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With just 9pc of startup founders being women, India still has a long way to go

Parvathi Nambiar
17th Sep 2016
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India, the land of rich culture, many gods, vibrant and bustling cities.... and underemployed and unemployed women. The number of women participating in the urban labour force has been shockingly stagnant, at around 18 percent since 1987 (National Sample Survey, 2013). However, the Census 2011 indicated that the number of women receiving post graduate degree in India rose by 116 percent in 10 years. This was almost twice the number of men graduating with a master's degree. Why are these numbers so skewed? Why aren’t women using their education to contribute to the Indian economy?

yourstory_WomenInVC

Is India lacking in opportunities for women?

India's GDP has increased six times since 1987 but the proportion of women participating in labour has remained the same. Culturally, Indian women are groomed and taught to be exemplary home-makers but how many of them are introduced to the idea of being a successful CEOs or a business person? Indians place education amongst the top qualities that they would want in their daughters and daughters-in-law. A degree is treated with much respect and pride, but when it comes to using this degree to earn a living, women are often discouraged and advised to concentrate on taking care of the family.

With the rising GDP and an incredible amount of FDIs coming to India, employment opportunities aplenty but the number of skilled professionals applying to them are few. Nasscom recently stated that only 25 percent of employees were women in tech companies in India. And in the nascent yet large startup ecosystem in India, only nine percent of startup founders are women. This gap is largely cultural than anything else. In Silicon Valley, the proportion of women entrepreneurs grew from 9.5 percent in 2009 to 18 percent in 2014.

No amount of data in India can justify Indian women's low representation in the startup ecosystem. Even though the opportunities are infinite, the execution is alarmingly low. Women in India are nurtured in a way that even before they’re married, they are led to subconsciously believe that their future responsibilities will override their personal goals. The woman, therefore, has to challenge her own preconceived beliefs about her role in the family and the society.

“Why do you need to work when your husband has a great job?”

Women are frequently bombarded with leading and pressured questions: 'Why do you want to take such a big risk?' 'Don’t you already have a job that pays you one lakh a month?' 'What about your child? Why are you being so selfish?' 'Have you thought what your mother-in-law will go through alone in the house?' 'Who is going to put dinner on the table for your husband? You don’t want a stranger doing that now, do you?'

It’s high time the mindset of the society changed by actively promoting and encouraging women to consider career options. We also are in dire need of a community that is 'pro-choice' for women. Encourage her to pursue personal goals!

For a driven, passionate woman, such questions risk throwing her off balance and driving her to thinking that she faces a high risk of failure, and at what cost? Her marriage? Her children? We are at an unfortunate progressive juncture where we are judged for getting married early, for getting married late, for picking career over family and for picking family over career. These challenges don’t seem to go away and the only way women can break the shackles of judgement in our society is by empowering themselves to make their own decisions.

Women and the Indian corporate

In India, 30 percent of corporate management and decision-making roles comprises of women and this is is higher than the global ratio of 24 percent (Forbes, 2015). Also, as per the latest census report, a rise of 196 percent was observed in the number of women graduating with professional and technical degrees between 2001 and 2011. This stands testament to the value that could be created by encouraging Indian women to build their own companies. Enterprise building for a woman has interestingly been compared to giving birth to a child and bringing them up. It requires as much patience, time, care, nurturing, and most importantly, love, to see its birth and its eventual growth. Entrepreneurship was and never will be deemed easy, irrespective of who picks it as a career choice. What’s necessary is the drive to create something that has value and a support system that will help you keep going.

Clinically, women are proven to be more nurturing and compassionate (PewResearch 2008). It’s likelier for women to build trusting, long-lasting relationships and this can be highly beneficial when it comes to building a company.

Entrepreneurial women in India have transcended cultural and professional boundaries by setting up successful companies. Neeru Sharma co-founded Infibeam, India’s first publicly listed e-commerce company. Despite having an MBA from one of the world’s top universities and a relatively easier path to accomplishing cliched career goals, she embraced her entrepreneurial dream to become one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in India. Sabina Chopra, with 16 years of experience in operations, delivery, and customer service, co-founded Yatra.com. Chopra overcame the challenges women face in the Indian cultural ecosystem and put her experience into practice to place Yatra.com on the travel and leisure radar.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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