For a long time now, bollywood and the storybooks have been raking mullahs through selling the idea of a fairy-tale. Something that's so deeply rooted and then marketed in and around women that many have started believing that a fairy-tale is the ultimate destination for a woman in our country and every woman wishes for it. But then you know this thing about stories - that they're always subjective. The perfect version of a fairytale differs from person to person. And, the truth is - there's no fairytale, whatsoever. For women in India, unfortunately - the process involves continuous tests and proving their mettle, something that makes women possess a qualitative advantage over men owing to the perfection of skill-sets as they pass the tests of time but has the journey been smooth enough? No.
Is the struggle worth it? Definitely yes!
We interviewed several women and stepped into their shoes on the verge of International Women's Day and here's what they have to say about the challenges they've faced and overcomed over the period:
Karishma V Mangal Director and Trustee Thakur International School - Cambridge
The worst of it all is the bias- that you are a woman- are you sure?
It takes time for doors to open and one has to be at it consistently to build trust and be finally allowed to explore and make mistakes. Luckily for me, I came into an organisation that has a considerable female employee ratio. However, as an entrepreneur, I feel I have the pressure to prove myself against all odds and that sometimes takes a toll on the entire project or purpose. In most scenarios, I try to take inputs, put my best and then work consistently.
Tina Garg, CEO at Pink Lemonade
My challenges weren't unusual from any other entrepreneur. They weren't really related to being a woman, fortunately. I believe if you're confident, aware and ahead of your game, you're pretty much on an even footing today. So my challenges were really around hiring when we were smaller, finding the right leadership, and coaching the team for the next level of growth. The right strategic intervention from my mentor and spouse, Tapan, quickly helped us solve many of these and today he is the chief mentor to the organization as a whole. Most women entrepreneurs must avail of some form of mentoring support from both men and women if possible.
Artist Swati Pasari
Yes, being a woman professional is difficult, in a world that is still dominated by men. People often don’t take you seriously, and being an artist, is even more difficult because there will be time when your clients will start bargaining or even ask why is the painting priced high and the likes. However, I have always maintained a smile and considered politeness to be the best way out, no matter what you are facing.
Anshula Kapoor, Founder Fankind
I chose to be an entrepreneur because I had an idea that I believed could help bring joy to people. I am a sole founder and I have never considered my gender to be a deterrent in anything I have done so far in my life. However, since the inception of the idea of Fankind, being taken seriously or getting the respect of being an entrepreneur when I enter a meeting, is still a struggle. And the notion that respect is somehow tied to my gender still confounds me. I am still asked "will Sir be joining us?" or "is your senior on his way". I can literally see their faces fall when I tell them I am the Sir and will be commanding the meeting.
I've attended meetings where men have found it hard to make eye contact and talk to me directly, even when they were meant to be answering a question I have asked! Respect should not be based on my gender. And I have to consciously choose to not let anyone else's perception of my ability or skills hamper how I lead or the decisions I make. I've learnt that I just have to put blinders on and charge forward, armed with self-belief and a goal.
Annu Talreja, CEO, Founder at Oxfordcaps
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my journey was to build a capable and passionate team, who believe in your vision, and are willing to work hard for it. This challenge is further amplified if you are a woman as unconscious biases often don’t allow people to imagine women in leadership roles. I have had interviewees actually ask me if I worked in the organisation in HR or admin role and some who asked me what time I personally left work every day. As a woman in one of the most male-dominated industries (real estate), I have developed my own mechanisms to deal with such biases. They have to be dealt with internally as well as externally. Internally, I have always accepted that the world is not fair. Such biases are not just gender-based, they could be based on colour, height, etc. Once you accept this as a person, you start focusing on the solution rather than the problem. This lets you deal with the problem externally by focusing on how you can break these biases and lead by example.
Neha Bagaria, Founder & CEO at JobsForHer
When I founded JobsForHer in March 2015, I was told by a lot of women that they were being advised to hide the ‘gap’ in their resumes because most companies would perceive the gap negatively. The same was corroborated when we started speaking to companies to recruit women returnees and they brashly proclaimed that they don’t want to hire women or women on a break or mothers!
Over the last 5 years, we have made huge effort and progress in changing the mindsets of both the women and companies. Women, so that they feel confident about the gap in their resumes and portray it in the right light and companies, so that now they are not only taking back a huge number of women returnees but are working with us closely to reach out to this candidate pool.
