What is meant by “woman” entrepreneur?

Vinay Agrawal

Discussing the misnomer of “women” entrepreneurs and why gender inclusivity in businesses is the need of the hour. 

When entrepreneurship is framed through the construct of gender, the harm outweighs the good.

The dictionary definition of an entrepreneur reads: “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of a profit.” Let’s re-read it carefully with the attention of a seamstress working on a couture gown; the word-of-note and, in this context is, the “person”- a noun supposedly free from the trappings of gender. A person can be male, female, or an occupant on the spectrum lying in between these two dichotomies and beyond. So, when did the gender gain prominence and override the semantics-at-large? 

“While ‘women-entrepreneurs’ are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain.”

While “women-entrepreneurs” are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain. The divisions get widened further, and the idea of entrepreneurship being a male bastion gets reinforced and re-iterated birthing a fresh narrative of us and them, in which the women become the “others” who require to form a semantic coterie of their own irrespective of their will. The semantics percolate to the level of perception and the collective consciousness, often doing “good” on the surface, but fail to reach beyond the veneer. 

In an interview, Mamta Nihalani was asked, “How difficult is it for a woman to start a company?” To which, she replies, “… It is challenging…” She then makes another point that reads, “I can work late nights, can deliver what a job demands. I can manage my house and office; it’s about proving oneself every time, at every step and in any circumstances.” 

“The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from ‘an entrepreneur’ to ‘the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.’” 

The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from “an entrepreneur” to “the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.”  When we define entrepreneurship on the basis of gender, are we giving an agency to the women who’re averse to such descriptors and be rather known by their talent and gumption? In that situation, aren’t we boxing these women again in the confinements of gender? 

In an interview to ET, Kalaari Capital’s MD Vani Kola, says, “I don’t think it is about what we can do more, it is about just letting women be. We don’t have to do women any favour. We just have to remove the force of judgement— what happens if she has children, will it affect my investment, will others work for her, will she be competent. We just have to remove this attitude.”

Similar thoughts are echoed by Kanika Tekriwal, Co-Founder & CEO, Jetsetgo Aviation Services during a panel discussion, wherein she says, “On one hand, we are talking about equality and on other, we are asking for special status for women. This is not right. Instead of treating this mission of helping women as a sort of agenda, entrepreneurship should be made ‘normal’, for everyone.”

“In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, ‘but how do you manage business and family?’, ‘Are your in-laws okay with this?’ Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart.”

The title women entrepreneur often comes loaded with a certain set of performative expectations. “People started taking me seriously only when I got two male co-founders with their respective expertise in business development and finance”, says Vanita Prasad, an entrepreneur. In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, “but how do you manage business and family?”, “Are your in-laws okay with this?” Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart. Anyone working in journalism will tell you; the stark difference in the way a male-entrepreneur and a female-entrepreneur is pitched for stories and profiling. The gender-based pitching quadruples as the women’s day approaches and thins out, eventually.

If we’re so adamant in clinging to the “wokeness”, a gender-based prefix can bring in then why do we rarely see a “womxn entrepreneur”? Are we doing a colossal disservice to them? What about those who identify as “non-binary”, “gender-queer” but are slotted – and neatly classified in the category of “women entrepreneur”? In such a situation, not only do they get misgendered, but rendered more invisible and suffocated through an incorrect label. 

Parenthood & Entrepreneurship: Another Botched up Semantic? 

Before we move further, I’d like to ask you if you’re aware of the term, mom-preneurs. Put simply, this badge refers to a mom who also runs an enterprise. Let’s turn that term around. Do you know any dad-preneurs?.

“Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business.”

Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business. Depending upon the response, and after its scrutiny, one is placed at the various points on how “good” or “bad”, they are as a mother. If you’re lucky, you get a clean chit- and if you’re not, you are just not. But, a male-entrepreneur is hardly judged on such parameters. Joyce Shulman, the founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid, in an article for Working Mother, writes, “how a top boss at an equity firm discredited her entire venture, calling it ‘a weekly email newsletter written by moms’.”

Towards A Gender-Free Approach

Is a gender-neutral term need of the hour rather than observing or framing the narrative of entrepreneurship through the brush of the gender?  A parent can be a man, a woman, or a womxn. They can be single, separated, married, divorced; heterosexual or homosexual.  How about an umbrella term, parentpreneur? In my opinion, it is an apt substitute and encompasses all. 

“‘women-entrepreneur’, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point.”

Coming back to “women-entrepreneur”, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point. I remember, once getting a call from a publicist, who pitched her client as a “stylish woman entrepreneur” ( and this was from a non-fashion space and hence unrelated ). The male entrepreneurs are however primarily pitched on the basis of their qualities and achievement- and rarely, in terms of the style. This implicit bias adds to the “pinkification of entrepreneurship” by suffusing a color and placing the attention away from the talent and back to the gender. 

“Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is ‘a male’. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism.”

Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is “a male”. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism. Carol Roth in an opinion piece for The Entrepreneur writes: “The constant segmentation of everyone by gender, race, age, or other qualifier beyond their control does nothing but create self-doubt for those who have been categorized as well as others around them. I was at a “women’s entrepreneurial dinner” held the night before a “women’s entrepreneurship conference.” I was asked what I hoped the future held for women entrepreneurs. I told the organizer that I hoped in ten years that his conference would be put out of business. Entrepreneurship should, and must belong to everyone irrespective of their gender. The larger question remains, whether we are short-changing talent by letting it pass through the codes of gender? 

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Khyati Garg

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