Zahara Kanchwalla, Co-Founder & CEO, Rite KnowledgeLabs

Zahara is the Co-founder & CEO at Rite KnowledgeLabs. As the Chief Operating Officer (CEO) she is responsible for providing operational leadership and ensuring service delivery excellence. Across diverse digital stakeholder communication and thought-leadership programs, she works closely with clients, anchoring key account relationships and ensuring the service delivery exceeds expectations right from planning to publishing. She has over 17 years of experience and has worked with several multinational and leading Indian organizations in various capacities pertaining to business communications, content publishing, e-learning, IT and training. She brings significant business, technology, BFSI and financial content publishing experience and has led engagements with customers across industry sectors.

 

The Great Resignation could easily be one of the (many) big surprises fuelled by the pandemic. It’s almost as if the virus has rewired professionals to consider what they truly value and what they are willing to quit. A high number of professionals, across geographies, are choosing to pursue the entrepreneurial path for more reasons than just the pursuit of enterprise. In the U.S. alone, 4.3 million employees have quit earlier this year. The trend is similar in high-growth potential economies such as India, which saw as many as six unicorns in early 2021. Most psychologists attribute this shift to higher risk-taking abilities, fuelled by intense situations such as the pandemic.

Shy of entrepreneurship

In today’s digital-intensive business environment, entrepreneurship promises a high potential for growth and greater flexibility. Despite this, the group that lost the maximum jobs during the pandemic – women, especially mothers – have been reluctant to embrace this trend. Out of every 100 entrepreneurs in India, only a shocking seven are women, as found in a 2020 report by Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy, a gender research and advocacy organization.

This isn’t a one-off instance. Historically, women have been hesitant to pursue high-potential opportunities. Of the 136 members in India’s unicorn founders club, only five happen to be women. Clearly, women are shy of pursuing the entrepreneurial path but what’s making them so?

The entrepreneurial gene

There are multiple reasons to which we can attribute why women across the world aren’t recognising or nurturing their entrepreneurial gene. However, the most important of these perhaps is the clear bias, coupled with the high social and moral pressure on women to avoid failure at all costs. According to a Harvard Business Review study, venture capitalists invested more than USD 58 billion in startups last year. On closer inspection, businesses that turned out to be founded by women received only 2 per cent of the funding pie.

Lack of capital from investors or friends and family for bootstraps is one of the biggest challenges for any entrepreneur. Add to this societal values that discourage aggressive and bold behaviour among girls and young women. And you are left with a community of entrepreneurs with high potential and ambition but who are hesitant to scale the extra mile that entrepreneurship demands.

Mistaking bias for representation

This huge gender gap in the entrepreneurship landscape begs the question – do we really need to label women who are entrepreneurs as ‘women entrepreneurs’ or ‘fempreneurs’? I for one, believe we shouldn’t. While representation is important, it needs to happen for the right reasons.

Prefixing the profession with gender is tokenism in the garb of representation. It, in fact, does a disservice by implying that being an entrepreneur who is a woman is such an anomaly that it needs to be stated separately. Instead, we need to go beyond and bring attention to the real issues. Like talking about how to get past funding challenges if you are a woman setting up a business or what it takes to be a successful leader in industries that have been traditionally male-dominated.

Labels take attention away from the journey of the entrepreneur, her aspirations and the skills it took to get where she is. They belittle the achievements she accomplished despite her gender. And this, apart from being pointless in circa 2021, further intimidates aspiring entrepreneurs. It creates a sense of deviation from the norm and perpetuates the notion of barriers. Real inclusivity should focus on celebrating the ambition and achievements of leaders from all backgrounds.

Way forward

If we can correct the skewed entrepreneurship ratio, businesses run by women have the potential to create as many as 150 million to 170 million jobs for India’s economy by 2030, according to a pre-pandemic report by Google and Bain & Company. But for this to happen, we need to build an equitable environment at home, in education and at work. As parents, teachers, mentors and funding partners, we need to recognise, encourage and reward an entrepreneurial bent of mind and leadership qualities.

Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that in the new, digitally-powered world, leader identities are more fluid than traditional gender roles. They are defined by high agility, resilience and an invincible commitment to evolving market dynamics. These are the aspects of an entrepreneur’s personality that we need to let shine under the spotlight before anything else.

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