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Nov, 01 2007

Woman’s entrepreneurial forte

With the recent focus on some of the eminent corporate divas in India for being the richest women in the world, women entrepreneurship has attained an extra mileage than just being a social issue of women empowerment and liberalisation.

An untroden lane in the business sector in India… a new enterprise headed by a 25 year old girl starting her business with Rs 10,000 capital in her garage after being turned down by the banks for being a woman. 30 years down the line, she is the richest women in India crowned to be the `India`s Biotech Queen`. We are talking about none other that Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon. She says, “I started Biocon on a rebound! I took on a challenge to prove to the world that a woman could make a good business manager and that contrary to common perception; women did have the ability to take and manage risk!”

There are many such women, who started their business in the same way, some in their verandas, some in their garages and some in the backyards of their house. Today, they have come a long way occupying profound places in the corporate world as well as in the economy of the country. Women entrepreneurs constitute one tenth of the Indian business world.

The past story

The last quarter of the previous millennium saw the rise of many women corporate executives as well as entrepreneurs who have made a profound place for them in the economy of the country. However, the scenario was different in the past. The society was dominated by men. The home was the woman`s world and she found fulfilment in bringing up her children and looking after the household. The lack of education made her financially dependant on their husbands.

To put it in the words of Shahnaz Husain, CEO, Shahnaz Herbals, “I had always felt strongly that women have the potential to be successful in the business world. It is a latent force that had not really emerged, because of age-old traditions that the woman`s place is in the home.”

The economy of the country had little scope for women to participate as an entrepreneur. Moreover the business sectors that mainly dealt with wholesale business and manufacturing did not hold any interest for the educated women folk who then considered the professions of being a teacher or working in an office to be a more prestigious option.

What empowered women

Today, the economic conditions of the country are conducive for the women entrepreneurs to grow. The growing sectors like IT, healthcare, retail, etc., have created new opportunity and increased the area of interest for a woman who wants to start her own business.

Consciousness about family planning amongst couples has lessened the responsibility of raising kids which had once been the sole purpose of a woman's life. Easy availability of helpers for the household chores has made it easy for a woman to spend more time out of the house.

Women being educated have learned to prioritise between her responsibilities and ambitions in life. While she is still the ideal home maker, she also fits into the shoes of an entrepreneur keeping both her home and her organisation running at their best.

The driving force

What drives a woman towards business? Reasons vary from the desire to control their own time and destiny, to gain flexibility and financial independence.

The main concern in India still being liberalisation of women, all the governmental schemes and policies encouraging woman entrepreneurship are aimed at women empowerment. Hence, a major chunk of women entrepreneurs belong to the rural sector in India who has mastered skills in handicrafts and cottage industry to sustain themselves and provide support to their families. Many of them are running small scale business units with employee strength of five or more.

The next category of women is the educated urban homemakers, who usually take up business as a pastime, to cultivate some special interest or hobby; or to assist their husbands or any other male member in her family in business. It starts with a desire to utilise their time fruitfully by doing something worthwhile. Such businesses evolve gradually from hobby to economic enterprise over time.

Another reason that pushes women into business is circumstances like death of spouse or financial crisis in the family. The main driving force in this regard tends to be financial.

Many women are also drawn into entrepreneurship due to a strong desire to prove themselves as successful individuals. Financial gain is not the primary motivating factor for these women, who are more likely to start a business for the challenge and opportunity for self-fulfillment.

There is a category of women who inherit the business or are solely driven by their ambition to own a business of their own. We are talking about the present generation women who are backed by good academic background and a desire to take up business as an occupation.

Privileges, challenges

In a country like India, it is easier for a woman to take up business because even today, no matter how progressive and financially independent the women folk might be, in most of the cases, men still remains the sole bread earner. A woman can start a business and give as much time as it requires reaching the break even. In most cases they also get support and guidance in the business from their husbands.

Flexibility of timing is another factor that makes things easier. A woman has to look after the household and raise kids besides having a career. Business gives her the freedom to strike a better balance between work and family.

Government schemes encouraging entrepreneurship among women and other facilities like easy loan schemes for women entrepreneurs also makes it a less ordeal for a women to start a business.

Reflecting upon her privileges as a woman, Shaw says, “Whilst setting up Biocon in a strong licensing environment, I found that being a woman worked to my advantage as I was always welcomed into Government offices whereas my male counterparts were kept waiting.”

