Businesswoman reading a letter at office
Businesswoman reading a letter at office

The era of women entrepreneurship has arrived and India has witnessed a spurt of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMES) and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMES) which have taken the country by storm. However, what is disturbing is the skew when it comes to gender representation in the MSME ownership in India, with the recent Annual Report (2017-18) of the concerned ministry reporting that 79.63% of all MSMEs are male-owned.

Through various interactions with women entrepreneurs in varied sectors and stages of a business lifecycle, it is observed that many women are shying away from venturing into this male-dominated domain. While women have achieved success, there’s the other side of the story too, mainly due to factors such as self-doubt, lack of social and financial support and lack of encouragement. The solution to these issues lies in breaking mind-sets and in keeping our eyes open and minds receptive to embracing entrepreneurial opportunities that come our way.

Entrepreneurship training should start at a young age. Instilling self-confidence in young girls is critical to helping them achieve their full potential, including entrepreneurship. Many women who are high achievers suffer from the ‘impostor syndrome’, which is the feeling of doubt experienced by women that they either don’t deserve the success, or the feeling that the success had come by luck. The cultural context, the societal expectations from girls versus boys and family dynamics are some of the contributors to this syndrome.

DAPHNE PILLAI
DAPHNE PILLAI

Girls should also be encouraged to take STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Munawira Kotyad, Founder of ‘Wonderwheel  Enterprises’ an e-commerce marketplace, says, “The technology and entrepreneurship space has a lot of under-representation of women.  Most engineering offices have less than 10% women working in core technical roles and this reduces further when it comes to the tech entrepreneur space.  This can be very intimidating to girls who wish to pursue a career in these fields, as they lack female role models and mentorship.  Introducing   girls to STEM fields at a young age is a key to narrowing this gap.  Mentorship will also help break gender roles in an otherwise male dominated industry.”

But raising self-confident young girls isn’t enough. Encouraging women is equally important. This is where women’s chambers of commerce like International Women’s Federation of Commerce & Industry (IWFCI) come into the picture. With more women inclined towards entrepreneurship but not knowing where to begin, mentoring plays a significant role. Women’s organisations and Women Chambers of Commerce need to install an effective mentoring mechanism to identify and cater to such women. The business mentors should have entrepreneurial and/or consulting experience and share their business experience, the mistakes that can be made and the lessons that can be learned from them.

While one-on-one mentoring is amazing, another way to reach a much larger audience is to recount success stories of women to the general public. Encouraging women to communicate their success stories and to find forums to spread these messages will help immensely. Their stories then get retold, narrated at entrepreneurial forums, incorporated in entrepreneurship education, thereby making the diffident women feel that they too can do it and be successful.

The challenges to women entrepreneurship are several, primarily the gender bias when it comes to women taking on patriarchal structures. Vibha Venkatraman, Founder and Managing Director of ‘Helium Energy’, a Hyderabad-based enterprise shares her experience: “Many people say that there is no glass ceiling.  And that women can achieve whatever they want provided they work hard.  A common problem that arises when women give ideas at meetings is the complete lack of seriousness with which their ideas are taken.  The same idea given by a male albeit couched in different terminology is immediately welcomed as a path-breaking idea”.

Women entrepreneurs often also face challenges in the form of lack of financial support. An article on YourStory.com states that, in 2017, only 2% of Indian start-up funding were to women founders. The Government of India and several banks have micro loan schemes for women entrepreneurs and such information should be shared with them through the mentorship program.

Meena Sreenivasan, Founder of ‘Scion Social’ a Bangalore based digital marketing service says, “The biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face is reconciling the roles of career and family. It is therefore, important to prioritise on what’s important for you”. Under such circumstances, women will continue to face the challenge of balancing work, personal life and family.

The winds of change are sweeping the Indian Business space. And the way forward is to encourage and equip girls and women at a young age to grab entrepreneurial opportunities that come along. This can be done by establishing incubation hubs in educational institutions, getting access to capital and helping them overcome mindsets which inhibit them from taking the entrepreneurial leap forward.

(Daphne Pillai is an educationist and is currently the President of the International Federation of Commerce and Industry IWFCI India National Chapter)

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