The last decade in India has seen more women opting to tread an entrepreneurial path.
What started as a way for women to keep themselves occupied and earn a small amount of pocket money though home-grown businesses has now become a source of establishing self-identity. Now, more women aim to express themselves creatively, make a difference in society and be a key decision-maker.
Even though the attitude toward women is evolving, India is still mostly a traditionally patriarchal society. This can present challenges for women entrepreneurs.
For example, entrepreneurship requires strong skills to promote the business – and many women are uncomfortable promoting their skills. This is because of the deeply embedded conditioning of not selling but giving. To sell is to give something a conspicuous value, which is considered “undignified” of a woman. The age-old tempering of a woman is to put the needs of others above her own and that is her duty.
There are other challenges, too. Women need assistance in business planning and financial management, two areas they’re not usually directly exposed to. When a woman’s small startup begins to expand, this is when she needs to chart out a clear path of what her vision for the business is going to look like. She also needs the support of her family. Part of our social conditioning is that women must devote time and attention to work and family life.
The other area is financing. Almost at the cost of sounding oxymoronic, women are safe risk-takers and prefer to make investments that they can pay off easily rather than make an overconfident investment. This primarily amounts to most of them opting to self-finance the business out of their savings. But they should also look toward investors and loans or grants.
How can a woman surpass these challenges?
The need of the hour is for a woman to change her self-perception. That means she must challenge her own belief system and conditioning, so that she can recognize her true worth. Once she can do that, it will be so much easier to seek what is required to make a business.
But is also time for society to step up and help India’s entrepreneurial women. More experienced and established men and women can volunteer to mentor the new emerging band of female entrepreneurs. Organizations can provide systematic avenues and opportunities for women to get sound business advice and mentoring support.
A few Indian public and private-sector establishments have begun providing grants and financial support for women-owned businesses. But this must become a priority. The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s investment arm, has said it will focus on investing in India’s female entrepreneurs. “They drive job creation and economic growth, but are stuck in the middle: too big for microfinance, too small for commercial banks, and having few ways to build the management skills or industry knowledge they need to grow,” the IFC said in a report last year.
India is waking up to women and their contribution not just to the family but also to the economy. All we need to do is keep the momentum going in furthering women’s entrepreneurial contribution in the country’s economy.