government initiative, is a great platform for women to develop mobile apps for their businesses.