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

“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.