How Startups Can Create Work Culture Where Women Can Thrive?

How Startups Can Create Work Culture Where Women Can Thrive?
The article is contributed by Jaya Jha, Chief Product Officer, MoEVing.

During recent years, we have witnessed some of the most encouraging signs for women in entrepreneurship, with 2021 being the year when the most number of women-led startups turned unicorns (8 out of 46 unicorns in 2021 were led by women), but there’s a lot more progress to be made. For instance, female workforce participation in our country remains among the lowest in South Asia at about 20% (as against about 56% among men), as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey. Even at startups helmed by the younger generations, these numbers don’t get any better. While less than 15% of all entrepreneurs in the country are women, the number of women at the senior level or even as employees in startups, especially in technology companies, remains abysmal. With this reality, we witness companies actively looking to hire diverse talent, which is a positive first step. The biggest question to address here is, how can employers make their workplaces fit for their female employees to thrive? The answer to this includes a manifold effort at levelling the playing field.

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De-glamourising ‘Hustle’ Culture

The common association with startups around the world remains the ‘hustle’ culture propounded by many male founders, who set their own working hours, many times late into the midnight hours, and whose colleagues are mostly men who live similar lifestyles. This culture of youngsters extending their college life only signifies a lack of empathy for not just different gender workforce but also older employees with families.

Instead, what startups need in order to allow all their employees of all genders to grow is promoting a good work ethic, responsibility and flexibility. Setting minimal processes and bureaucracy can help startups make each of their employees stronger and more confident in what they bring to the table. With minimal processes, it takes a responsible team member to get things done efficiently — which is one of the ways of supporting women and people with family responsibilities to thrive.

Getting Women Employees in Early Stage

Women cannot be just token representatives in a startup, which often happens when diversity is more of an afterthought for companies. In order to make a workplace truly inclusive, it is important to have female employees in senior positions right from an early stage of the company. This not only helps women have more role models but also shapes the company’s growth, decisions and policies in a manner that takes all employees into purview. While having more female representation in leadership roles is not a silver bullet, it definitely helps the cause of supporting women employees to grow in their career trajectories.

It is also crucial for both men and women in senior management roles to be conscious of their biases while hiring - such as putting down a female candidate who’s had a career break over a male candidate. In fact, during my career spanning 15 years as a Product Manager, some of the best hires I have made were women with career breaks who had the potential and passion to give their best. Even at MoEVing, our first few tech hires were women and we are proud to have several women on our product team as well as in the company leadership.

Supporting Both Men & Women in Achieving Work-Life Balance

We have been witnessing the current work from home routines adding a lot more onto women’s plates around the world, with women shouldering more responsibilities when it comes to family and household work. So, unless men start stepping back from their workplaces in order to step up for their female partners to fulfil their familial responsibilities, supporting women will only be lip service. We need to normalise men availing their paternity leaves so that women going on maternity leaves are not seen as a hindrance to their careers.

It is interconnected that when we support male employees of a startup in achieving their work-life balance, we also in turn support female employees at other startups achieve the same. Work policies should be aimed at supporting all employees to achieve this balance, instead of leaving women disadvantaged at growing in their roles at work because of household or familial responsibilities.

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Women’s way of working is often infantilised in startups as women often do not negotiate as much for their salaries, compared to men who are aggressive at it. This aggressiveness at negotiating for salaries or a raise has been made a virtue out of, resulting in several women not being paid what they are worth. As of 2020, women globally earned just 81 cents of every dollar earned by men, with the pandemic worsening the situation as a Deloitte ‘Women at Work’ report found.

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To bridge this gap requires managers and startups to identify and value women employees for their performance. It requires companies to think about getting women on board right from the moment they start to lay their foundations and pay them what they rightly deserve.

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