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Why Most Women In India Don’t Aim For The Billionaire’s Club

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“I want to be a billionaire” — says hardly any woman ever. Why? This is the question you must try to answer for yourself, just like I did. Hopefully, I reached the much-needed conclusion after sitting on this question for days on end, meditating, till I got a convincing answer to give to myself, that I can now share with you all now. Though, to be honest, more than meditation, I did a lot of research.

It took me networking at many events, talking to ambitious and successful women and male venture capitalists, jumping into intense conversations with strangers at events, parties, weddings — you name it — to have a mindful discussion on this subject.

From my personal entrepreneurial experience, I had already figured that starting something new is painful, for everyone. But through my research, I figured it’s more painful for women to become entrepreneurs in India and for that matter, any part of the world.

There’s a reason why a mere 17% of all startups across the world that got funded in 2017 had a woman founder and only 2.7% of all venture capital funded startups have a woman CEO, globally. In 2015, according to the BNP report, India ranked number one for the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world and in 2016, YourStory had reported that only 9% of all startup founders in India are women.

Even though the literacy rate among women has gone up multifold and the census 2011 indicated a 116% jump in the number of Indian women receiving post-graduate degrees since 2001. Still, only 27% of all women in India are a part of the labour force. More rural than urban women. In fact more and more urban women in India are opting out – 20 million of them left the workforce between 2012 and 2014.

This brings us to the crystal clear picture — the sample size of the number of enterprising women who know what it takes to earn a billion dollars is tiny in India. The top 25 of the world’s richest self-made people are men (of course), who have a cumulative net worth of $1 trillion. There are merely 4 Indian women who are billionaires, with only one woman being a self-made billionaire, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director of biopharmaceutical company Biocon.

The wealthiest Indian woman, Savitri Jindal, has a net worth of $5.3 billion, which is equal to the net worth of the 294th richest man in the world and 9th richest man in India.

Seeing these numbers, it’s not surprising that even though women startup at nearly twice the rate of men today, they tend to make less in revenue because they focus on smaller businesses that focus on service industries.

So why are women struggling to aim for the stars (read: “I want to be a billionaire”) when for a change, the numbers are favouring them?

While a lot is being done to fund women-led startups across the world and especially in India (a fact that bothers me for a reason I’ll discuss in my next article), we forget to address a basic problem here.

Although constraints have slowed down for women, they haven’t stopped entirely and won’t for at least a few years.

The reason is simple. Once upon a time, when several years ago, some countries fought for their independence and won. But as always, like any transformative phase, women had it more difficult than their male counterparts. They had to still discover freedom in its truest sense and then fight for it, which meant many more years of struggle before they could concentrate on being rich, famous and powerful.

It’s the same reason as to ‘why rich entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful’ – they have more time and comfort to innovate since they don’t have to think about their bread, butter or rent.

In India (and almost every other country, including the US), women are paid at least 20% lesser than men, even in professions where they get more traction. Job interviews for women are mostly more about personal questions than professional even though they reach that stage for their skills. More contextually, most women startup founders don’t get funding and if they do, it’s a fraction of what male founders raise.

Here’s another problem that I can point a finger on. Almost every startup strives to be tech-first today, and there are hardly any women in technology and that number is actually going down for multiple reasons, one of them being the stereotype ‘men are better at tech’. This will mean fewer women in tech leadership roles in the future and even fewer women launching their own ‘Tesla’.

It’s the power of habit, as Charles Duhigg would put it. We’ve spent years in fighting for our rights, and seeing ‘living a free life’ as the big dream in itself. We forget to raise our daughters to be leaders; we raise them to fight for their independence first.

More importantly, we don’t raise our sons to be feminists, so their insecurities don’t allow them to listen to women bosses, because ‘the weaker sex’. It’s still a thing.

‘Mediocrity’ — The Definition Of Success For Women

For years now, we have been conditioned to praise mediocrity when it comes to women. We applaud when a woman is driving the car while her husband takes care of ‘their’ baby, we make a female actor our role model if she becomes a pilot and not because she launched and scaled multiple companies to profitability in a leadership role. Against all odds.

We appreciate the ‘good’ men or companies who hire women in leadership roles as if it’s charity. We also applaud countries that appoint women politicians in power. From women ‘taking’ power, we’ve progressed to women being given power, but we miss the part that it’s not being given ‘willingly’, it’s being given for great PR.

“Get a woman co-founder”, “Have more women in your tech team” – you will hear these statements more often than not in investor meetings. Again, like it’s charity. Charity is also assigning 5000 crore worth of government funds to women entrepreneurs only because extra favours are needed if you’re a woman, apparently.

In Conclusion

This brings me to the conclusion of this fairly lengthy piece.

It’s clear that we’re facing a problem. It’s also clear that as always, nobody will solve our issues for us.

When girls were not allowed to go to school, we fought for girls’ education — Malala took a bullet for advocating good education for girls. When marriage was seen as the one purpose of life for young girls, we fought against child marriage — UN Women proposed to define it as ‘forced marriage’. From fighting for what to wear to who to meet to what our life goals should be, we’ve had to fight for each and every bit to lead a ‘normal life’.

And, now it’s time to lead. It’s time to be in positions of power, to have more names in the women billionaires’ list. We will have to be driven, ambitious and untamable at that, and aggressively competitive, to build our own rocket ships and not just merely sit on them, to truly change the power dynamics in the startup world.

To be the next generation of billionaire women, we’ll have to think beyond social impact and small-scale service industries. I firmly believe that when you have the billions of dollars in your bank account, you have the power to do anything. You can change the world and its equation with women, for good. But you’ll have to start with aiming for the moon, so you at least hit a star.

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  1. Girdhari Singh

    Hello Diksha,

    You forgot to write about CashKaro Co-founder Swati Bhargava.

    1. Diksha Dwivedi

      Hi!! Can you put me in touch with her on dwivedidiksha@gmail.com? This story was not particularly about women co-founders, it’s pretty generic but I’d love to get to know more about her!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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