India is among the few countries of the world that have had a female president as well as a prime minister elected by the people. When women of India can lead the largest democracy in the world, holding the topmost offices of the country, what stops them from building and leading great organizations?
There’s a persistent, palpable undercurrent to the notion that success in business is harder for women than men. Personally, I have never understood why a differentiator exists. Is there really an issue or are we first creating an issue and then trying to address it?
Among entrepreneurs in India, women make up roughly 20% of the total. And these women have created admirable organizations built on sound business models. In my view, once you become an entrepreneur, the challenges and opportunities are the same for everyone. I don’t think there’s any woman entrepreneur who has failed singularly because she is a woman.
Initially, women, just like men, sit on the fence for a while before making the decision to take the leap. Yes, women have more factors to consider while making a choice but, in the end fewer women make the choice and that needs to be addressed.
“(There’s) no such thing as work-life balance. It’s all about prioritizing—you give up certain things in life to make space for others—so yes, women entrepreneurs give up a lot more to be successful than men do," says Radhika Aggarwal, founder of ShopClues, an online marketplace, explaining why women tend not to jump off the fence when it comes to setting up a venture.
If fewer women are taking up the entrepreneurial journey, it’s not because the environment itself is non-conducive. There are other factors at play too.
One of them is self-generated perception and the trap of self-doubt.
“What if I don’t make it?"
“Will an investor support me even though I am a woman?"
Another is, a lot of concern is directed at “What will I do in my downtime?" The fallacy here is that you are already starting with a presumption that there will be a downtime or a time when you will be doing nothing.
Women need to be liberated from these perceptions more than anything else. They need to stop believing that they’re starting with a disadvantage. I say this with conviction because if 20% women can make it, 50% can do it too. The ones who succeeded too had their own challenges and their own struggles. But they made a choice and stuck with it.
If you have the right vision, then being a woman means you have a higher probability of success than men and a better chance at building a great organization. Women have a much better sense of balance and higher levels of maturity than men. For the longest period of their lives, women ace the balancing act and play multiple roles with great flair and agility. For me, that’s a great advantage to begin with.
“Entrepreneurs need a hide like a rhino but a heart of gold. Additionally, entrepreneurs need resilience and belief that borders on insanity," says Kunal Bahl, founder of Snapdeal, an e-commerce site.
Your belief and self-confidence must surpass your circumstances at all times. Also, the best ideas and solutions come during your downtime. It’s only when you’re not actively tackling operational issues, your creative abilities get into action and help you see the larger picture.
Between a woman who comes home and plays with her five-year-old and a man who is sitting in his office looking for a solution, the woman is likelier to come back with a faster, smarter solution than the man. And because women can so effortlessly move from one frame of mind to another, they have the upper hand in problem-solving.
There is so much in that cup that seems half full.
To every woman who is sitting on the fence right now, I’d say that if entrepreneurship is your calling, decide to be one. Be convinced that a level playing field awaits you and disregard any beliefs or rules that state otherwise. There’s no glass ceiling unless you think there is one.
Entrepreneur 4.0 is a column where successful Indian entrepreneurs discuss various aspects of startups.
Ronnie Screwvala is a first generation entrepreneur and chairman and co-founder of upGrad, an online educational platform.