Indian society has been guilty of treating women unfairly for thousands of years and while there has been some progress, it is slow and unsteady. Even though India is the home to more than 100 unicorn startups, a lot of women entrepreneurs are still struggling to find the right framework and support system to grow and sustain their businesses. Our cultural biases bleed into the business sector as well causing unfavourable growth conditions for women entrepreneurs. While many issues plague the sector, here are the three main challenges that some entrepreneurs face in the startup Indian economy -
1. Financial issue - A strong financial foothold is crucial to say the first 3 years at least of any startup. From getting the product just right to test the waters, any new business needs to have enough in the coiffure to last the first few turbulent years. A major encumbrance for women startup founders is access to funding. As per Makers India Report 2020 (YS) – the State of Women in Tech Entrepreneurship in India, of the total funding of $1.69 female-founded startups received only 1.43%. The underrepresentation of women in business including in the start-up economy and the thousands of years of gender bias often leads to less financial help not only from the funding sector but also from the family. More often than not, a lack of rights on familial property and a lack of extra resources of silos of income add to this problem.
2. Unreal expectations of work-family balance - Starting a business and toiling to grow it from scratch comes with a lot of hindrances and challenges, even more so if you are a woman. Being a woman in business is a layered problem that comprises everything from access to funds, socioeconomic status and cultural outlook. Painted with the traditional gender roles, women are expected to put their families first. They are expected to multi-task and excel at everything when it comes to the home front. From being the perfect wife to a great mother to an exemplary homemaker, women are often tied to these roles. Amidst these unreal expectations, if a few of them do dare to venture into the world of business, they are still held accountable for their mountain of duties on the home front. With little to no support from the family and an uncooperative environment, as opposed to the men in business, it is that much more difficult for women to start and maintain their businesses.
3. Lack of exposure and networking — a Majority of industries, especially in India are male-dominated. Running a successful business not only requires a great idea/product but also the right networking. Restricted access to professional networks is one of the major challenges that women face in the startup ecosystem in India. Conditioned by patriarchy, the professional networks too, are usually dominated by men making it difficult for women entrepreneurs to access these opportunities to find investors, collaborators, incubators etc. From the inception of a product to rolling it out to making your mark, an entrepreneur's journey is one of constant learning and evolution. A lack of access to the right ecosystem, business community and mentors, impedes their growth. To further this issue, the lack of education also plays a major role in keeping women from achieving their dream. The majority of women in India do not have access to higher education and the professional experience of working in an industry as opposed to men leaving women to fend for themselves in an unleveled playfield.
The startup ecosystem in India needs to support women entrepreneurs. From cultivating social acceptance to building a collaborative environment, there need to be provisions in place to help women entrepreneurs grow.
(The writer Anika Parashar is Founder and CEO at The Woman’s Company)