Most of us, especially women, have been raised with the idea of a ‘stable, well-paying’ job fed over and over again into our heads. In many social circles, it is still spoken of as the ultimate measure of success among youngsters. We go to school thinking of how to get into the best colleges; graduate thinking of how to land the best jobs; only to be pushed into the whole labyrinth of marriage, children and the infamous art of ‘settling down’. There are many examples of women being their own bosses and leading innovative business entirely on their own. However, the numbers are not that encouraging. According to the Gender-GEDI Index, India ranks in the bottom five of 30 countries which were surveyed for conditions that foster ‘high potential’ women entrepreneurship. Women are also found to take lower risks than men and are most often overlooked by venture capitalists. Moreover, only nine of every 100 entrepreneurs in India are women.
To bring about an increase in the number of women choosing to start up on their own and to encourage those who are waiting to take the plunge, it is important that girls, right from a young age, are taught about entrepreneurship. Instead of teaching them math, science and accounting to be able to work for a big company or to secure their dream job, turn the table around and empower them to be able to become effective leaders. Rebeka Epstein, founder of Glamtrepreneur, a social startup that strives to educate more girls about entrepreneurship, says, “It is important to teach girls about entrepreneurship, so that as they go through life and see voids, injustices or things that could be done better, they take responsibility to make changes.” It is clear why you need to educate girls on living their dreams, but what should you teach them about being a successful entrepreneur? Here are a few things you could start off with:
It is common for assertive women to be called bossy or dominating. It is no wonder then that a study at Carnegie Mellon University found that while 57 percent of graduating professional students firmly negotiated their initial offers, only seven percent of women did. Women usually shy away from asking for what they deserve or from making their voices heard for the fear of being judged and labelled. This has to change. Teach girls to be more assertive, speak up for themselves and say no to what they think is not right. Women fear being singled out in the future owing to their assertive behaviour. But a recent study suggests that women who spoke up at work were perceived as better leaders.
Entrepreneurs are required to take important decisions at every juncture in their career. Teach girls the importance of taking big decisions and having the courage to stand by them. You can train them by encouraging them to make decisions about small things that affect them in the home and school setting. Right from the colour of the dress they wear to the kind of food they eat, ask their opinion and make it known that what they have to say is valued. Respect their opinion, but do not be afraid to disagree. Girls need to learn not just how to make a decision, they need to know how to justify it or deal with a valid disagreement. Teach them how to be balanced in their outlook, not opinionated, and tell them why it is important to be honest to others. Many entrepreneurs have admitted that they struggle with making even small decisions at work for the fear of being wrong.
Do not let your girls think that being an entrepreneur means giving up on your family or staying single all their lives. Instead of feeding them with stereotypes about women and marriage, let them know that both entrepreneurship and marriage are matters of choice. They are not mutually exclusive and it is not impossible to run a successful business while also having a good family life. Tell them never to let anyone make them decide between having a career or a personal life. And, teach them never to settle for someone less smart than them and never to limit their own professional growth for the sake of ‘finding the right one’. According to a study by Georgia State University, the number of self-employed married women is double that of single women, but single women are driving the growth in entrepreneurial growth. So it really doesn’t matter if you are married or single if you choose to be an entrepreneur. Do not make them think that the purpose of a woman’s life is to get married. Let them take their own decisions about things that affect them.
There are many extraordinary women entrepreneurs who followed their passion and make money out of it. Let girls know of such successful people through articles, film, television and other means. Point out to them their achievements and encourage them to learn as much as possible from them. Such role models need not always be women; even successful men can serve as examples of how hard work and passion can lead to success. If you are a woman entrepreneur, take the time to interact with young girls, share your personal story, send positive messages about entrepreneurship and encourage them to follow their dreams by showing them the way or mentoring them.
It is important that we raise a generation of youngsters who are brave enough to take risks, follow their passions and strive to bring about a positive difference in the world. Starting at a young age helps instil entrepreneurial skills more deeply and make them realise the importance of being independent. Entrepreneurship is in itself a life skill, so encourage young girls to pick it up and lead them to success.