So, does that make business a ball game for women? Certainly not. It takes a lot of dedication, creativity, tenacity, confidence and courage to utilise your assets and energy in a way that helps you to give shape to an economically competent enterprise. Woman entrepreneurs face the same problem as a man does in capitalisation, marketing and staffing, at the same time dealing with more subtle challenges like competing in male-dominated sectors.

Dealing with the gender bias often proves to be quite taxing specially while dealing with people with a sexist mentality. However now, the mindset has to a large extent changed in the favour of women. Ingrid Srinath, CEO, CRY opines, “I cannot say that I have experienced much gender bias, though I do recall having to choose between toilets labelled `Ladies` and `Managers` on my first day at work!”

While women`s leadership styles are often more effective than men`s for motivating and inspiring people, women often become stymied by certain feminine traits.

They are often reluctant to take risks.

Being kind and forgiving by nature, they have a tendency to rescue and mother problem people.

They get too involved with minute details which slow down the process at times.

They often display emotions too openly.

Personal front

According to Shaw, “For women especially, balancing home and work, life may become difficult without adequate support from the family. Men need to be emotionally secure and should not get a complex with successful spouses.”

However balancing business and home sometimes becomes difficult as you cannot stretch time beyond a point of time. To quote Shahnaz Husain, says, “There is a mind boggling price to success. In skimming on the waves of success, you can miss the finer values of life.”

Characteristics that make her entrepreneur

While dealing with an entrepreneurial bug is not just a cake walk, there are some traits inbuilt in a woman`s nature that gives her an edge over her male counterpart. A woman is a leader by nature and a manager par excellence. Since ages women have been the sole runner of a household which makes managerial skills her second nature.

Being more compassionate by nature, she can utilise this positive feminine attribute to be a very affectionate and at the same time influential boss to her employees.

She brings in a sense of balance, intelligence, higher emotional quotient level and respect to the management team.

Women are very good communicator. They are very sensitive and can understand the psychology of people better. Their harmonious nature helps in building relationships with clients as well as employees.

Women cannot settle with anything lesser than the best. With an eye for detailing and perfection coupled with a humane touch, she makes sure each and every job is done to achieve the best possible results. Determination, commitment and a go-getter approach towards their work makes them invincible when it comes to achieving the goal.

And above everything, there is a quest to prove that she can achieve anything she sets her mind on. Financial empowerment gives her a satisfaction that makes her deal with the stress of maintaining a work and life balance with equal aplomb.

According to Shahnaz Husain, “A woman`s ability to adapt and adjust is important in business, because one has to adapt to the changing demands of the market and trends. To evaluate the worth of an idea, one has to have a feel of market trends and changing levels of awareness. I think women have the sensitivity for this.”

Characteristics that needs to be acquired

Owning a business is a brilliant idea. However, before plunging into business, a woman should consider a few things. Besides being willing to work hard she should possess sufficient capitalisation for a recommended two years, a workable business plan, family support, willingness to reinvest profits back into the business and last but not the least the discipline to sustain both, personal and professional life.

You have to be very competent and upright. You have to have your vision clear. Have a clear picture of your goal. Then convey that vision in detail to every member of your organisation. It is only then that you can lead your team in achieving it.

Be a good communicator both for your employees as well as for your clients. As a leader you must be able to effortlessly use full power of language to clarify, motivate, influence, persuade and inspire your employees. Your communication skills should also convince your clients to forge a long lasting bond with your company.

Do not hesitate to take risks. It is the part and parcel of business. Be open to criticism and be prompt when it comes to taking quick decision and action.

Keep the priorities of your organisation above your personal interests and ambitions. Appreciate your employees` efforts and contribution and encourage them for betterment.

Be aware of your own strength and weaknesses as an entrepreneur as well as an individual.

Be optimistic. Be open and honest regarding the current status of the business and projects, but remember, even in the direst circumstances, your positive outlook can encourage and energise everyone.

Business demands both time and dedication. There is no alternative for it.

Woman-dominated business sectors


Until the '80s, women entrepreneurs were confined to `kitchen-enterprises` – the three Ps: pickle, powder (spices) and papad – or “soft” traditionally feminine enterprises, such as garments, beauty care, etc.

However, from the 1990s and onwards, with increased levels of education, more women have opted for entrepreneurial careers in plastics, electronics and leather related industries.


Now we have women entering into every kind of business sector, be it bio-technology or tractor manufacturing. A majority of women entrepreneurs in India are concentrated in the light manufacturing sector (leather, garments, engineering goods, beauty products). The second most common category is that of services (interior designing, management and placement, consultancy, nursery school). This is followed by the retail trade sector including boutiques, home furnishing, automobile dealing, etc.

