It was nearly 2 years ago, I had an invitation to attend an entrepreneurial networking meet-up on one of the Saturdays post-work. Upon asking a friend of mine who was aspiring to venture into a business to join me for the event, she replied, “After working hard at home and work throughout the week, I get one Sunday for myself, I have no energy to attend a gathering on a Saturday evening”. It then struck me that for women who are ambiverts, have responsibility for a family and a full-fledged career to manage, it is nothing less than a struggle!
Women In Business & The Road To Entrepreneurship
As a businesswoman, I have mostly noticed the ratio of men v/s women is 70:30; I am sure many can relate to this observation. On one hand, it makes me feel proud to be one of those 30 women attending the event with confidence, yet it also breaks my heart to live in the bubble, because the reality is unsettling. The ratio is an indicator that the number of women entrepreneurs can be counted on hands, and the roadblocks faced by women who have defied the norms and embraced entrepreneurship are still plenty. Sadly, male counterparts can’t even relate to them, maybe due to differences in social conditioning.
Entrepreneurship itself is not an easy road, from self-development to family development to managing work and family, to running a business, it requires courage, grit, perseverance and loads of support from the people around you. No wonder it is not for the faint-hearted, regardless of the gender.
I have been very fortunate to have been nourished by some excellent, experienced and courageous mentors who not only paved the way for me but also enabled me to be able to make those tough decisions in my career with strength. My mother, a retired principal, being my first and strongest mentor gave me ‘just in time’ training since childhood.
My mother once told me “The best form of learning is learning in groups, with people, because you not only learn from your experiences but also through immense social learning”. At those times what was coined as ‘ladies-get-together’ is now broadly referred to as ‘Networking’.
Later in life, I became friends with a woman entrepreneur who was close to my mother’s age. Vijaya is both an elder I respect and feel great warmth from, but also a total badass with incredible business experience and acumen. She said, “Society is scared of women in command, hence remember as you go up the ladder, there would be more respect than friendships, more fear than faithfulness”. To understand and experience her observation fully, I have a few years more of learning ahead of me. But the truth is, I too, lost some friends, was judged often and found it difficult to express myself due to the difference in thought process, acceptance, and society’s expectations from women!
And that’s why today, I too would like to reiterate that “My fellow aspiring and roaring women leaders and entrepreneurs, let us accept that it is difficult being alone but like you lose naivety with wisdom yet you choose wisdom, similarly you need to be clear and understand what your losing in the bargain when working towards your career dreams”.
As stated in a report by Google and Bain & Company in February 2020: “Despite improvements in social parameters, India’s growth does not translate into the economic inclusion and development of women”. My understanding from this statement is that while we have progressed by a 20% increase in the entrepreneurial statistics of women in the last 10 decades, we are still far away from equal opportunity, women ownership, and growth.
In further writing, I would like to focus on how to gain equal opportunity, ownership and growth for women entrepreneurs in society.
As a woman running my venture from the last 5 years in corporate training, mentoring and coaching, I often think about how women can network outside the traditional framework of networking. After long hours of discussion, attending seminars, training women, I concluded that group networking is the way forward because I believe in the saying that you can’t be what you can’t see!
Scott Dinsmore said, “The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can be done is to hang around people already doing them”.
Networking: The Foundation Of A Successful Venture
The best way to learn from people is through networking. One of the things I’ve observed is that women sound either too much like men or like timid characters in networking meetups, and that could happen either because they want to be treated as equal or they do not carry enough confidence in their personalities; but, both types of attitude have the same intention of growth and development. Hence the first step to gain equal opportunity from the outside world is to feel equally responsible, confident, dependable and committed to your venture, regardless of gender.
Femininity is a gift you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace; similarly, confident decision making and being assertive when required is a skill you need to develop. When it comes to business, they’re not mutually exclusive.
Some of the best networking groups I have known are working tirelessly towards empowering women in self-decision making, setting inspiring examples by presenting more women leaders and their success journeys through platforms like meet-ups, fortnight catch-ups, online panel discussions, and social media Live sessions. Such groups enable you to connect with brands, investors, peers, thought leaders, organise speaker driven motivational sessions, and also help in new skill development, as well as exposure to new trends in the market.
The benefits of group networking are innumerable and extremely valuable for the growth of women-led ventures.
Joining a networking group not only helps you find the right guidance, mentorship and support in personal and professional growth but also builds up your confidence, improves self-esteem and sets an accelerated pace for your business.
Some of the well-known networking groups are Women Entrepreneurs India, Lean In Circles, Women’s Web, and many more.
I must mention the incredible work that many well-known women-driven platforms have done during this pandemic in motivating, encouraging and connecting women from all across the globe, thanks to social media and digitisation. From panel discussion on online platforms to live sessions on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, there are a plethora of opportunities for women to bond, network and join open groups beyond geographical limitations. Some such groups online are:
- AspiringShe forum by Saumyata Tiwari
- NehTalks by Neha Mishra on Instagram
- Women Entrepreneurship Summit by Purvi Tantia
Hence, if you are reading this article and wish to explore the magic of networking with like-minded people, spend some more time channelising your energy on social media to follow, connect and initiate engagement with these women who are enterprising, have come far ahead and their journeys are inspiring to learn from.
Upskill Your Style Of Communication
Last but not the least, I would like to say that the first rule of venturing into entrepreneurship is to become vocal about your needs, views and experiences. Articulating your thoughts and assertively putting them across is considered as a critical skill in the journey of entrepreneurship. Women should not let societal presumptions and notions that women leaders are not equal in the male-dominated workplace shape their identities. They need to focus on building a strong executive presence, excellent communication skills, and an enterprising support system.
As I coach having trained more than 30,000 people, my recommendation to you would be to:
- Never doubt your worth and the enormous sea of talent you hold.
- Don’t let the male gaze decide the opportunities you should fight for.
- Build a robust support network of like-minded and successful mentors and leaders
- Do not shy away from seeking help; no one knows it all
- Focus on self-development
- Embrace the fear of failure and don’t set unrealistic goals of perfection
Hope my thoughts and experiences leave you with some lessons in the importance of networking and support of women entrepreneurs.