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A Personal View of the Ups of Downs of Being a Woman Tech Entrepreneur
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A Personal View of the Ups of Downs of Being a Woman Tech Entrepreneur

The sheer grit that female entrepreneurs have exhibited in the 21st century is again in the limelight post Nykaa’s IPO. Despite limited opportunities and undue headwinds, the fact remains that women entrepreneurs are getting the world to realize their potential.

In fact, the climate isn't a representation of the "potential" per se; it's just a reminder of what the combination of "opportunity and perseverance" could unleash.

Women entrepreneurs thrive and evolve through their experiences even in the face of relative adversity. And isn't that the definition of entrepreneurship?

Just for the purpose of quantifying the growth, "the percentage of female entrepreneurs has increased by 114% in the last 20 years." A recent report by EdelGive Foundation projects a 90% increase in women-run businesses in India by 2026.

The scene wasn’t always so promising. The rise of female tech entrepreneurs especially was muted in an environment that Ashley Bittner and Brigette Lau term a "boys' club."

So, let’s explore the ups and downs that women entrepreneurs experience and therefore understand the fundamental elements for growth.

Thriving Through the Ups

"Well begun is half done!" says Mary Poppins. And so, we'll start off with the ups.

The Feminine Strength of Empathy

Well, the most obvious one - the trait of empathy. There are many instances in which empathy plays a transformative role in guiding women entrepreneurs through intricate situations.

They don't let only stringent conventions dictate their decisions; instead, they listen to what their customers say and learn from their mistakes - and then improve.

The same goes for in-house teams that subconsciously ask for the demonstration of a high emotional quotient (EQ). It's important not to take the compassionate nature of a techie female leader as a sign of weakness or lack of competitiveness.

A study by Korn Ferry reveals that women perform better than men on 11 out of 12 key fronts defining emotional workplace competencies. "If more men acted like women in employing their emotional and social competencies, they would be substantially and distinctly more effective in their work," says Richard E. Boyatzis, one of the authors.

Now, the mention of the above data isn't to belittle male leaders. It is to reflect upon the prowess of women entrepreneurs that are undermined, under-acknowledged, and under-utilized. And that’s to the detriment of not just the women leader’s company but the entire ecosystem.

The Experience of Dealing with and Overcoming Competition

Just recently, I was reading through a story by the International Monetary Fund on the struggles of women entrepreneurs in India. The story touched upon the life of Radhika Baburao Shinde (an entrepreneur), who had to fight against her family for years before finally getting to a point where she could thrive.

Imagine this happening on a global scale and, despite that, women leaders (in tech and non-tech startups alike), making a mark for themselves. The fact that they've lived through such uniquely difficult circumstances helps them navigate through difficult situations at their startups too.

They learn to set off the process of "problem finding" and "problem-solving" to break through the glass ceiling. Most importantly, they learn to work with the odds stacked against them. And this makes them formidable competitors -with none of the visible aggression and theatrics traditionally associated with those traits.

Thriving Against the Downs

Some downs (oppositions) are quite evident in the points above. The following are some more blind spots that women entrepreneurs struggle against.

The Lack of Funding

Harvard Business Review, in 2017, outlined the difference in the questions put forth by VCs to female and male entrepreneurs. When questioning male entrepreneurs, VCs resorted to examining the promotion-oriented capabilities. Here's what the questions looked like:

  • How would you "acquire" customers?
  • How would you "monetize" this?
  • What are your "milestones"?

Contrarily, when questioning female entrepreneurs, VCs resorted to examining the prevention-oriented capabilities.

Here's what the questions looked like:

  • How many customers do you have?
  • How would you "break even"?
  • What is the predictability of your future "cash-flows"?

Note the difference?

Fast forward to 2021, and Harvard Business Review published yet another article - this time reflecting upon the disproportionate funding outcomes. In the pandemic-hit 2020, women entrepreneurs received "just 2.3% of the VC funding." That's a massive discrepancy when you consider the meteoric rise in the number of women-led startups mentioned earlier.

The Deep-Rooted Bias

Call it misogyny or bias, anything in the tech space (and beyond) that weighs heavily on "gender" is likely to become an uphill battle. Bias can appear in unnecessary scrutiny being applied in the procurement process (something we face quite often). It can become visible in the voiced and unvoiced doubts expressed in the technology capabilities of women-led companies. It can also be subtly and sneakily expressed in evaluations vis-à-vis competing companies that are led by men. Bias is inherently unfair as it invites irrational judgments, taints the credibility of female entrepreneurs, and repels funding at multiple levels (in many cases, without even presenting an opportunity to prove otherwise).

The need to rally against such biases is an ongoing process. There's a dire need to recognize and then clip their lifeline early on.

Wrapping Up

The growth of women entrepreneurs has been spectacular of late. A lot of it is due to the fact that they've dared to go against the grain. They've challenged the status quo by displaying a penchant for solving problems in new ways.

And while the challenges are still immense, they're not insurmountable. The day isn't far when the glass ceiling lies shattered and women will get measured by the same yardsticks as their men counterparts.