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A gentleman clad in a two-piece suit and a well knotted tie was the image of an entrepreneur until a few years ago. Gone are those days when the definition of an entrepreneur was gender-based! Today, women entrepreneurs are making a mark in every sector – from the startup ecosystem to family businesses, they are a force to be reckoned with. However, the journey has not been easy, from bringing a cultural shift in organization, to fighting gender bias and breaking the glass ceiling, they have battled it all.
Cultural shift in organizations
To provide a better working environment for its employees, every organization should create a more diverse and inclusive organizational structure. Companies must go beyond the basics to make meaningful and long-term progress toward gender equality. It is important to focus on diversity through recruitment and then construct thoughtful, culturally-sensitive internal frameworks. Over time, these practices automatically lend themselves towards balanced, inclusive and significantly more innovative teams.
“It begins with organizational culture – a value-focused and vision-aligned matrix of policies that permeate across hiring practices, performance reviews and work environments. Leadership plays a key role in ensuring that these changes and their constant innovation are prioritized. Insights offered by women within the organization are crucial in both tracking success and implementing continuous improvements,” said Shruti Shibulal, CEO and director of Tamara Leisure Experiences.
Tamara, facilitates in-house sessions on financial management, some of which cater specifically to women and their particular needs or aspirations. “We also offer need based scholarships to the children of employees and interest free loans on a case by case basis. Much of this benefits employees across the board, however, it particularly supports women who are primary care-givers,” she added.
According to many reports, women continue to face greater barriers to advancement than men. Organizations can implement various initiatives and policies to help female employees achieve a work-life balance. “Providing a different work culture for female leaders is important. Women employees want more flexibility because they want to work for a company that cares about their well-being and DEI,” said Nidhi Bhasin, CEO of NASSCOM Foundation.
Sharing the same views about cultural shift, Aparajita Bharti, founding partner, TQH consulting, said, “The different workplaces and organizational needs of women with respect to flexibility will need to get ingrained into the organizational culture to make the workplace more inclusive.”
Women entrepreneurs and digital literacy
Venture growth investor Iron Pillar in their latest report on Tech Unicorns Market Landscape Report IV said that India is expected to be home to over 150 Unicorns by 2025. These numbers clearly provide an opportunity to uplift women entrepreneurs. “Being digitally literate is not only the essential criteria to exist in the ever-evolving world but helps one become more efficient, improves accessibility and most importantly – provides a better quality of life. Women benefit tremendously through digital literacy as it enables them to convert their dreams into reality making them confident and self-reliant,” said Bhasin, CEO of NASSCOM Foundation.
NASSCOM Foundation has developed a learning management platform DigiSakshar, which enables self-paced, instructor-led and hybrid learning models specifically designed for women. In 2021, NASSCOM Foundation impacted 5,00,000 lives through digital literacy programs and women were the primary beneficiaries (about 65 per cent). NASSCOM Foundation has tied up with many corporations such as Google.org, American Express, and DXC Technologies with an aim to empower rural women with digital and financial literacy.
The grave consequences of a wide digital divide were, perhaps, never more evident than during the pandemic. As education moved online, many children and youth in disadvantaged communities were forced to step out of school altogether. These drop out rates were disproportionately higher among girls. “Digital literacy is directly linked to social mobility, financial independence and the long-term well being of women. The opportunities offered by tech-enabled learning and jobs can circumvent a long list of socio-cultural, even logistical, barriers to women entering and remaining in the workforce,” added Shibulal.
In many contexts, women do not have the luxury of going out, interacting and forming professional networks and relationships. It is hence imperative that these women possess digital literacy skills to enable them to access similar networks on social media through which they can connect with their clients, other entrepreneurs, share knowledge and learn new skills. “Digital literacy is also increasingly becoming a prerequisite to accessing government benefits and tapping into new markets,” said Bharti of TQH consulting.
Need for government intervention
Government programmes and schemes such as Bharatiya Mahila Bank Business Loan, Mudra Yojana Scheme, MahilaUdyam Nidhi Scheme, Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) etc. have been created with an aim to help women overcome barriers and build a stronger nation. In October 2022, the Narendra Modi-led government came up with a new credit plan for rural women to create more enterprises and jobs in villages. “The credit can be availed without any collateral and without any previous experience of entrepreneurship. This scheme will help women create more business opportunities which in turn will create more employment in the rural belts,” said the CEO of NASSCOM Foundation.
“In addition to providing quality education, healthcare and value for domestic work to individual households, I believe support for women-run businesses – especially socially conscious and responsible enterprises – must become a priority. Engaging women as driving forces in progressive legislature will ensure that the impact of these implemented policies is resonant, self-perpetuating and sustainable,” added Shruti Shibulal.
All women entrepreneurs are often painted with the same brush, whereas they are a widely heterogeneous group with different needs and aspirations. “We do not have a comprehensive policy for women entrepreneurship yet that tackles all challenges in the ecosystem together. For example, the kind of support a woman needs to set up a salon is different from a women’s collective selling pickles which is different from founders of tech startups. Therefore, policies need to be more targeted towards different kinds of women entrepreneurs,” said Bharti, founding partner, TQH consulting.