Gender Equality, Fair Policies, And Fair Opportunities: Where Does India Stand?

BW Businessworld asked some questions to the female founders and investors to understand the current status and the roadblocks that lie ahead for women at large. Read below the insightful feedback we received

India is home to over 84,000 startups, entrepreneurship is a boon in a country of approximately 1.4 billion people. However, women still account for 9 per cent of VC funding, while they account for less than 1 per cent of active angel investors in India. Women-driven firms receive only 1 per cent of funding, while 15 per cent of Indian unicorns have female co-founders—only two are managed by female CEOs, according to the CXXO State of Women Entrepreneurship Report 2023.

The government has been putting forth its efforts through policies and words. However, on the ground, only 10.5 per cent of the MPs are female, and just 9 per cent of state legislative legislatures are made up of women. Women have gone a long way and broken down all the boundaries, which is why Women's Day celebrates women's power and accomplishments.

Despite all the odds, there are several success stories in contemporary society that emphasise women's strengths and contributions to the globe. Our culture has evolved as a result of various reforms to gender equality, and the gender gap in business will be addressed shortly. BW Businessworld asked some questions to the female founders and investors to understand the current status and the roadblocks that lie ahead for women at large. Read below the insightful feedback we received.

What drives this disparity?

“This disparity can be attributed to several factors- including gender bias in the investment industry, a lack of access to networks and resources and a shortage of female role models and mentors. The lack of diverse representation in the venture capital industry can further increase these issues, making it more challenging for women entrepreneurs to secure the capital they need for growing their businesses. Garuda Aerospace currently has a representation of 35 per cent  women in its organization and aims to achieve a gender balance by increasing the percentage of women to 50 per cent by the year 2024.” says, Rithika Agnishwar, Co- founder, Garuda Aerospace.
One of the reasons for this deep rooted problem is, “ The lack of access to networks and resources, such as mentorship, funding and business education, that I see as an integral part of the success of any startup, says Megha H Desai, Co-Founder, ENGN.

Inclusion of women investors makes the journey of women-led startups a bit sweeter. Please explain if you agree.

“Will we ever say having a male investor in male-led start-up made it easier for them? The disparity is in ideology, a sweet journey is when no matter the gender the start-up founder and investor are able work towards attaining the full potential of the idea and the problem the start-up is solving,” says Nidhi Mehra, Co-founder, Myplan8
“According to me, gender disparity in the startup and corporate world can be attributed to the gaps that were created in the past. But off-late, there have been significant efforts to bridge this gap, namely parent-friendly flexible work timings, stringent harassment policies, child care, etc.” says Bhargavi Vijayakumar, Co-founder, Java Capital.
“Representation matters, be it politics, advertising, business, or funding, and it is because different thought processes need to be taken on board, given voice, and fair consideration for our economy to achieve its full potential. Women investors can understand women's perspectives and more importantly, challenges that women may face from a personal point of view and in turn, may share insights and examples to help other women lead more successful ventures and businesses. It also creates a stimulus that can naturally challenge the unconscious biases in conversations that matter,” says Archana Khosla Burman, Founder Partner, Vertices Partners.
“As a leading gender smart fund in India, we not only agree with the notion; we see this as a very valuable resource for nation building. It is widely documented that women led funds invest almost 2x in women led enterprises. In our experience, our empathy and our ability to see value in business models which can serve a vastly untapped market for women, or a business which can benefit from efficiencies of a women supported supply chain; significantly unlocks the investment alpha. This makes it a win – win for all stakeholders – the enterprises, our investors and the nation which benefits from this greater contribution to the country’s GDP,” says Seema Chaturvedi, Founder Partner at AWE Funds.

What disparity, if any, have you faced while raising funds compared to a male Co-founder?

Chaturvedi adds, “As a founder of a fund manager, I am also an entrepreneur who is raising funds. The biggest disparity I face is in trying to convince potential investors that our investment thesis captures a unique and differentiated investment opportunity that is currently under-appreciated and can result in superior commercial returns.”
“So I know this is true that as founders, we have never come across a female investor till now. And we would love to see more female investors. I think it would be great to work with people of the same gender. But as founders, when we are raising funds now, we have not seen a disparity or any biases when it comes to raising funds. So as female founders, we have not experienced biases when it comes to raising funds,” says Yuba Khan, Co-founder of the Manetain brand.
“Gender bias in our country is inescapable. Voluntarily or not, it pops up every now and then. My entrepreneurial journey wasn’t bereft of it either. When I began meeting investors for my venture, I quickly became aware of the sheer lack of trust they had in women, leave alone investing in a business led by a woman. I realised that there was more than I was pitching for, not just a solid idea. Their reasons may have been as arbitrary as they were plenty, even fictitious (if I may say so), but I wasn’t one to back down and the result is for everyone to see,” says Harini Sivakumar, CEO and Founder at Earth Rhythm.
“An NGO like AROH runs on the funds provided by corporate houses, government departments for various welfare works. And just like any other industries, these funds usually flow towards some ‘favorite’ or ‘favored’ entities. And the flow directions are usually decided during late or off hours. For a social entrepreneur like me, who wants to be devoting most of our time at the ground, working on the fields, it becomes hard to be ‘liasoning’ with top notch of the corporates or the government departments, who are mostly males, at odd hours,” says Dr. Neelam Gupta, Founder and CEO of AROH Foundation.  

In spite of all the discussions about gender equality, why are women's C-suite representatives so unimpressive? Why is it significant?

“Being biased and discriminating against women in the workplace can make it more difficult for them to advance into leadership positions. There is often a lack of female role models in C-suite positions, which can make it difficult for women to envision themselves in these roles,” says Rithika Agnishwar, Co- founder, Garuda Aerospace. 
“There have been a number of women-friendly policies implemented in the workplace over the years, but there is still much more that needs to be done to achieve gender equality. The policies which have been implemented include, Maternity and paternity leave, Flexible work arrangements, Equal pay policies, Leadership development programs, Sexual harassment policies and Addressing unconscious bias,” says Rachna Vyas, Founder, Mildcares.
“Despite so many efforts, gender inequality is still prevalent, and more work needs to be done. It's crucial that we foster a culture of inclusion at all levels, where women feel valued, supported, and respected. As a community, we must identify and address systemic barriers that hold back women from progressing in their careers. At The Sleep Company, we are holding ourselves accountable for bettering gender equality in the workplace by supporting women to grow into leadership positions and regularly assessing the progression charts of all employees,” says Priyanka Salot, Co-founder, The Sleep Company.

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