Gone are the days when women were considered weak and were scared to go into unknown territory. A rising trend is observed in entrepreneurship as women-owned businesses are garnering massive growth and popularity. Some names like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon, Vineeta Singh of Sugar Cosmetics, Namita Thapar of Emcure Pharma, Ghazal Alagh of Mamaearth, Falguni Nayar of Nykaa are a few of the names that come to mind showcasing India’s successful self-made women entrepreneurs.
However, everything is not easy and women running their businesses is no exception. Numerous challenges, personal and professional, have held women back and continue to hold them back in business despite them having the necessary aptitude, resilience, dedication, and talent for business.
A rough estimate places women entrepreneurs are nearly 14% of the total entrepreneurs in India. No doubt these statics are growing on a daily basis and exhibit women’s strength in business. If you take your mind back, you will recall that the banking sector was dominated by women in the last decade which has now spread to all the segments spanning across industries. This change constitutes a paradigm shift in the business landscape that impacts the self-belief, confidence, and aspirations of other women who are desirous of making an impact.
India’s economic growth story has eluded a large section of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in fact, the smallest of the enterprises led by women. This is evident in the fact that, despite the growing number of MSMEs in India, as of 2018–19, only one in every five enterprises was owned by women (21.5 percent). Not only is women’s representation across sectors low, but the growth of existing enterprises also seems to have stagnated over time. According to 2015, National Sample Survey (NSS) estimates, between 2010 and 2015 the share of women-led enterprises and the gross value added (GVA) did not increase. Moreover, there was a fall in worker share from 18% to 16%. A recent study conducted by Mastercard ranked India 49th amongst 57 countries in its 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. This ranking speaks volumes for the odds stacked against women in India’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Five challenges women entrepreneurs face and solutions are offered in succeeding paras.
1. Meeting Social Norms
Most female business owners who have attended networking events can relate to this scenario: You walk into a crowded seminar and can count the number of women there on one hand. When women entrepreneurs talk business with primarily male executives, it can be unnerving.
In this sort of situation, women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically "male" attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive, and sometimes harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations.
My advice is, “Be yourself and have confidence in who you are. You don’t have to conform yourself to a man’s idea of what a leader should look like.”
2. Raising Funding is an Issue
Not all startup founders look for investors to help get their businesses off the ground, but those who do know how difficult the pitching process can be. Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned businesses. A 2014 Babson College report found that less than 3% of companies with venture capital funding had female CEOs. It is a known fact that venture capitalists tend to invest in startups run by people of their own tribe. For example, an IIT/IIM-educated investor will want to back an IIT/IIM alum’s business. If we draw the analogy further, this implies that VC firms with female partners are more likely to invest in women-run startups. Makes sense after all we are humans.
My advice is investors typically look for businesses that can grow their valuations, so be the ones to whom they get gravitated. Another way to overcome this issue is to get more female investors to support one another. A most important aspect is that women are more conservative and don’t overestimate projections as compared to men, therefore learning to ask for exactly what they need, even if that means requesting more than what they want needs to be inculcated.
3. Struggling to be Taken Seriously
Most women CEOs find themselves in a male-dominated industry or workplace that does not want to acknowledge their leadership role. In a male-dominated industry earning respect is a constant struggle for women entrepreneurs. Remember these negative comments that have built up in your head are stopping you from reaching your full potential.
To combat them, join a variety of entrepreneur groups not necessarily women-oriented ones, as you’ve to operate in an ecosystem where the other gender is very much present.
4. Own your Achievements
The consensus-building qualities generally leave women unintentionally downplaying their worth. They find it difficult to convey their value as a leader. Women have a creative side that is god gifted and this trait must be utilized to garner recognition.
My advice is to start using ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ because you are making an effort and are in control of the value you bring to the table. Have a solid business case and remain prepared for the uncomfortable questions that would follow. Keep on pumping yourself with an attitude of bringing it on.
5. Coping with Fear of Failure
Failure is a very real possibility in any business venture, and women entrepreneurs should not let their insecurities keep them from dreaming big. Failure should not be viewed as a negative or an excuse for relinquishing your goals. The road to success is paved with losses, mishaps, and mistakes, but it can still take you where you want to go as long as you don't lose sight of your ultimate destination.
My advice is to Stay the course, take in all the feedback; filter out the noise and the naysayers; learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. But whatever you do, do not give up. It is important to work through the moments of self-doubt that every business owner faces and not wait for perfection or take a plunge when the timing is right.
There would always be something holding you back in life, and the same is the case while starting a business. It is often said, ‘the beginning is always the hardest,’ and rightly so, and just because a hurdle seems insurmountable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So, break free from all perceptions and problems and think of what can go right because the future is bright.