Every woman entrepreneur without exception has had to have jugaad to get her legs off the ground!
We hosted a webinar on women’s financial inclusion by bringing together the experience of 6 women working at the intersection of finance, tech & research for women. Here’s part 2 of our key learnings!
In the last blog, we discussed the life circumstances that affect the financial lives of women. The ways in which social, cultural, personal and familial factors often determine the trajectory of a woman’s professional life and career. We also saw how the nonlinear nature of this journey requires a whole host of unique innovations which can be bracketed together under the umbrella of gender-intelligent design.
The next reasonable question is will these gender-intelligent products work? Will they be used and consumed by the women of India? To answer that question, we first need to understand what stops women from using financial products today.
So, we asked the panelists, what are the barriers to the usage of financial products and services?
Sanjana Govindan, Vice-President, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship or GAME had an interesting take on this. Traditionally, whenever a question is asked about why women do not use the products available to them or access the schemes designed for their welfare, overwhelmingly the conclusion has been to say that they (women) either do not understand the use of the product or that the men in their lives have accessed these products on their behalf. This may seem like the right answer, because even today many financial institutions continue to ask for documents of the husband, father or other male members in the family when a woman approaches them for her financial needs.
But there is a much more fundamental issue here, which Sanjana aptly called the identity crisis of a woman.
Let’s take the example of a woman whose names (sometimes both first and last) change after marriage. Imagine the nightmare which is the personal KYC (Know Your Customer) and paperwork for a simple product like a loan because of a completely unrelated social reason like a marriage!
Further, as both Chaitra and Sairee pointed out, financial institutions tend to be an intimidating place for most women, including those that come from the ‘privileged’ backgrounds of tier 1 cities. The demands for guarantors who are male members in the family, the inherent biases towards women of the staff in financial institutions contribute to a hostile environment for a woman who wants to use financial products that are available to her.
It stands to reason that these barriers get further aggravated for women entrepreneurs who need to rely on their identity and interact with financial institutions more frequently to set up their business, register it and otherwise formalize and legitimize it!
So, we asked our panelists, if there were any additional barriers that they can think of when it came to women entrepreneurs in specific?
In her interaction with women entrepreneurs, Sanjana has found that most businesses run by women entrepreneurs in India, especially in tier 2 and tier 3 markets share some key features -
They are very integrated with the daily life of the woman herself.
They are cyclical in nature and have a series of peaks and troughs through the year. Businesses like mithai or sweets making at home for example, which peak during festivals and wedding seasons.
To set these up, women tend to rely on monetising personal assets instead of going to formal sources to raise capital. Gold, either from her personal locker or borrowed from close women in their lives, continues to be the only resort available for them to push through the initial capital investment required to set up the business.
The motivation to set up these businesses is to achieve some independence and agency, both personally and financially.
Women are driven by an incredible optimism. In most cases, however, their optimism is fuelled by the realization that they do not have a safety net to fall back on. Accepting their social realities, these women often balance multiple streams of work, both within the household and outside.
In the context of these requirements of women entrepreneurs and the heterogeneity inherent in the same, any gender-intelligent product needs to account for the flexibility that women will need as they balance their divergent roles in life. These products must also attempt to address the identity crisis, the unpleasant and intimidating interactions with financial institutions that we mentioned earlier and the one-size fits all approach that currently plagues the market.
Interestingly, some of these challenges are systemic failures that can be attributed to patriarchy such as the existence of the identity crisis in the first place or even the bias displayed by the branch staff in financial institutions. But some like the flexibility and customisation of products are simply logistical challenges or design failures which can be addressed more easily.
So why do these continue to remain unsolved? Well, to that Sanjana had a particularly relevant insight.
One of the key distinguishing factors between other groups of entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs is that they have similar problems but no heft or collective bargaining power. Without this bargaining power, little changes when it comes to the way products are conceptualized, marketed and consumed!
How do women garner this collective power? Organizations such as SHEROES and Salt.one have been set up with the sole purpose of providing trusted networks and communities necessary for women to thrive. Their digital first approach allows them to reach more and more women who are relying on technology and the internet for their varied life purposes.
So is digitisation and technology the answer? Stay tuned for the last blog in this series to find out!
Can’t wait for the next blog, see the webinar on our YouTube channel!
All artwork has been designed by Prajna Nayak.
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