Today, you can officially call me a hypocrite because just a few months ago, I complained endlessly about an iota of all women entrepreneurs getting funding for their startups in today’s ‘modern and equal India’.
My justification – I saw data, compared it with whole numbers, without keeping in mind the sample size and the concept of averages, and felt ridiculous. I chose to feel angry because it was easy to look at the non-existent numbers and feel the rage.
To put things in perspective, I read the following data that I went on to study further later (thankfully) — 9% of all startup founders in India are women, and 2% of all Indian startups that got funded in 2017 were led by women. The fact that I forgot to note then is that there are approximately 633 million women in India, with only 27% still in the workforce, most of them being rural women. Therefore, the 9% may actually be a good thing. However, 2% funded women-led startups is still a shocker for a country (India) that has been ranked number one for women entrepreneurship.
So yes, more and more female-led startups should raise funding but is getting them capital on a platter the issue? No.
Women-led startups may hold the potential to grow the Indian economy by 60% because women use the money better than men to keep their families out of the path of poverty but opening pools of funding to female founders, for this reason, is questionable to me. Why? Because the harsh truth really is that challenges for women entrepreneurship are more related to conditioning and social factors than funds.
Even if women in India rise above the problems of gender bias, culture, work limitations and unequal inheritance, only 14% of them end up starting up. And if they startup, most of them tend to bootstrap their companies even if it means that their businesses will remain small for a lifetime.
So although launching various schemes and initiatives may seem like the plausible solution at the face of things, it’s, unfortunately, a myopic solution because it will not touch the grassroots issues. More women are dropping out of the workforce than the women who want to startup because the traditional cost for them is higher than men starting up. India ranks 120 out of 130 for the number of women in the workforce.
According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2017, India ranks 108th out of 144 countries.
Women have enough issues on their plate in the male-dominated field of entrepreneurship. It’s a field where sexism is more prominent and costlier than any other profession. Take Tinder, for example; the female Vice President had to quit the company when it was just taking off because of sexual harassment. The question, therefore, to ask is if funding is the right way to look at these issues because there are many women who won’t even raise these funds voluntarily.
Some of the common issues we as women founders face have everything to do with how we’ve been raised to think and feel in gender biased and social scenarios and very little to do with economic power.
We prefer not to raise funds (or take favours) NOT to feel indebted – thanks to the dynamics of expectations, be it in a dating scenario or VC meetings. Second, we like to bootstrap because we don’t want to be told we’re ‘being greedy’ or ‘bossy’ in an already sexist corporate setup. Third, we weren’t conditioned to be leaders, and sans great leaders, the best companies in the world can come crashing down. And funding must convert into growth and profitability.
Therefore, I feel funding is where gender equality should be practised to the T. Because favouritism is not going to make our startups big, us billionaires and our daughters, leaders.
In the past few months, I’ve seen women founders go from tirelessly proving their credibility in the investor circles to now throwing a stone with an idea and hitting at least a seed round. But
you attend a venture capitalist conference or a networking event (I did), and you’ll still find only 10ten women attending, in a room of 200 very liberal men. We’ve come a long way in gender equality, but most women founders still miss out on funding opportunities because they can’t network casually over drinks after an important event. We all know VCs invest in people and then, ideas.
So issues for women founders are aplenty and making a pool of funds available for them may actually backfire one day. It will just take a few failed women-led startups in the future for this rising trend of women entrepreneurship to take a U-turn. And that won’t be a good time for feminism or women entrepreneurship at all.
Think about it.
Today is a good time for women founders, and without acceptable mindsets, the funding boom for women entrepreneurs is a lost battle to start with. Hence, start with gender studies. Everywhere. Because evolution takes time and sometimes, effort.