Shradha Vyas, founder at Carpediem Events
Being in an Event industry, there are many difficulties that a woman in general would face. I would have hoped being the boss would change how women are perceived. On a regular basis, I manage the execution of events and exhibitions where in the workers are primarily male dominated. To ensure, they listen to a woman has been a task, but being in the Industry for almost 7+ years, I have acquired the skills to talk and reach out to everyone, and get the job done. On the other hand we have a secret weapon, for a woman it simple to solve complex situations – we just get angry and everyone listens to us!
Mrs. Nishtha Gupta, Co-founder at Rein Games
In India, challenges are at multiple levels, and very similar to what a woman employee will face. Some challenges can be solved with time while others are deep-rooted and part of the culture.
Short-term challenges are getting more flexibility - Women often have to manage both office and home. They also want to reach home at safe hours so they expect flexible work environments. At Rein Games, we offer flexible work conditions for all our employees. We also want employees to openly talk about there personal lives and not keep their personal lives personal. The office environment should act as a cushion and the more comfortable they are discussing their personal matters more we can help our people. We see that being kind and understanding drives higher ownership and responsibility in our people.
A few of the long-term challenges as women entrepreneurs are being taken seriously by investors and getting equal respect as our male counterparts. As a woman entrepreneur, I believe if I keep taking stands and be more vocal about these issues, things will gradually change. Finally, we have to nurture more women entrepreneurs, one of my all-time favorite quotes is Strong Women - May We Know Them, Be Them, Raise/Nurture them.
Devangi Dalal, Audiologist and Speech Therapist, Co-Founder at JOSH Foundation and first Indian to win the Humanitarian Award from American Academy of Audiology
When I started out in back in the early 1990s, very few people were aware of what I do. Being an audiologist and speech therapist, I had to work with normal people having difficulties and disabilities. Every individual has potential and we just need to enhance it.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions, particularly in dealing with hearing-impaired children and disability and I consistently work towards changing the false perception of people by getting results because unless you don’t prove it, people will not believe it. Over the years technology has advanced so much that people want their phone and laptops to have the latest technology but when it comes to adapting technology for the hearing-impaired, people are always reluctant. I had to work really hard to make people realize how technology can make a difference in the lives of these children. That was the major task.
With social work also there is a misconception that social work has to be quantitative but my profession has made me realize that social work is all about qualitative work because that will create an impact and change the lives of people. Taking an example of Swacch India and Swasth India, I believe that ones thought process should be swacch(clean) and to make yourself self-dependent (swasth). Every individual, whether normal or disabled, has to be channelized to be self-dependent.
Neelam Gupta, Founder President & CEO at AROH Foundation
Entrepreneurship is a difficult life, but social entrepreneurship can be more difficult. Working in the social sector has been rewarding for me, as it fulfills my long cherished dream of helping the society. However, there have been daunting challenges. It was a huge challenge to work in the remote, unreached villages, particularly Naxalite affected areas. AROH took the bold decision to venture into the Red Corridor villages of Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. The field staffs and functionaries have gone through the threats of Naxalites. I was personally challenged and threatened by the Naxalites. But we have bravely carried on the work in areas where most needed and come out with great impact.
Social sector also suffers dearth of good manpower. It is difficult to find competent human resources to work in distant, remote and backward villages which lack basic amenities. It is also a challenge to work in villages where means of transportation do not exist. In many areas one has to walk miles to reach the village. Regular flow of funds was another major challenge as it is difficult to sustain the good work when funds dry up.
Vedaxari Joshi, Founder at All 'bout Communication
Well the challenges I faced were not because I was a woman but because I was very young. I started my journey at 24 and as PR is the most important aspect of a brand, to be taken seriously by brands was important. Fortunately, most of my clients knew me from my previous roles and liked my work. As a woman on the other hand, one of the thing we all face is what the movie Bombshell showcases. When you are at a junior level, men do try to use their designations to draw sexual favours and as a young girl it can get confusing and stressful. It also does affect your personal life and mental health.
Ms. Rishu Gandhi, Founder & Head Brand Strategist at Mother Sparsh
The road to entrepreneurship is always a tough one, more so when you are a woman. Some of the initial challenges I faced were ensuring adequate funding, exploring scope of mobility and gaining practical experience. Also, balancing the business and family life posed a major challenge in my journey. But thanks to my determination and support of my family members, I was able to overcome the challenges and channelize my efforts in the right direction.
