From Ada Lovelace, world’s first computer programmer, to today’s trailblazing leaders like Biocon Chairperson Kiran-Mazumdar-Shaw, women have always been at the forefront of technological and business innovation. However, despite their extraordinary contributions, women changemakers in tech, business, and other spheres have often been overlooked and underrepresented.
But their time is now.
YourStory’s flagship event SheSparks has become that vessel for change, and how! The 2023 edition saw women achievers and changemakers from all spheres—tech, business, politics, social impact etc—making their case for why women entrepreneurship needs to be put to par.
The day-long event left its audience inspired—taking them through a roller-coaster of emotions that didn’t just sow seeds of change but also a determination to bring women entrepreneurship at par.
The 10-hour-long celebration of women achievers and changemakers included intriguing fireside chats, diverse panels, captivating keynotes, and deeply moving personal stories.
Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory, kicked off the movement of actionable change, underlining that women will play a critical role in India becoming a $40 trillion economy.
Vani Kola, Founder and MD of Kalaari Capital, unveil ‘CXXO State of Women Entrepreneurship Report 2023’. A riveting report, it pointed out that a lot more work needs to be done to enable women-led startups to attract a bigger share of funding, with the investor saying that the “ecosystem needs to be more inclusive towards women entrepreneurs in terms of building networks of learning, mentorship, and access to growth enablers.”
The path of a woman founder is beset by challenges. The speakers today shone light on a few of these problems that they faced during their journey as startup founders and executives.
“Men and women want different kinds of ‘flexibility’ when it comes to work. Organisations should explore the gender nuances of flexibility in terms of attracting and retaining women talent,” said Neha Jain, Director, Operations and Innovation, at Akamai Technologies.
Naaz Joshi, India’s first transgender model, graced the stage wearing her pageant crown and shocked the room with how she overcame her struggles to win number of international titles, and held up a mirror to society that had sidelined her to the margins.
Navigating this path alone is not easy so it is always nice to have someone guide you through all the twists and turns. That’s why, Ruchi Kalra, Co-founder at B2B unicorn OfBusiness says “The biggest investment you can make when it comes to financial matters is in a mentor.”
“An ‘us vs them’ narrative creates reverse discrimination. Men need to be a part of the diversity dialogue at work,” Charusmita Rao, Head, Talent Development, India and APJ, Akamai Technologies, added.
Despite progress towards gender equality, many women continue to face doubts and skepticism regarding their abilities solely because of their gender.
“One of the biggest challenges for women founders is self-doubt. Even if we have conviction, we underplay what we do and it’s a huge waste of time,” said Supriya Paul Co-founder and CEO, Josh Talk. “I could’ve probably built my startup 4x faster if I didn’t have self-doubt,”
But sometimes even when you see the ground is on fire you must take the leap of faith. “So I’m not a calculated risk taker. I believe taking risks takes you to better places than imagined,” says Aakriti Vohra, Global Network Delegate, LaLiga.
One of the greatest hurdles to entrepreneurship women face is access to finance. And this comes from the reality of women not pulling the financial purse strings.
“There are gaps that need to be addressed, such as how to encourage women, who are naturally good at finance, have a lot of empathy, and have the ability to take cautious risks, to stay in the system and grow into that position of leadership,” added Kanika Mayar, Partner, Vertex Ventures SEA and India.
G20 Sherpa for India and former NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant underlined that for India to grow at 9%-10% each year, the participation of women is a must.
“Market is not just India but the whole world, and so you women have to disrupt the world,”
This year’s SheSparks brought the conversations about inclusivity and diversity to the forefront. But talking is not enough; we must recognise and celebrate these women who are leading the revolution. With the SheSparks Awards we aimed to do just that.
Kant presented the SheSparks Award to women achievers across spheres—investing, manufacturing, politics, social change, business, startups etc.
The day was summarised best by Kanta Singh, Deputy Country Representative, UN Women India. “This is the best time to be born a woman, and to become an entrepreneur.”
But the message is as loud as it is clear, if you have your heart set at something, go get it.