Bangalore: Picture this: India’s 12 top venture capital (VC) firms have 64 managers among their leadership teams, and just four of them are women! In private equity, or PE, firms, the numbers are not much different: among the seven major PE firms operating here, including ICICI Venture headed by Renuka Ramnath, just five women find a place in the top rung. And these include three at ICICI Venture, a unit of ICICI Bank Ltd, India’s largest private sector lender.
Even by the benchmarks of the investment banking world, which has far fewer women than men in its ranks as well as at senior levels, the gender skew in the Indian VC and PE world stands out. One reason could be that the business is relatively young in India—it’s been just about a decade since it stepped out of the shadows of India’s hoary development finance institutions.
One among few: ICICI Venture head Renuka Ramnath. (Photo: Kedar Bhat/Mint)
“The business of venture investment is new in India and women are generally scarce in new industries,” says Bharati Jacob, a partner at Seedfund, which funds start-up ventures. She is one of India’s earliest women venture capitalists, who in 1999 switched from a career in investment banking to Infinity India Advisors Pvt. Ltd, one of the initial backers of Indiabulls Financial Services Ltd, a financial and real estate company.
A job in a VC firm can be demanding, especially when a transaction is being sewn up and three days of continuous work without a break is not unusual. The difficult work-life balance applies not just to senior professionals but also to beginners.
“I needed a job where I could strike a balance between my professional career and my alternate career of classical music,” says Manasi Prasad, a topper from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore’s 2007 batch, who chose a job with a multinational bank rather than a VC, PE or investment firm, because of its regular hours.
For women who have proven themselves in other industries, shifting to VC or PE business can be daunting, given that a senior manager at a venture or buyout firm is expected to have not just operational or senior management experience but also diversified skills in marketing, sales, technology and human resources functions. “How many women, who are running companies, or are entrepreneurs, are looking at entering the VC industry? The number of women entering VCs is low,” says Vani Kola, managing director, Nea-IndoUS Ventures.
Also, there are very few women who have graduated to being a VC investor after a successful innings building up a business elsewhere—a typical route to being a venture capitalist. An analyst says things could change if successful entrepreneurs such Biocon Ltd’s managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw or Avesthagen Ltd’s managing director Villoo Morawala Patell make that call.
“People would line up to get Kiran’s expertise and capital, if she joins a firm to help biotech deals,” says Arun Natarajan, founder-editor of Venture Intelligence, a VC tracking service from Chennai.