WISER report observes that women-led start-ups have been found to perform better at promoting gender parity at work, in addition to having a higher percentage of women in leadership roles within the companies
Almost 45 years ago, a management consultant sitting in a panel discussion which was organised on women's aspirations coined a new term: "Glass ceiling". The term referred to 'invisible hindrances' preventing the progress of women in workplaces. Marilyn Loden, an experienced HR professional working in the telecom sector at that time in the USA, recalled the times when she was often subjected to moral lectures on how she should conduct herself during meetings and instructed by her seniors to smile more.
The low number of women in big business houses and inclusivity issues often become a part of the debates, yet there is no visible change. However, start-ups, especially led by women co-founders, seem to be changing workplaces for women, at least that is what the data suggests. A report prepared by ACT For Women in collaboration with Udaiti Foundation has revealed several key trends in start-ups.
It surveyed over 100 founders, including 69 women and 42 men across diverse sectors, and observed that women-led start-ups are observed to perform even better on gender equality, with start-ups that have at least one female founder seen to have 2.5x women in senior roles as compared to male-founded start-ups.
"Focusing on building a culture that recognises performers, allows for work-life balance, and encourages kindness and empathy is the key. When you see two candidates with the same level of expertise, try and hire the woman. Having more women is what can help in attracting more female talent,” says Aishwarya Jaishankar, co-founder and COO of Fintech start-up Hyperface.co.
The report also observes that start-ups offer women a highly conducive growth environment by way of faster career progression and higher autonomy, which enables female employees to meet their career goals at different stages.
"Start-ups have to multiply their growth and to achieve the targeted growth everyone is expected to contribute more regardless of your identity as a Men or Women which leads the workplace in start-ups towards gender neutral place," says Nikita Agrawal, ex-deputy general manager of FMCG start-up Happilo.
Women founders in these start-ups are more empathetic, they know that these are the places where you might have to give priority to your personal life. This empathy percolates to the lower level and makes other people comfortable," she adds.
Reacting to the WISER report indicating that Stand-Alone Programmes or DEI initiatives designed to address discrimination, biases, etc.) are not enough, Jaishankar opines, "It is sad to put diversity in a box and step back after creating certain programs, larger things like work-life balance, building a culture that's supportive of things like work from home on demand, option days for leaves, etc. help much more in ensuring women stay on their jobs."
Start-ups are fueling India’s growth faster than traditional enterprises, with women comprising 35 per cent of the start-up workforce (as against 19 per cent in corporates). This share is projected to rise to 50 per cent by 2030.
Gender disparity becomes apparent at the managerial level, where start-ups have 32 per cent women vis-a-vis 21 per cent in corporates. This gap widens at the CXO level where corporates have only 5 per cent of women in leadership positions against 18 per cent in start-ups, ACT Women in India's Start-up Ecosystem Report 2023 underlines.