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Why Women Entrepreneurs Are Poised For Success In India

23/01/2016 12:57 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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In the past, women in India played an intricate role in the lives of their parents, husband and children. These relationships were the basis of her identity in society and nurturing them was her primary role in a traditional patriarchal system. These social requirements came at the cost of a woman's dreams, desires and freedom of choice.

Women's entrepreneurship in India has evolved at a slow rate. From the vast majority of women entrepreneurs being engaged in labour-intensive, food-based businesses such as making pickles, papad and confectionaries, they now have a presence in almost all the prominent sectors of the economy. In order to make this transition, female entrepreneurs have worked hard in overcoming certain unique societal problems.

Challenges for Indian women entrepreneurs

In The Indians: Portrait of a People, author and psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar notes that girls are often protected and raised in a more sheltered environment. They are discouraged from becoming too ambitious with their careers, and to take professional risks in life.

Constraints have slowed, but not stopped, the pace of growth of women startups in India.

The sole responsibility for the family is to ensure that their daughter finds a worthy groom, for which she is required to develop all the skill sets of a commendable house wife. To learn tasks such as cooking, sewing, washing clothes and taking care of the family needs, the only acceptable space is the safe vicinity of home where they can experiment with household chores. Since most of these tasks are repetitive in nature, with very little scope for innovation, women lack the opportunity to develop survival traits such as the ability to handle stress and take decisions on the spot. And of course, decision-making regarding marketing, human resources and operations is imperative to thrive in the risk driven-career of an entrepreneur.

In this hierarchical society, men, who form the majority of the workforce in India, are used to dictating commands to female family members at home. They find it difficult to work under "the weaker sex", a female boss. As a result, women founders face great difficulties in hiring skilled employees to start and sustain an organisation.

Women in India are seldom given rights to inherit ancestral property, in spite of the Supreme Court amending the Hindu Succession Act in 2005. Since banks provide loans against collateral, this leads to a lack of funds for starting a venture. Even as salaried employees, many women do not have access to their income; their money is usually utilised for the family, with the husband dictating how to use it.

The gender inequality became more apparent when a 2014 report by Catalyst showed that women earn less than their male counterparts. This report states that the men and women start on an equal footing, but eventually over the course of their career women earn less and receive fewer developmental opportunities. They also receive fewer international assignments and so-called "hot jobs" that really matter. Taking into consideration the pressure society puts on them to get married and to start a family, they also have to constantly prioritise/juggle career aspirations and familial/social demands.

In the end, all of these factors compel women entrepreneurs to seek out assistance from banks. However banks and investors often hesitate in providing the required funds to female entrepreneurs, as they are concerned about the impact of marriage or motherhood.

Other than sources for funds, these aspiring entrepreneurs find it difficult to rent out a well-equipped office space. Since women are considered a high risk proposition in terms of safety, office landlords often prefer not to rent out their property to their companies. Also, due to concerns regarding their security, females are discouraged to visit places alone. In entrepreneurship, where erratic work hours can be the norm, their movement is curtailed to sunlit hours and crowded places only.

Signs of success

Although the shackles of obsolete, irrelevant ideas have still not completely vanished, with the passage of time, women have successfully started breaking the glass ceiling with their resilience. Constraints have slowed, but not stopped, the pace of growth of women startups in India.

Daycare facilities and smartphone apps for everything from groceries to home-cooked meals have empowered women to outsource their traditional roles.

According to the BNP 2016 survey, women have proved to be slightly more successful than their male counterparts; this follows the report from BNP last year, when India was ranked number 1 for the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world. Over the past few years, the Indian economic growth has resulted in the emergence of new structures that have encouraged female entrepreneurs to soldier ahead.

The Indian government, comparatively, has become more stringent about enforcing laws regarding women's safety. Women too have become more aware about their legal options in case of harassment. The launch of women-centric transport facilities, which include designated metro coaches and GPS-enabled cab services have empowered them to overcome the inhibitions of mobility; albeit to a limited extent.

Joint families have been replaced by nuclear families, resulting in more freedom for women to experiment and learn, without offending the beliefs of older generation. This also means that women have started depending more on their husbands, rather than other members of the extended family to help out in the household chores. Taking a cue from these developments, corporates have started taking into account the equal responsibility of men in raising a family by granting paternity leave to male employees. Recently, a Flipkart spokesperson told the Economic times, "Flipkart wants to support and encourage their male employees to shoulder their responsibilities at home".

Such supportive policies have enabled female entrepreneurs to return to work sooner than before. Daycare facilities for small children and smartphone apps for everything from groceries to home-cooked meals have empowered women to outsource their traditional roles.

Today, successful female entrepreneurs in India include names such Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Biocon), Richa Kar (Zivame),Shubra Chhada (Chumbak), and Radhika Aggarwal (Shopclues). These founders possess a unique leadership style, which is based on the feminine traits of intuition, sensitivity and subtlety. Based on this trend, it's only a matter of time before Indian women will make an impact on the international scene as well, and start business empires that can rival the Ambanis or Tatas.

The number of females entrepreneurs is set to rise, with the government announcing a Rs 5000 crore credit guarantee fund under the "Stand Up India" scheme.

In order to make this thought a reality numerous organizations have sprung up, offering expert guidance and mentoring to aspiring female entrepreneurs. Such enterprises include:

Considering their growing demands for funds, women can nowadays choose from numerous sources of capital at fair terms of trade. Prominent sources in this list include:

Along with this a fund is being created with contributions from eight high-profile women -- Sejal Gulati (MD of Time Inc India), Vaishali Kasture (former MD of Goldman Sachs), Sandhya Vasudevan (MD of Deutsche Bank India Global Services), Anju Shenoy (HR head of Visa), Dipali Shah (former board member of Pepe India), Mimi Parthasarthy (founder of financial advisory firm Sinhasi) and two serial entrepreneurs, Lathika Pai and Shoba Purushothaman. This fund is going to operate on the lines of Golden Seeds, one of the largest angel networks in the US.

The future looks bright for the segment this year. The number of females entrepreneurs are set to rise, with the government announcing a Rs 5000 crore credit guarantee fund under the "Stand Up India" scheme. Under this scheme, says Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, banks will provide loans at the "least applicable rate of interest". He further noted, "Every bank branch, including private sector, will give loans between Rs 10 lakh and 1 crore to at least one SC/ST and one woman entrepreneur under the scheme". The Stand Up India scheme, which was launched along with Startup India scheme on January 16 2016, will be implemented through 1.25 lakh bank branches.

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