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Women have been at the receiving end of several atrocities since the beginning of time. The fight for gender equality came into being not more than a couple of centuries ago, and even though the movement has been roaring in most corners of the world now, we are far from the desired reality. It is true that women have come a long way since when the movements began but, gender discrimination and misogyny unfortunately still exist.

Women of today have proven themselves in all fields, including those heavily dominated by men. However, even in today’s day and age, women rarely achieve victory without facing numerous challenges of gender-based and other related social biases. Some of the obstacles that women commonly encounter, especially in a male-dominated field of human endeavour, are as follows:

Societal biases on capabilities: It goes without saying that society holds certain biases in the commonly-assumed capabilities of people of different genders. Women have historically been viewed as the “weaker sex", as people in need of protection, as opposed to men who have traditionally been characterized as protectors and defenders. While it cannot be denied that men and women are physiologically wired differently, which does make men physically stronger in usual circumstances, a serious problem arises when this general phenomenon is taken as the gospel truth. Even if an average man is physically stronger than an average woman, this does not mean that all men are stronger than all women. Nor does it justify assuming that every woman is physically fragile or that all men are ‘strong’, for that matter.

Another problem emerges when biology is used to assess the cerebral capacities of women. One long-standing perception has been that men are wired to be more logical, while women are more likely to be empathetic, which is touted as justification for women being seen as ‘fit’ for a certain set of professions limited by that understanding. While this argument may seem smart to some on the surface, it makes little sense when it is used to bar women from entering certain fields based on average estimates drawn from psychological observations.

Familial constraints: If society stands against women pursuing careers in male-dominated fields, then, well, the families of these women may harbour the same notions, as they are also constituents of the same social set-up. Unfortunately, even though a lot of women have the potential as well as ambition to make it to the top in arenas that are usually dictated by a stark male presence, they are often denied their dreams by the patriarchal construct of society.

Several underlying biases and even concerns as to how “our daughters" would sustain themselves in an acutely male-inclined field have been known to cloud the judgement of families, some of which then try to curb the wishes of women aspirants. This phenomenon, in turn, spells a feminine drought in many such domains, which only worsens gender imbalances.

Restrained access to funds: As established, women have been discriminated against on several fronts for a long time, and this discrimination does not cease even after a woman has entered and made her mark in a male-dominated profession. It is not unheard of for women entrepreneurs to be denied basic enablers such as easy access to funds and sponsorships. A lot of people, even in today’s times, have reservations about women’s capabilities in the field of finance. This bias exists as finance was traditionally a male-dominated area, given its ‘logical’ basis. This bias dates back centuries to a period when the world was extremely backward in terms of scientific research on whether women’s capabilities could actually be judged through the yardsticks in popular use. Most studies were heavily inflected by sorry notions of patriarchy, and sadly, some of these continue to cloud the prospects of ambitious women in male-dominated sectors such as business.

Lack of networks and mentors: According to a research study: “People with experience mentor and give money to people like themselves, while those starting out do what they see people like themselves doing." With fewer female business founders, the pool of women who can mentor and advise fellow entrepreneurs is consequently smaller. One of the major barriers to startups is a lack of role models for women, who tend to feel very lonely. This makes it harder for enterprising women to learn from their peers and tap the help of those who have ‘been there, done that’. It is also harder for women to maximize the value of a business network, because networking has traditionally been done in male- centric groups and organizations.

To sum up, across the world, women have been fighting against widespread gender discrimination for a considerable period of time now. Even after centuries of struggle marked by gains made in terms of empowerment, women continue to face undeniably taxing struggles in all fields of life and work, especially those that have for long—and irrationally—been considered the preserve of men. The patriarchy that has prevailed is far from over and this impacts the world of business in ways we cannot overlook.

Rhea Nihal Singh Anand is co-founder of Flexnest

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