Even though businesses across geographies have restructured their operations and growth strategies with an aim to prosper in the era of the ‘New Normal’, unfortunately, they haven’t yet addressed some critical people-centric issues. Amongst them, gender equality still persists as a major area of concern with women continuing to remain significantly underrepresented across the business pipeline- especially at the C-suite level.
Currently in India, about 70% of startups have less than 20% women in leadership roles, compared to 77% in 2020, while about 41% of startups have less than 10% of women in leadership roles (source- India Startup Outlook Report by InnoVen Capital). Ironically, despite startups continuing to raise record funds at high valuations, gender disparity across the startup ecosystem has just about narrowed down. While this does reflect some progress, it also shows that a lot more work still needs to be done for empowering women to create companies. The first step is to understand the factors which are holding back women from being founders.
Constant self-doubt due to lack of recognition and trust from leadership and management is a key deterrent that stops women from believing that they can go ahead and do something on their own. In one of the chapters of her book ‘Lean In’ the current COO at Meta, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how a team of women who had well-deserved rights to have seats at the table, just felt like imposters and stayed back while their esteemed male counterparts comfortably eased in. She elaborates on the studies and science of “Imposter Syndrome” – of doubting one’s abilities being more prevalent amongst women.
Unfortunately, these patterns and issues are not limited to professional scenarios but ones that also exist at the level of social norms and mindsets. Isn’t it true that even as of today, there is a certain degree of deep-rooted suppositions, including women’s own expectations of the sort of role they should be able to play in society? Sadly, it binds many individuals to walk with crutches that are tied to age-old behaviors, rather than facilitating a mindset shift towards a structure that is truly inclusive and equal.
One thing is for certain- rather than being given importance as a one-time campaign, matters of diversity and inclusion need consistent work in order to progress and nurture. We can foster balance and inclusiveness in the world by simply considering the genders to be equal.
There are five steps that can be taken to help empower more women towards founding startup ventures…
- Tax discounts for women-founded startups will draw more venture capital money to their specific sector
- Launching entrepreneurship programs to help kickstart founder journeys for women within existing organizations will go a long way in not just providing but also acting as a good transitory phase where the leap to being a founder would feel more controlled and manageable.
- Women should have the flexibility to choose their form of life without being judged against the conventional roles of what each gender is “supposed” to do. How women can “Have it all” or “Do it all” should no longer be an expectation in society.
- While planning for the future, all management positions that are currently held by women could also first look at potential women successors to maintain diversity at the leadership level. I really think it’s time for us to not play conservative anymore and really push for an equal 50–50% split at all levels.
- Incentivizing the promotion of products and apps where we put women in charge (some dating apps are doing this) with an aim to make it a habit for women to take decisions and be in charge. These small everyday habits could go farther in making women feel in control and in turn help boost their confidence and make leadership come more naturally to them- even across the business environment.
We live in a flat-out connected global world, and in order to achieve better performance, organizations will have to become more diverse. Only strong willed actions and initiatives will be able to bridge the gender leadership gap. It’s time for the industry ecosystem to do its fair bit.
(The author is Yogeeta Chainani, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Swaarm and the views expressed in this article are her own)