Why women leaders can make a huge difference to the Indian startup ecosystem

The Indian startup ecosystem is constantly evolving and creating more opportunities for women to assume leadership roles must be a key focus area for organisations going forward.

Why women leaders can make a huge difference to the Indian startup ecosystem

Tuesday February 25, 2020,

5 min Read

“One of the secret sauce[s] of Alibaba’s success is that we have lot of women. Out of the 18 founders in Alibaba, six are women, accounting for one-third of the total numbers of founders,” said Jack Ma, Founder of the world’s most successful e-commerce company, Alibaba. This quote is widely shared in the startup ecosystem globally and in India, where not many women were part of the ecosystem about a decade ago.

But as we enter a new decade, things are changing and the Indian startup ecosystem is recognising the value that women can bring to the table. These changes have not occurred overnight though. The number of women-founded startups are on the rise along with an increase in number of women in the leadership or CXO roles.

women in leadership

While most of the changes can be attributed to compliance and regulatory needs of companies to maintain gender diversity in the team and on the company’s board, many startups are taking cognisance of the fact that women leaders can bring a huge difference to the way organisations are being run.

Tech-based start-ups are hiring more women for following reasons:

  1. More women opting for STEM courses.
  2. Women considered to be more focused, disciplined and goal-oriented.
  3. Women better at handling stress and pressure.
  4. Women better at multi-tasking.
  5. Retention rate is higher for women if mentored well. According to research conducted worldwide, women have been more successful in improving profits. Example, at the time of Indra Nooyi taking charge as CEO at PepsiCo, the company’s profit was $2.7 billion; under her leadership it rose to $6.5 billion in a year.
  6. Women tend to be more process-oriented
  7. Women are more empathetic, and compassionate—important attributes needed to be a good leader.

The Indian startup ecosystem, which is much younger and vibrant with no legacy problems, has also taken into consideration the various challenges faced by women and created solutions such as introduction of flexi timings, and drop and pick-up facilities.

Several startups have gone ahead and introduced a menstrual leave policy as well as provided for paternity leave in order to retain and maintain gender diversities. Many have introduced re-skilling and upskilling and other employee engagement initiatives, especially for women, to mentor them for leadership roles. Skill development facilitates high productivity, increased employment opportunities, and higher income, according to various research reports.

However, despite all the efforts of the startup ecosystem, the representation of women in the top leadership position is still minuscule.

According to data collated by startup research and analytics firm Tracxn, 27 tech companies were founded in 2018. Of this seven had at least one woman as a co-founder, which is about 26 percent. In 2017, 53 companies were founded of which only 10, had female co-founders, which makes about 18 percent.

According to a survey conducted by the Reserve Bank of India between November 2018 and April 2019, only 5.9 percent of all startups had only-female founders and 43 percent had both male and female founders.

While there is hardly any data to prove that women-led startups are more successful and profitable than men-only run and led start-ups, here are few points that show how women at top positions create a difference.

Revenue and profitability

It is widely perceived that women are good with managing finances. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, in a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries, have found that women at the C-Suite level significantly increase net margins by a percentage point compared to companies with no female leaders.


If India has to become a $5 trillion economy, companies need to hire more female workers. This also mean the companies making a paradigm shift in the work culture and with female in CXO/senior leadership positions, the task becomes easy. Female founders or more females at C-suite levels make women employees feel safe. Issues about sexual harassment gets resolved faster and there are lesser number of harassment cases reported. According to a survey by startup Kool Kanya, 60 percent of women felt that their co-workers weren’t friendly, respectful, and professional at work. And 54 percent felt there was no robust implementation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) policy due to a lack of women at CXO levels.


Out-of-the-box strategies for an inclusive growth and retention of an employee. Swati Bhargava, Founder of Cashkaro, ensures to have lunch with at least one female employee every week to understand the latter’s pain points, challenges, and progress in the company. This helps build long-term relationships and is a great strategy for talent retention.

Women leaders also understand the fact that work-life balance is crucial and hence work towards the introduction of flexi working hours, menstrual leave, etc. Also, companies are holding events to create awareness for the families of their employees and making them understand their daughter or daughter-in-law’s role in an organisation. Only women leaders can come up with something like this. Startups with female leaders also have witnessed a reducing gap in pay disparity.


While it is all good to talk about more women should be entering the workforce, the big question is, where are all the women?

Indian women at lower and mid-levels are less aspirational and low risk takers, with societal pressures partly to blame. She feels that women at leadership positions should and can create a huge difference in uplifting other women and keep pushing them to do better.

Process and operations

Startups are constantly working under pressure from investors and customers. Many a times, they need to pivot and move on if a certain strategy doesn’t work. In such as scenario, women leaders can come to the rescue as they are resilient to emotional ups and downs as compared to their male counterparts.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)

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