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Unintentional bias toward women and their potential.

This interview is part of a conversation with Pradnya Godbole, CEO at deAsra. Pradnya is a deep believer of impact at scale for entrepreneurs and champions work towards women entrepreneurship.

Supriya : How has the focus for women entrepreneurship evolved over the last few years at deAsra?

Pradnya : deAsra has always been keen to enable any and all small businesses to start and grow. Over the years we have made attempts to study and provide help to women led home businesses, and to study the effect of mentoring as a support mechanism for women entrepreneurs. Last year we got our chance to really scale our impact into the women entrepreneurship world though. We were invited to partner with Cisco CSR and Sattva Consulting in developing the next version of Niti Aayog's women entrepreneurship platform WEP. We have learnt quite a bit about the specific challenges of women entrepreneurs through the last year and some solutions that help them overcome these.

S : What are the top cultural barriers for women entrepreneurs to thrive in the ecosystem today? How can the ecosystem help overcome those barriers?

P: 1. Unintentional bias - society is quick to reach conclusions about a woman's ability. For example, a banker would already have jumped to a quick decision on a woman's ability to run a successful business because of her gender. This unconscious gender bias is driven by tradition, values, culture, experiences, etc

2. Having an unequal access to education, assets and finances puts the woman on shaky ground. Repeated stereotypes that business is not for women keeps chipping away at the woman's self confidence. She starts having self doubts and underestimating her ability to perform.

3. Women have disproportionate care giving responsibilities at home and limited family support. We so often hear about a successful woman entrepreneur saying she was able to run her business because she was lucky to get support from her family, indicating that this is a matter of luck and not the norm.

The ecosystem can help overcome these barriers by addressing the broader gender gap. Equal access to education, wages, finances and assets will provide women a strong foundation. Society should encourage women to join and stay in the workforce and take on leadership positions. These will provide women the confidence and skills for running their own businesses. Awareness should be created about unconscious gender bias and society at large sensitized to how it disadvantages women. Role model stories of women who succeeded overcoming these barriers should be celebrated and shared. Women should understand that this bias exists and work on their own techniques to overcome it in the short term, since any cultural change takes a long time.

S : In your experience what do current accelerators and capacity building programs for women fail to deliver today? What are the missing gaps that one can look to bridge based on your work at deAsra?

P: Women have to juggle many responsibilities in a small amount of time. So it is very important to make available to them access to information and support from anywhere at anytime when they have the time to access it. Digitization of the support resources in a self service manner is one way we have addressed this need. Women also need easy access to business networks, experts and peers. Having all these in one place through discussion forums, the ability to ask experts questions, group discussion sessions helps provide women access to these important mechanisms.

S : How do you see women entrepreneurs leading change in women employment and employment culture? Will they play a big role?

P : Women form 50% of the population, so more of their inclusion in the workforce will automatically address the balance of power in the economic ecosystem. Their inclusion will therefore accelerate cultural shifts in traditions and mindsets to help reduce gender gaps. The natural nurturing nature and multitasking abilities of women will contribute to a more holistic approach to decision making and fair policies in the business and corporate world. Women have a big role and responsibility to play in making the world a better place for all genders.

Pradnya Godbole is CEO at deAsra Foundation. You can meet her here.

This article was originally published on Linkedin by Supriya Panchangam.

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