Charmi Sheth, Senior interior Designer at Livspace
As women, the bar is set much higher for us as compared to our male counterparts. We face various societal and familial challenges we need to overcome, apart from pressures at the workspace. These factors play a role in determining the confidence that women have. As a female entrepreneur, I have faced challenges pertaining to my self-confidence and asserting myself. These issues have stemmed from the constant reassurance from third parties that I would be taken care of- whether by my colleagues at my company, my family and others. Once I began the journey of being an entrepreneur, I deliberately worked to negate these thoughts and work on my self-confidence. Initially, it was daunting to face these challenges, however, the confidence I received from working on projects from end to end by myself helped me tackle this.
Akriti Khatri, Founder at Venus Detective Agency
When I began my career in the detective field it was a male dominant space, I had to face a lot of troubles on a daily basis in order to move up the ladder and I understood that after sometime this would not be possible for me to continue working in such an environment, so I left and began working from grass root level with ‘Venus Detective’…though it was not easy at the start but yes I feel accomplished to be at the position that I am in today and there is a long way forward.There are different challenges we face as 0-woman entrepreneur. Firstly, the financial issues, in the beginning, there were many ups and down, but It never led me to drop my idea and move with the rush. I had to do something which would be difficult for others. At last my family raised funds for me and helped me to begin the startup. Secondly, is time management, as a woman we have to make sure you reach on time at home.Thirdly, is support of family and society which is most important to have respect for your profession from others. Many times, we are at the place which is not good and safe for us, so we have to take many precautions against it.
Srishti Baweja, Director at E2E Networks
Balancing responsibilities is a major challenge. As a spouse, mother, and entrepreneur, at one point, it seemed impossible to do well in each role. Seeking help from other people/family members and learning to delegate tasks and building a support system has helped me to overcome these challenges gradually. Through these tough times, women who have achieved success, like Indra Nooyi, inspired me and have been guiding light to keep myself on the right path of progress and improvement.
Vishakha Chawla, founder at Vishakha Chawla Interiors
In the field of Interior Design, challenges are thrown at you last minute. In the start it was difficult for people to take orders from women, follow my instructions, and get the work done. Since it requires a team of people, from supervisors to workers to get the work done. I did find it difficult in the start, however with time and dedication I came out a as a stronger professional. With time I was able to find like minded people, and form a team for work association.
Malika Sadani, Founder & CEO at The Moms Co
When we started, it was difficult for me to get people to align with our vision. We wanted to create Natural, Toxin-Free products that adhered to the toughest global safety standards and convincing partners on the same was often tough. I remember being questioned on if I was going to run the company alone or how would I find the time to do this with young kids. Over the last 3 years, we have come a long way. People have now started believing in my vision of creating high-quality products that don’t compromise on the safety of any ingredient or product we make.
The world is full of men trying to build businesses around women’s needs. Women understand other women’s needs better, it’s time they create businesses for the same.
Nirupama Subramanian, CoFounder at GLOW and My Daughter is Precious
One challenge is to stay motivated in the face of failures and uncertainty. It is not always easy to manage family commitments and work commitments, especially if you don't have a system to support you or a boss to whom you can delegate upwards. Another challenge is to keep stepping out of your comfort zone by yourself. I create my own work and set my own pace so I do have to push myself on some days. Sometimes, there is self doubt and anxiety about the outcomes.
One of the ways I manage this is by connecting to purpose. My purpose of enabling leaders, especially women and creating inclusive cultures keeps me motivated. Another way I manage the challenges is by constantly reflecting and calibrating my progress. A simple thing I do is to create a daily list of Must Do activities along with long term goals.Meeting other women entrepreneurs also helps to get inspiration and energy.
Meghna Kishor, Co-founder Greendigo
We never view ourselves as women in an industry dominated by men. We are passionate about making organic clothing the new normal and strive hard to have a voice in the industry.
We believe that building something worthwhile involves a lot of knocking on doors. One needs to persevere and be determined while constantly gaining knowledge so that “challenges” can actually be seen as “opportunities”. Having said so, the first and the biggest hurdle that we encountered was to set up a clean, sustainable, tight loop and reliable supply chain. Manufacturers often do not entertain start-ups since they fail to meet the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity). Also, given that organic clothing for kids is still a relatively nascent category in India, there are only a handful of manufacturers whose supply chain is end-to-end compliant with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Our first big setback actually was encountering a manufacturer who believed in greenwashing and tried coaxing us to follow suit. Since his ideology was not in line with our belief in building an authentic, sustainable and organic brand, we took a business call to delay our go to market date rather than do what was not in line with our ethics and principles.
