[Editorial notes: As part of Women’s day celebration, Pearl Uppal, cofounder of 5Ideas shared a candid perspective* on what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur. Pearl has performed leadership role in high growth ventures across Internet platform companies ( led Yahoo!’s advertising business in India) and Startups.]
I have run senior roles in tech media companies and then gone entrepreneurial as the co-founding CEO of a high growth ecommerce company (fashionandyou) and co-founding partner at 5ideas Startup Superfuel, a new initiative in seed stage venture capital. Frankly, I have rarely thought about my journey from senior exec to high growth entrepreneur to now investor and supporter of entrepreneurs, in the context of being a woman.
I have always considered myself one among the boys, probably owing to the fact that I come from an armed forces background where they bring up tough girls and also, because I studied at Delhi college of engineering and IIT, both institutes where female gender was in terrible minority. So, I have conditioned myself to think like I am the majority, even when I am the only girl in the room.
But a few months ago I did reflect on this journey in the context of a Woman because one, a lot of people in the industry asked me about the same, and two, because when I stepped off the pedal at fashionandyou, I reflected on why so few women take up high growth entrepreneurship and were there any recollections from my journey so far, that stood out in this context.
Is it tougher for women? Are there advantages or disadvantages for women? Is the society at fault? Here is my take:
Entrepreneurship is tough. High growth entrepreneurship is even tougher. Period. The tough part does not apply specifically to a gender. Few women take the hot seat and it’s mainly a mindset issue. Running a CEO’s chair and building a high growth company requires immense conviction and confidence and not enough women show super confidence in themselves.
We are over critical of ourselves and we shy from sitting at the table and making our opinion count on decisions that matter most. Men on the other hand over project themselves easily and show readiness for the big jobs faster and with more conviction. So the solution is in the mindset. Without a doubt, women vying to reach the head seat at the table have to reach there on their competence, but I also see several advantages that women have over men in being successful at entrepreneurship.
First, several decisions at startups need instinctive leadership and women have a deeper connect to their gut. So if women can rise above the realm of self-doubt, I believe they are inherently more suited to decisions that require leaning in on instinct.
Second, entrepreneurship needs multi-tasking with a capital M and women are pros at that. I have experienced this as a clear advantage in my own journey.
Third, women easily get what women want. So women have a clear advantage in building products and services for women consumers and we all know that 70% plus of the urban household expenditure is controlled by the women in the house. Therein lies one big advantage for women building high growth companies.
The Men’s club and why things need to change.
When I reflected on my journey, I also realized that there is truth in the fact that women and men network differently, and because there are so few women at the top, key business networking opportunities are dominated by men. These networks don’t make the few women that are there comfortable, so a woman basically takes the position of “ I don’t have time for networking, I just focus on my job“; that creates a disadvantage in the long run.
In the context of tech entrepreneurship in India, here is what I have observed. You sit in a Startup Accelerator/ incubator class and almost all are men. You sit in a boardroom and almost all are men. You meet with venture capital investor and you realize that men predominantly control capital. So even if you are damn good, unless you carry a blinding majority mindset and a “I don’t care a f***” attitude (like I do), as a woman, more often than not, you start seeing the collective voice of men as being correct, and you hesitate to make your voice heard.
I have experienced on many occasions that there are many things women will say when they are in the company of other women, which I wish they had said in their board rooms or at key decision making tables. Also, I have found that usually the men in key positions–senior execs, entrepreneurs, investors, are fairly clueless on how to have a real dialogue with women in power. For this to change, women have be there in larger numbers so that men don’t have a choice but to learn how to have real, fearless and effective communication with women in big jobs and women founders.
So to bring in the change, we need more women taking the plunge into building businesses, more women proud of what they have achieved at work, more women angel investors & VCs ensuring the access to capital is fairer, more mentors and advisors supporting the growth of women entrepreneurs , more women in tech, and all this leading to more real and fearless communication between opposite genders on tables that matter.
Recommended Read : Can Indian Women Handle Startups?
[*Note: this article was written in 2013 – very apt and greatly represents the true spirit of being a women-in-tech/startup!].