However, overall women entrepreneurs gravitate towards ventures with low investment, lesser technological barriers and minimum gestation period.

Emerging business for women

The business world has a lot of options for a business woman these days.

Franchise business:

Franchise business is very convenient for a woman to take up a franchisee for a number of reasons like the training and support that she receives from the franchisor makes her capable of running the business even if she has little or no experience in the particular sector. A study done by Deloitte in Australia shows that one out of four franchisees is women.

Networking business:

Networking businesses like Amway, Avon, Tupperware, etc., has also created many small women entrepreneurs out of housewives who can run these businesses from home through a convenient network of friends and relatives.

Other sectors:

Many other sectors that are conducive for women entrepreneurs are Bio-technology; IT enabled enterprises, event management, tourism, telecommunication, healthcare, etc.

Government initiative

The government has granted several concessions that benefit women entrepreneurs. There are several nationalised banks that offer financial assistance to the women entrepreneur under a number of schemes. SIDBI, Dena Bank, State Bank of India, Bank of India, Union Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce have specialised schemes formulated for easy loan availability for a women entrepreneur. The special features of these schemes give women entrepreneur special privileges over her male counterparts in terms of lesser percentage of interest, easy payment options, concession on processing fee, loan without any security etc.

International scenario: US and China

According to a study in America, women entrepreneurs employ 19.1 million people and contribute $2,5 trillion to the economy. The study also reveals that women own 47.7 per cent of all private companies in USA. Two out of three businesses are started by women and the success rate is also high. Each year one million women entrepreneurs are benefited by government programmes that lend approximately $300 billion for starting and expansion of business through various schemes.

China being a developing nation is catching up rapidly with women making 20 per cent of the whole entrepreneurial force. The reorganisation of China`s industry, urbanisation and emergence of new service industries such as community work, tourism, healthcare and insurance have made circumstances favourable for the women entrepreneurs to grow.

Areas where women need assistance

There are many other areas in business that women need to master if they are not from that specific background. For instance, many entrepreneurs dread the word `finance` even though much of the success of their business relies on it. Similarly, many women are not very much tech savvy. Most of them also deter to deal with legal issues. Such circumstances cause hindrance as they have to depend on other people in these regards. In these cases they need assistance. They can approach a good chartered accountant, legal advisor or qualified professional who can assist them with these aspects of the business.

However, a woman who owns a business should acquire some knowledge about each and every aspect of her business –– at least as much knowledge as it requires to run an enterprise smoothly.

The crux of the story

While managing her different roles of wife, housewife, mother and career woman efficiently, she has learnt the values of time-management, patience and even handling budgets. Women not only have the courage, inner strength and foresight that are necessary to be successful as entrepreneurs, but are no less than men when it comes to intelligence, talents and creativity. For a creative person, the world of business offers many avenues, because creativity leads to innovative ideas. Translating them into practical terms is what business is all about.


Women entrepreneur data

A glance at the physiological variations in the brains of men and women can be beneficial.

• Male brains are 10 % larger than a female brain which means that male brain need more cells to perform the same task.

• Female has more nerve cells in certain areas.

• Women transfer data faster due to larger corpus collusum (the dense network of nerves that connects your left and right brain), making it easier for increased flexibility and multi-tasking.

• Men are left-brain oriented and are largely successful in solving numbers and problems.

• `Gray matter` - the part that allows thinking is 55.4% in women and 50.8% in men



Successful woman entrepreneurs

Shahnaz Hussain, CEO, Shahnaz Herbals

To be successful in the business world, one needs to have a dream and a burning desire to make those dreams come true. An entrepreneur, in the true sense of the word, is someone with independence of spirit.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon

I strongly believe that women can prove to be an extremely successful breed over the next decade. If you have a vision, a plan and the conviction you should follow it and success will come to you.

Ritu Kumar, Fashion Designer

Women should have a positive attitude and should be prepared to work hard. Running a business is no ball game and there is no substitute for hard work. Especially if you consider fashion business it requires a tremendous determination, right skills and perseverance to survive in this trade and build up an identity of your own.

Ingrid Srinath, CEO, CRY

What I do know is that pursuing your dreams, however unrealistic they might seem at first, is the only way to find happiness, success and fulfilment. Only you can define who and what you wish to be and if you are clear about those definitions the world will respond positively.

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