San Banerjee, CEO & Founder- ADDA
If I went to meet someone along with a Male colleague, they would usually assume the male colleague is senior to me. They would continually address him almost ignoring me until they got my visiting card. More of an amusement than a challenge.
Bhawana Bhatnagar, Founder - Casa Exotique
Being a woman entrepreneur isn’t easy, and it’s far from the deep-rooted belief that women crave stability and secure environment, but you don’t do it because it’s easy, you do it because it’s your passion. Women usually have to deal with family pressure, but I have been very lucky in this regard as my parents were very supportive throughout the process and allowed me to chase my dreams. Even choosing to leave my corporate job to become an entrepreneur was a big decision, but they stood with me like a rock.
The notion that Indian society is gender-biased isn’t without a modicum of truth, but in my experience, it exists only if you let it. If you keep working hard with dedication, you’ll eventually gain the respect that you deserve. It would have been much tougher to be a woman entrepreneur a couple of decades ago, but the society is evolving and more and more women are finding their way to the leadership positions. It will hopefully make things much easier for the new seed of women entrepreneurs.
Aditi Olemann, Co-founder, Myelin Foundry - The biggest challenge for a woman entrepreneur is to get her voice heard and her capabilities taken seriously. If you look at the startup ecosystem today, the number of funded startups with women founders is still very low. This may be a vicious cycle where the lack of confidence of the industry on women founders makes them hesitant to ask for big investments. It is important to break the cycle and a few strong examples in the industry would help remove the inherent bias, and increase the confidence levels women have to take big entrepreneurial risks.
Dr. Prerna Taneja, Director at Clinic Eximus
When you take up your life as a women entrepreneurs definitely there are a lot of challenges that we have to face from the very first step. Firstly, because of the mindset of the people. A lot people doesn't like to be bossed around by a women and they feel that they get intimidated a lot. They have a perception that a women can not do anything alone or a women doesn't have much knowledge to lead a company or these are things women are naturally not possessed with! This is the toughest and also the most challenging thing that we need to fight even before stating our idea or concept of business. As a mother and entrepreneur I have to stretch myself extra thin to workout the pressure to support and also fulfill the demands of both. I think believing in yourself, managing time and prioritizing your work will help you to go long way. So, keep faith in yourself and move in your life to get what you desire and don't give up on your dream as it is not the solution to any of your problem.
Madhura Moulik, Co-Founder, Skilfinity
There are more internal challenges than external. Most of the external challenges are not really gender-related but some obstacles every entrepreneur might have faced.Coming from a patriarchal society the biggest challenge for me was decision making. Most Indian women are nor really the final decision-makers in their household, and that sometimes hinders us to make prompt and crucial decisions that are expected from the head of the business.
Early failure of the decisions is important. While you learn to overcome those failures, you gain the confidence to stand by your future decisions. The key is to overcome this mental barrier and start trusting your instincts.
Ms Yogita Tulsiani, CEO at iXceed Solutions(HR Tech Startup)
- Managing remote globally located teams
- Balancing family/ kids with work. They are informative years and need extra help with school work / emotional support etc
- Acceptance of myself as an entrepreneur within the community
- Cultural and societal barriers to woman entrepreneurs
How did I solve them:
- Explored mentorship and networking opportunities
- Time management is the key
- Working on weekends to cope up.
- Adopt a set of best practices that will benefit female business owners
- A central repository to coordinate resources and efforts
Aditi Olemann ,co-founder of a deep tech AI company Myelin Foundry
The biggest challenge for a woman entrepreneur is to get her voice heard and her capabilities taken seriously. If you look at the startup ecosystem today, the number of funded startups with women founders is still very low. This may be a vicious cycle where the lack of confidence of the industry on women founders makes them hesitant to ask for big investments. It is important to break the cycle and a few strong examples in the industry would help remove the inherent bias, and increase the confidence levels women have to take big entrepreneurial risks
Prashanti Malisetti, CEO and Founder - Pixel Pictures
The image of a producer is often clichéd for one imagines them to be a man dressed in a suit, wearing a couple of gold chains with a briefcase full of cash. This is because most of the entertainment companies are dominated by men. There are people to judge you on the basis of the clothes you wear, the way you look.
I didn’t do anything and that’s what I did. I have kept a low profile. There were times when people didn’t know I was a producer till the finale for they would see me dressed up fancily and doing all kinds of work on set. I made sure that they believe it’s the worldview and work ethic that defines people and the respect they earn through hard work and not by the way they look or what they wear