Speaking Out / Women Entrepreneurship

5 biases you face as a woman entrepreneur & how to deal with them

. 4 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
5 biases you face as a woman entrepreneur & how to deal with them

It must be so fulfilling to be a woman entrepreneur,” they say.

Honestly, defining someone’s profession and gender in the same breath doesn’t go down well with me. So I truly believed that an entrepreneur is an entrepreneur until I realised that ‘she’ comes with a lot of baggage.

1. The guard greeted my male partner only

This one didn’t bother me until it became too explicit to be ignored.

Our office building’s guard would totally ignore me and greet only my male partner, even when we walked in one after the other, separately, or together.

I tried initiating the greetings from my end, to which he used to murmur ‘Good morning’ back or just uncomfortably ignore me. This continued for as long as I remember. It was how my day started, and it stuck with me throughout the day. I didn’t like myself for allowing this to affect me so much.

How did I tackle this?

I gave it some serious thought and realised that it had nothing to do with me.

The person had a mental bias against a female lead around them. It made me feel stronger with time.

I am glad to have finally made my peace with it. It’s surprising how something that silly can have such a strong effect on you. However, there were also some larger issues that I had to deal with. Here are the problems I faced as a women entrepreneur and the solutions that worked for me.

2. The reconfirmation required from sir

I had a great team of people who were a part of our journey for many years. I used to handle creative direction and my partner headed the daily operations. The line was blurred quite often, leaving us in each other’s shoes.

During the initial few months, I sensed something odd. I would brief them and wait for the update, only to realise that they haven’t started work, as sir was yet to give them a go-ahead.

I took it quite lightly, as I understood the equation until it became a point of concern affecting our clients. In short, any directions from me were undermined, as ‘Sir ne nahi bola tha’.

How did I tackle this?

I started reaching office early, staying till everyone was gone, conducting reviews to better understand my team, sharing my knowledge of the industry and of the clients, and taking them into confidence gradually.

It really mattered to me that they saw me on par with my male partner. It doesn’t come easy to us. But so what, let’s work for it.

3. If your presence doesn’t matter, your absence wouldn’t either

I was down with typhoid and had to take 2 weeks off. When I was back at work, it felt like it wouldn’t have mattered even if I had taken a month’s leave. It was a subtle message. I realised that since I usually worked with an outsourced team and with a limited overlap of my scope of work with the logistics team, I ended up working separately in a team of 10. More shocking was the fact that nothing more was expected out of me.

How did I tackle this?

I saw it as a red flag and started organising group meetings to see where I could possibly contribute and use my creative skills in the logistics and delivery department. I struggled initially to place my ideas in their set flow of work, but it changed things drastically.

Regular interactions with the team, exchange of ideas, understanding each other’s expertise, helped establish roles clearly. I remember my partner calling me while I was in my hometown, and say, “They are asking when will you be back”.

4. When husband-wife jokes entered the work space

From being business partners, we had recently gotten married and become life partners. During a Skype call with our equity partners in another city, I was explaining some execution glitches from his end to them. The three people on the screen saw this as some husband-wife joke and started laughing at how I am behaving like a wife already. It was a project that I had worked on for many weeks and it needed some immediate action to be a success.

How did I tackle this?

I kept a blank face and didn’t join the laughter. A few seconds slipped into a state of awkwardness, but I didn’t relent. I needed the answers as any business partner would, and I let my silence be my voice.

5. Dealing with people who are tough to handle

As a woman, you are mostly not expected to deal with people who are tough to handle. We too tend to escape such interactions out of mere convenience. My partner was out for a meeting that day and the electricity guy came knocking at the door. “Ma’am bijli wale connection kaatne aaye hain, sir kahan hai?” He was adamant on spoiling the day for us.

How did I tackle this?

I decided to act instead of making frantic calls to my partner. I came out strong and dealt with the overall situation with authority. Our admin guy was kind of surprised to see this side of me. It also helped establish me as someone they can turn to, in any kind of situation which they earlier only expected a male figure to take care of.

This is not a competition, neither a gender fight. It’s a matter of perspective, stereotyping and learned biases taking over.

These ten years of entrepreneurship have taught me more than any other work ever could. Biases exist everywhere, and they leave you stronger if you deal with it in the right way, and weaker if you refuse to address them on time.

After 10 years of going through an exciting journey as the co-founder of two startups, tackling certain biases at my own workplace, was a true roller coaster ride– I goofed up, gave up, fought hard, surrendered, adapted myself, ignored, fell hard, stood again, and finally, here I am writing about it.