Role And Challenges Of A Woman Entrepreneur
Only 14% of India’s businesses are run by women - a somewhat bleak statistic. Data collected by the Sixth Economic Census by the National Sample Survey Organisation suggests that aspiring women entrepreneurs have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to be taken seriously by investors, and they have to come up against a huge deficit of female role models and mentors in the world of business. Women tend to start businesses that often remain small, unlike many similar businesses led by men, who receive greater opportunities to scale themselves. One of the underlying reasons have to do with investors’ assumptions that men will be better at scaling business goals than women.
I am one of the 14%, and here I must stop to count my privileges because when I started out on my entrepreneurial journey four years ago, I did not encounter harassment or intimidation of any kind. I did not have to shout to be heard. I did not feel disrespected or disregarded or treated with contempt in any space where there were many businesspeople and often very well-known business leaders, although nearly always, in these spaces, the overwhelming majority of attendees would be men. I could have stepped into the Indian entrepreneurial arena with suspicion and paranoia and the fear of its infamous sexism and misogyny, but I was lucky; I was lucky because I didn’t shy away from what I really wanted to pursue.
I also had an entrepreneurial role model in my father, whose business mindset I inherited in part and copied for the rest (as many female entrepreneurs do, studies show), readying me for my career in business. In this too, I was blessed, with an accessible, approachable mentor living in the same house!
But I have had my own significant set of challenges. Striking the right work-life balance as an Indian woman, who also juggles the responsibilities of a second shift consisting of domestic chores, was sometimes difficult, given there are only 24 hours in a day. By working hard and regrouping priorities, with time I have learned to set a fine balance. There are days that I lose the balance, and then I order myself a bucket of ice cream and withdraw into a shell for a little while until it is restored.
A more interesting time full of challenges was the shift to the crowdfunding industry, when I began my entrepreneurial career, as the CoFounder and COO of Impact Guru. I bought my core skills set, acquired painstakingly at the Parsons School of Design in New York, - promotion and marketing strategy, knowledge of digital and social media, creative thinking, design, ideating - from the work I was doing in luxury fashion to the crowdfunding platform I co-founded. We were a two-person company then, and each of us wore many hats. We worked impossibly long hours, and also filled in for some of the roles we had no academic or professional training for. I remember working as a recruiter, making sales pitches, creating the first few versions of the website, and dabbling in the work of managing finances. We have over fifty people working together now! It has not been easy but we scaled our targets.
Building a reliable, trusty team was also a challenge at this stage. We hired people - each intelligent and professionally independent individuals, smart and dedicated problem solvers - who could hold their proverbial forts on their own authority. We made progress together as a young, modern organization with men and women working to complement each other’s competencies; we learned together.
This was at a time when crowdfunding was still very new in India; few people had heard of it. The task at our hands was ambitious - we had to educate India’s people about what crowdfunding is, how it worked, and how they could benefit from it. We could see that there were great chasms of need in India, social and personal (often related to healthcare), that crowdfunding solutions could fill, but we could also see that it would take plenty of awareness generating activity to make the Indian middle-classes aware and persuade them of what crowdfunding could do for them.
Since then, we have come a long way, has helped over 15,000 individuals and nonprofits in India (as well as a few abroad) raise funds for a myriad causes. Over the years Impact Guru has shown its unconditional support towards social change projects that have at their core the welfare, social security, and empowerment of women and girls. Some of these woman-centric crowdfunding campaigns have stood out because of the spectacular success stories they have been, and because of the unique kinds of solutions, they developed for problems affecting disadvantaged women in this day and age.
For example, we hosted a fundraiser for the Prem Ashram Charitable Trust in April 2017. The fundraiser was to help twenty underprivileged girls in rural Karnataka stay in school by offering them hostel facilities for a year. We have worked with the Red Dot Foundation in May this year to fundraise for a project that uses crowdsourced data to help make Mumbai a safer city for women. We have run Project Inspire with UN Women, Singapore, to help raise awareness about the safety of women and girls. We have been crowdfunding partner for Village Volunteers for a crowdfunding campaign, helping empower women from intergenerational prostitution families in Kolkata through a venture that taught them to manufacture a biodegradable sanitary pad.
The success of these women-centric (and often women-led) campaigns show that mass support for women’s empowerment in India is beginning to look up. This support must also percolate into the entrepreneurial arena. Women entrepreneurs in India can start receiving monetary support by asking for it from investors, most of whom are male. I would love to see more women in that roomful of investors I can connect with when I make my pitches! I would love it if young women entrepreneurs were to get mentorship from the few female business leaders the nation has.
At Impact Guru, we have a gender-blind hiring policy, and we have several women in leadership positions, and at this time, more female than male employees. I am confident that times are changing for the Indian woman entrepreneur. The glass ceiling may not be about to shatter just yet, but we are making baby steps toward it by not letting one exist at Impact Guru. It’s a start. For the moment, it is enough.