I was invited to the Mother Mary Aloysius 5th Endowment Lecture on July 2 by the management of St. Agnes college in Mangalore. It’s celebrating its centenary year in 2020-21 so it’s been a platform for thousands of girls for nearly century to be educated and empowered.
In an auditorium that was packed with over a 1000 students and other invitees, I wondered what I could possibly tell this digitally fluent, confident and practical generation that will resonate with them and motivate them to not just succeed but be a force of change. I thought of talking to them about Startups , Innovation and Technology, and what the future could be if they chose to embrace entrepreneurship.
Presently, India is a vibrant geography for Startups especially in the social enterprise space. But the share of women-owned Startups is less than 14% Last year, of the 660 odd VC funded Startups, only about 20 were owned by women. Surely it’s not for want of ideas or capability amongst women.
In my own experience, it’s extra hard for women to take risks and believe in themselves. It’s easier to follow the norm. I agree with Indra Nooyi when she said that it’s not possible for a majority of women to simply “Lean In” when you realise that you are expected to manage the household, marriage and childcare irrespective of what livelihood you pursue. A staggering percentage of women in India opt out of a job when they get married. The number just goes through the roof when they become mothers. It’s understandable why they do it. Cos it’s just bloody tough to bear the pressure and assuming what is conditioned to be your “primary responsibility” is easier to embrace. A lot less angsty and definitely less stressful. But is it?
The price women pay for this submission is huge. A lack of voice on the table at every level is the biggest one.
I shared my own story with the young women of St Agnes, which is as ordinary as it can be. I shared with them that even an ordinary life, one can carve a niche for oneself when one refuses to choose one path over the other just to confirm. I chose to be greedy. Of having the need to experience domestic happiness and creating a self identity of my own. Of believing that until things fail they are succeeding. It requires one to be doggedly persistent. To listen to your gut, for it can tell you things that your head hasn’t figured out. To learn to communicate even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. To not feel guilty of being different. Being greedy is the best thing one can teach our young women. Maybe that will help move the needle and give them the voice they deserve.
The ideas the students shared that had been buzzing in their heads post the talk were evidence enough that the premise is right. They have promised that there will be at least 10 scalable Startups in the next 5 years from the college, and the college staff and management have committed to support this endeavour. I have no doubts they will succeed. For they are now greedy!
Author is Meena Vaidyanathan