Column: On Women Entrepreneurs



From the days when entrepreneurship was seen as a proposition meant either
for those who were already well off and so could afford to get into
‘business’ or for those who could not find jobs or were not so well
educated, we have come a long way. Over the last decade, thanks to the success
stories of Infosys, Satyam, Spectramind, Indiaworld and several others, there
has been a major transformation in the profile of ‘entrepreneurs’, the
approach to ‘entrepreneurship’ and the resultant mindset towards
entrepreneurship. Yet, when compared with the proportion of men, women
entrepreneurs in the IT industry are a miniscule number. If we were to analyze
the proportion of women employees in IT organizations, there has been a healthy
growth which on an average stands at 20-25%-which was less than 10% a decade
ago. The expanding business, exposure to opportunities, access to the right
education and ‘the right fit’ IT industry offers to women, have made this
possible. However, these factors have not helped in women taking on the mantle
of entrepreneurship in the IT Industry as a noticeable trend. Despite the fact
that  freelancing as an independent
consultant has been in vogue more due to the convenience of the individuals and
companies concerned, the ecosystem required to succeed as a woman entrepreneur
is absent in the country.

How about the entrepreneurial women we find in some other sectors, why do
they take the entrepreneurial route? Most of these ventures fall into one of
these categories-traditional and ‘safe’ zones familiar to women like
catering or assisting husbands in their shops/business; professional expertise
based which is self-run like running a dispensary as a doctor, providing
tuitions to students, or providing legal/tax guidance; women focused business
such as fashion and cosmetics; artistic business such as media. IT Industry does
not lend itself to most of these characteristics and despite the fact that the
industry itself is growing at an amazing rate of 35% plus annually, the number
of women entrepreneurs continues to remain an insignificant number. What then
are the key challenges which inhibit women from becoming IT entrepreneurs?

The first challenge lies in the definition of entrepreneurship itself.
Entrepreneurship involves the ability to identify the right opportunities, risk
taking and access to capital/market. Largely women like to ‘play it safe’
and do not ‘network’ amongst business circles as much as men do. Setting up
the business, raising capital, going and seeking customers, doing ‘deals’ as
the opportunities come along and creating conviction among the male dominated
stakeholders regarding their seriousness about their venture- when it comes to
financing, are not easy matters. Further, if a woman is married and has a family
to take care of, it brings additional limitations especially into the
entrepreneurial venture. An entrepreneur has to breathe and live his/her dream
24×7, physically and mentally, and is required to be available to attend to the
call of the business whether from the customer, the employees or the market
forces. This calls for the ability to put up with tremendous amount of pressure
and stress which do not come easy to most women when they also do not have an
effective support system from the family or society to become ‘the daredevil
entrepreneurs’.

"An
entrepreneur has to breathe and live her dream 24×7, and have the ability
to put up with tremendous stress… which does not come easy"

Despite the above stated challenges, we are beginning to see women in the
entrepreneurial zone lately which is a positive trend. While the success of 
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw with Biocon is well known, few other women have come
forward to set up entrepreneurial ventures around the support system required
for the IT Industry in areas such as recruitment, training and counseling. How
do we get more women to become entrepreneurs in the IT Industry? The first step
has to be taken by women themselves. Especially women who have had experience
working in the industry are ideally suited to identify the opportunities where
they could set up a venture of their own, based on their expertise and
understanding of the market. Women have the natural flair for creativity, and
the motivation and perseverance to make things happen. Should a woman decide to
be an entrepreneur, these characteristics will help her immensely. However, as
an entrepreneur, one needs to get the germ of the business idea oneself and be
self-motivated all the time.

Next, the companies they are associated with and the industry as a whole
should be supportive of entrepreneurial initiatives and come forward to nurture
them especially at the start-up stage. The government and the industry should
come up with mechanisms to draw more women into IT entrepreneurship through
innovative policies. Venture funding agencies could take a leaf out of their
books to come up with policies and trigger mechanisms relevant to the Indian
context. 

Lastly, our education system does precious little to support
entrepreneurship. Except for recent initiatives of the IITs and a few other
leading institutions which have set up incubation centers, youngsters have very
little exposure and encouragement to venture out on their own. Recognizing the
importance of entrepreneurship in their economy, countries like the UK catch
people when they are young and most universities in the UK have started offering
entrepreneurship as an elective for undergraduate programs, be it Chemistry,
Arts or Engineering. This is a fantastic way to engrain the tenets of
entrepreneurship early in life and let the seed to germinate and flower in due
course. Our education system should also actively participate in encouraging
entrepreneurship, and given the goal of India to continue to dominate in the
global IT space for a long time to come, this is the time not only for educating
more women to become IT professionals but to tap the huge untapped potential of
women to become entrepreneurs so they contribute towards more wealth creation as
well as more opportunities for job creation for the country. 
Given the right policy framework and the right eco system, Indian women
are known to overcome all barriers; can IT entrepreneurship be any different?

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