People are now acknowledging women not because they are the fairer sex, but because of the content and quality they are bringing to the work table. Their fresh, reformative thinking is bringing about change in the society and at work. Five years ago, Naina Aggrawal started a PR and brand communications company, Talking Point Communications, based out in Delhi, with one employee and, today, it has grown into a full-fledged company. When asked about what makes Indian women stand out in a male-dominant society, she says, “Indian women are used up to multitasking; we are hard working, responsible and passionate. Indian women know how to balance work and life despite all the societal norms we face”. She adds, if one is passionate and committed towards the work they do, they will be recognised, regardless of gender.
One such multi-tasking entrepreneur is Ashtar Tashi, a spiritual healer who coaches and transforms people’s lives via spiritual healing. From being a fashionista, it was her passion that helped her take the spiritual path. Now, apart from handling her marketing and public relations, she has been running her own website for the last 16 years. She believes that change and innovation happens because the women in India have lived through crisis day in and day out. She says, “We somehow find solutions to problems because our survival instincts have become stronger living as the ‘weaker sex’ in this male-dominated society for eons. It’s almost like we have developed our own mutant gene to be able to stand up, look at a problem straight in the eye and build from broken dreams to create a reality par excellence”.
The Glass Ceiling is a Cliché!
A report from Grant Thornton states that the number of women occupying top leadership positions in domestic companies increased from 17 per cent in 2017 to 20 per cent in 2018. The figure foretells us that women are breaking the norms, whether it is in top positions or shop floor jobs. There are many inspiring stories that are an exception to breaking the glass ceiling. For example, 28-year-old Snehlata Mishra loves coding, which is thought to be a man’s forte. A graduate from National Institute of Technology, Jamshedpur, Mishra was recently recognised as a “TechGig Geek Goddess” at a coding competition for women in India. She could not have achieved this feat if she was worried about the so-called glass ceiling. Finding inspiration from her mother, Mishra talks about the existence of the glass ceiling, “Women may face a glass ceiling anywhere. I believe it’s all about false perception. We have some of the most successful women leaders in our country, who have made it big all because of hard work and commitment. This holds true for every sector, including technology. I have never faced any such feeling in my professional journey”.
Helping other women break through the shackles of body image, Kalyani Kamble is on a mission to transform lives who are bereft of passion and life purpose. Kamble is a leadership coach and a personal brand strategist and NLP practitioner. She is also the Chairperson of the All Mumbai Women Networking Forum, which is a platform for business networking and education for women. When asked whether on any occasion she has faced social anxiety from another person, she says, “I believe that obstacles are faced by everyone, but if I were to cite my personal experiences, there were times I faced barriers. Such as when I wasn’t given a coaching slot because a male competitor was having a session around the same time and he didn’t want his audience driving towards me, and so on. But thanks to my family, I’ve been able to defy these barriers, one at a time. They’ve been extremely supportive. To cite an example, when my son was taking his board exams, my husband volunteered to stay at home and help him with Maths”.
In today’s gender agnostic work culture, a glass ceiling looks like a false perception. Most women leaders, entrepreneurs and even workforce are of the belief that it’s a term of the past. Women are here to defy conventions, and they are passionate about their work, unlike men. Kanthi D Suresh, COO at Powersportz, a digital sports news channel is of the same opinion. Suresh says, “Indian women are rubbing shoulders with men in all of the above scenarios. It’s just the narrative around their accomplishments that get under-rated, under-reported and, sometimes, maybe, disguised. There are obstacles that everyone faces in their lives. I look upon these obstacles as challenges that have to be won through hard work, effort, patience and rationality”.
Although, diminished bias is on the increase with the ascending graph of the women’s perception of opportunities, established business ownership, entrepreneurial intentions and inclination to be innovative in their businesses. Yet, despite the positive strides accomplished, severe disparities and inequalities exist in nearly all the markets. Having said that, women continue to make notable headways in the entrepreneurial landscape. According to Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2018 (MIWE2018), in 2016 alone, an estimated 163 million women were starting or running new businesses in 74 economies around the world. The gender divide in entrepreneurship is narrowsing on various fronts.
First, an increase of 10 per cent in women’s total entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rate between the 2014 to 2016 period brought the gender gap down by five per cent. In India, women business owners form 11 per cent of the total business owners, while countries like Ghana, Russia and Uganda are way ahead of us in female entrepreneurship. While according to the government’s Sixth Economic Census, which was done by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Indian women constitute around 14 per cent of the total entrepreneurship in the country, which is approximately 8.05 million out of the 58.5 million entrepreneurs. The census data further reveals that these establishments in total, owned by females, provide employment to 13.45 million people.
Still, India lags notably behind, and women-owned firms are still in the minority. The hurdles faced by women who have embraced entrepreneurship are vast and often very different than those experienced by their male counterparts. So what are the reasons that are blocking Indian women entrepreneurs to fit in the work culture? Professor Dr Deepa Gupta, Head-MBA at GL Bajaj Educational Institutions in Greater Noida, points out five main setbacks that women entrepreneurs face at their workplace. These are:
- When women entrepreneurs talk business with primarily male executives, they find it unnerving. In such situations, women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically male attitude towards business. They have to be competitive, aggressive and, sometimes, overly harsh.
- Raising capital is more difficult for women-owned firms.
- Women often struggle to be taken seriously.
- Having a robust support network is essential for entrepreneurial success, so it comes as no surprise that 48 per cent of female founders report that a lack of available advisers and mentors limits their professional growth.
- Parent entrepreneurs have dual responsibilities to their business and their families. Finding ways to devote time to both is the key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance.
Do Women Need a Special Day?
The United Nations adopted the International Women’s Day in 1975 to celebrate women’s rights and world peace. Since then, the day is celebrated with a certain theme. The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 was “Think equal, Built Smart, Innovate for Change”, which is in sync with the life of Indian women today.
However, Indian women do not agree. For them, every day is a celebration. Tashi says, “If I can be honest, I personally am not a champion of any of these so-called days. I don’t feel the need to celebrate any of these special days because each one is my day. Being a woman and an empowered one at that, I think that, on the one hand, we seek equality for our choices and get offended when we are discriminated upon; while, on the other hand, we ask for attention from the society to earmark a day for us to celebrate womanhood. How is it that there is no Men’s Day? Is it because every day is their day, or that the society takes it for granted that men don’t need special favours since they are the chosen ones?”
It is true that India couldn’t have reached its peak in all its glory if it wasn’t for women supporting all the industries and the varied professions across the board. Whether it is the first female doctor Anandi Gopal Joshi, the first actress Durga Bai Kamat or the first woman pilot Sarla Thakral, since centuries women like them, many known and many unknown, have been contributing as a strong gender equally in every aspect of the country’s growth, as a man would.
The need of the hour is #balanceforbetter, which asks everyone to “Think equal, Built Smart, Innovate for Change”.