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Why I Think Gender Pay Gap is Best Solved by Encouraging More Women to take up Entrepreneurship

Why I Think Gender Pay Gap is Best Solved by Encouraging More Women to take up Entrepreneurship

It’s basic playground politics. If someone will not let you into their game, you should start your own game and make it bigger and better that the other one. It is only when women as a tribe prove themselves to be business people, capable of starting interesting ventures others can’t wait to be a part of, that we will begin to be taken seriously.

But why go through all that trouble, I hear you ask? I get it. If society was going to fund a venture, why can’t they put equal men and women representation in it? And why can’t they just get everyone to treat women with more respect? The answer is because that is utopia and you can’t force respect.

There is little point in throwing a tantrum and pointing out foul play. In the same way some parents choose to nurture a child over another, unconscious bias or “people-like-us” syndrome happens everyday. It’s a fact of life. Simply pointing it out and forcing positive discrimination is not going to solve the problem. It takes away from those whom society perceives as having got to where they are because of positive discrimination, and creates resentment in people who simply resent the concept of discrimination; positive or otherwise.

The trouble is, we talk about entrepreneurship (starting your own game) like it is the biggest risk ever, but remain blind to the fact that employment is in fact far riskier than self-employment. You could gamble your entire lifetime away at one single company, and never see progression in the shape and scale that you set out to achieve at the start of your career. On the other hand, building a business is far more predictable; if you learn to run it like a series of controlled experiments.

Society needs to see more women in leadership. Not just women who are capably steering a large, steady ship. But women who can build their own boat in raging seas. Who will keep improving on that wooden boat, year after year, until they have enough to buy their own ship. And then pay someone else to steer the big ship she owns.

Why? Because it’s a different skill set. The person who owns the ship, gets to decide who gets to steer it. Historically, wealth has always sat with men, and they get to decide who gets to steer the ship. But if they look around and can’t see many women shipowners around, it is easy to conclude that women know nothing about ships. Because if they did understand ships and are equally passionate about ships, then how come none of them have built or bought their own ships?

Gender equality in the workplace will happen naturally AFTER we achieve gender balance in the entrepreneurial space. AFTER we have more self-made female founders and investors who are equally respected in their own fields, because their projects and businesses are equally successful (as those led by men). There are obviously some who have broken the mould, such as Anita Roddick and Sara Blakely. But these are as rare as unicorns, and we need critical mass for society to shift its perception.

If a framework cannot be “rinsed and repeated” by just anyone, then what is at play must be down to sheer luck and serendipity of being the right person (the right shape, the right colour), at the right time, in the right place. Ever had the experience when 2 different people, say the same thing to the same person, but each getting a vastly different response? That is unconscious bias in action (may be conscious in some instances, but let’s err on the side of believing in the goodness of people). A big part of the narrative is lost if we only concentrate on pay gap as an indicator for gender equality. Equality means equal opportunity, not equal outcome. Hence, by definition, the crux of the matter is in issues that are harder to measure(harder than pay gap) such as:-

i)the level of respect and dignity with which you are treated

ii)opportunity to the choicest projects

iii)the level of trust and confidence given

Those of you familiar with fund-raising would have probably heard by now that trust in men are given on the basis of promise shown, but women have to demonstrate a track record. That’s what we’re talking about. This isn’t restricted to the fund-raising stage. This covers everything including a mentor’s trust in your ability to want to invest their time in you.

But then again, if you are going to have to abandon the team for an entire year to go on maternity leave, doesn’t that make the decision easier? I am not condoning the practice, but merely playing devil’s advocate and running through the thought process that would have gone through an objective, rational person’s mind. That takes me to the topic of “natural handicaps”.

The conservative part of me believes that there are aspects of men and women that are made different, aside from the obvious, old child-bearing chestnut. The question is whether we choose to embrace or alienate these differences. So stop calling out for more “Women in Tech” or “Women in Finance”, because it makes zilch difference. As entrepreneurs/founders we are looking for solutions to a problem. It isn’t about setting up some exclusive clubs, and packing in the girls. We need more women entrepreneurs, founders and investors, who will create enviable businesses that create jobs for the masses. Equal respect, dignity and authority will come from our collective ability as women to do precisely that.

So don’t call out for women to be another headcount in tech. Call out for women to find more problems that need solving, and solve those problems. And that should be wherever your “super-powers” lie. Some of us are into tech, some of us into finance and some of us into fashion. Money has been made in every single vertical. Why should some verticals be prized higher than others? Why is innovation in the fashion industry even called fashion-tech? Technology is the infrastructure. The problem it is solving is in the fashion industry. Calling it fashion tech risks prizing the infrastructure above the business solution. What is wrong with “Innovation in Fashion”?

Personally, I have found there has always been an elephant in the room. Let’s face it. Women are awesome. But we are not flawless. Not all women are destined for C-suite office. Biologically speaking, women have something of a handicap because of how we’re made; higher risk of low iron levels and higher sensitivity to stress hormones. Iron deficiency affects up to 25% of women. The range varies depending on the part of the world and ethnicity. These problems are unfortunately more common that we think. So this isn’t just another misogynistic trope designed to shame women. We have enough of that in this world already. It is so important to acknowledge our weaknesses before we can get better.

Acknowledging these weaknesses could take the form of: learning to control our emotions a certain time of month and learning not to react to it. Or addressing low iron levels impacting your memory (or sometimes, simply sleep deprivation due to societal expectations of gender roles at home), so you can stop walking around like an amnesiac. These things have a huge impact on others’ perception of you. I know, it’s not easy being a woman. It is the “Curse of Eve” in action! However, if it is your own gig, you will have more control over who sees you and who interacts with you on those bad days.

And when we do achieve critical mass of female founders, there will be more understanding, more dignity and more respect for other women in senior management.

Why I Think Gender Pay Gap is Best Solved by Encouraging More Women to take up Entrepreneurship

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