Right from seemingly benevolent favours offered by male colleagues to the dismissive attitudes of (at least a few) venture capitalists, gender bias and stereotyping is a constant in the life of a working woman. If a woman is assertive, she gets labelled aggressive; if she loses her temper, she is emotional; and the worst of all – if she happens to be attractive, she has to be dumb.
Given the patriarchal mindset prevalent in our country, it is not surprising that India ranks in the bottom five among 30 countries in providing conditions that foster high potential women entrepreneurship. Although recent surveys claim that a woman entrepreneur is more successful than her male counterparts (with women-helmed companies reporting 13 per cent higher revenues than those run by men), it is sad that, in India, they are still complimented for being successful ‘despite being a woman’. They are still being asked silly, foolish and, sometimes even, deeply personal questions that are almost never posed to men regarding their careers.
We have even compiled a list of questions you need to STOP asking women who helm startups. Here’s a disclaimer: this list is based on true stories. Those (both men and women) who find these questions too familiar--yes, you are the ones we are talking to. Stop asking these questions, right now.
1. How do you manage work and home being a woman?
This tops the list of questions that women are tired of answering. Riddhi Gupta, founder of House Of Wow, a Mumbai-based cultural space, says that she is often confused which part of such a question needs to be tackled first. “Women have always been enterprising,” she says. “They are leaders today and women entrepreneurs are successful. Then why are we still being asked how we manage being a woman?” Agrees Aakanksha Gupta, founder of PR and communication agency, The Other Circle: “Most people think women are on their period all the time and we cannot deal with the stress that running a business entails!” She feels that as Indian women are ingrained into multiple roles right from childhood, they are more likely to naturally translate their ability to multitask to their workplaces.
"Women entrepreneurs are successful. Then why are we still being asked how we manage being a woman?" - Riddhi Gupta, founder House Of Wow
2. Did you start this all by yourself?
Despite the fact that solo women entrepreneurs are doing really well for themselves in India, some investors are surprised that they can shoulder the responsibility of a business alone. Most often we hear stories of women who are asked to take on a male co-founder to bring ‘balance’ to their team. Ankita Sheth, co-founder of Vista Rooms, a budget hotel aggregator, was asked by VCs to do so despite already having two male co-founders. When she questioned their idea, she was told that she would “just be a spokesperson”. “The selling, marketing and implementation would be done by the men. This was an insult to my capabilities,” Ankita told The Economic Times. It has been proved time and again that women are better multitaskers and more enterprising than men, then why are you still surprised by their success?
3. Is your husband/parents/in-laws okay with you working this late?
Shuchi Pandya, CEO and co-founder of Pipa+Bella, a fashion e-commerce website, says someone once asked her how her husband managed to have dinner when she worked late. What needs to change are the mindsets of those who believe that “making money, coming late and networking” are all okay as long as it is done by men, says Aakanksha. It is unfair that women who socialise and network are judged as having a loose character and men who do it are applauded for being a good team player.
4. What is going to happen when you get married/have children?
When Aarti Gill, co-founder of Fit Circle, a chat-based fitness startup, asked the investor why it should bother him, he said it would impact the business if she got married in the next few months and her priorities changed after he had made the investment. “I am an IITian. I went to a top business school like INSEAD, came back to India and have been working hard for the past three years. So the last thing you can question is my commitment to business,” she was quoted by The Economic Times. The answer to this question is NOTHING, says Shuchi. “Why are men never asked this? Aren’t they equally responsible for the well-being of their children?
"The answer to this question is NOTHING" - Shuchi Pandya, CEO and co-founder of Pipa+Bella
5. Can you be a man when needed?
We are not men; we cannot be men and neither do we aspire to be men. According to Keith Merron, senior associate at Gender Intelligence Group, a consulting firm specialising in gender diversity: “Men have linear thought processes and are more narrow in their focus. They break down problems into their component parts and solve it. Women see a problem holistically and come up with an understanding of that situation without needing to know what all the parts are. When it comes to problem solving – particularly in business – you need a balance of both perspectives.” So the next time you meet a man who helms a startup, ask him if he can be a woman when needed.
This list is far from complete, with women claiming that they could write complete theses on this topic. So, the next time you think of asking a woman entrepreneur something, just see if your question passes this quick test - Would you ask the same question to a man?