The race for gender equity in Asia’s start-ups - Hindustan Times

The race for gender equity in Asia’s start-ups

ByHindustan Times
Jun 29, 2023 10:33 AM IST

This article is authored by Gaurav Arora, director and head of start-up business, Asia Pacific and Japan, Amazon Web Services, Singapore.

Recent study by Gallup finds that 99% of women in India want to learn new tech skills. How can we support greater women participation to build a diverse and vibrant start-up industry? Entrepreneurship is the engine of a thriving economy, driving growth and nurturing innovations that help us race to the podium faster. When firing on all cylinders, this engine can accelerate businesses, and at a start-up, the most exciting action comes from the drivers at the steering wheel. Agile and unconstrained, start-ups solve new problems, anticipate unknowns, and look around corners. While their ability to think bigger, differently, and more courageously is crucial to success, their pace, creativity, and innovation are enhanced by diversity.

Gender equality (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
Gender equality (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As per DealStreetAsia, start-ups in Southeast Asia with only women founders received 0.6% of total venture capital funding in 2021, as compared to India, where start-ups founded by only women received 0.3% of the total venture capital funding. However, 2022 presents a different picture, where there has been an upsurge of investment in start-ups that are led by women, particularly at early stage. As per a recent report by market intelligence platform Tracxn, early-stage funding nearly doubled for women-led start-ups from $550.5 million in 2021 to $1.1 billion in 2022. While this marked shift is an indicator of rise in multiple ID&E activities across industries, more needs to be done to plug the gender gap and this change must come from the top.

A 2020 McKinsey survey found that companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies with fewer women executives, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all. To make the start-up race more inclusive for women, business leaders and investors need to fully understand the value of a diverse team and take urgent steps to level the start line. To achieve this, leaders must create opportunities with the right funding, knowledge, and digital skills.

In the last few years, we have seen a groundswell of support coming from women-focused venture capital firms like HerCapital, education platforms like Tigerhall, and non-profit women advocacy groups like the Indian Women's Institutional League (IWIL). As organisations recognise the need for change, they are collaborating with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on programmes that are designed to provide women founders the resources, visibility, and access to grow their business. These accelerator programmes are designed to support women founders in APAC region to overcome challenges, whether entrepreneurial or systemic, by providing them access to an active peer community, curated resources, and networking and mentorship opportunities with business leaders and investors. Ongoing programmes such as AccelerateHer and ASEAN Women Founders Mentorship Program are designed to enable women founders to build, grow, and scale successful technology businesses.

In our experience working with founders, those that master the twin levers of technology and talent significantly boost their chances of success. The will to digitally upskill in the APAC region is strong, which is fortunate because a digitally savvy workforce that includes more women is key to a successful digital economy. A recent Gallup study found that 99% of women workers in India (75% in APAC) are “extremely” or “very interested” in receiving training in at least one digital skill, and 71% in India attribute increased salary as a result of their digital skills training. However, two in three women workers in India (67%) also affirmed that a lack of knowledge of available programs is a barrier to receiving training.

Self-paced digital learning programmes like AWS re/Start are designed to provide unemployed and underemployed individuals with the flexibility to build up their digital knowledge for an entry-level career in technology. Given the learning opportunities available today, countless founders are challenging the notion that you have to be from the tech world to build a startup. Cloud democratises access to technology, which in turn has the potential to open opportunities and encourage the economic participation of all members of society. With cloud, someone in their garage or dorm room can access the same scale and cost structure as the largest companies in the world.

A supportive landscape, greater technological possibilities, and democratised learning, is enabling women founders to seize more opportunities to prove what’s possible today.

While technology makes innovation possible, it’s people who get the real work done, and the more inclusive a team is, the better it will function. In the words of Hardika Shah, founder and CEO of Kinara Capital, a fintech firm that is leading financial inclusion for small businesses, “Change begins at the top. Incorporating inclusivity as a core value and promoting women in leadership roles helps to build a strong culture.”

To achieve gender equity in the start-up industry, it is imperative to make the journey inclusive for all.

This article is authored by Gaurav Arora, director and head of start-up business, Asia Pacific and Japan, Amazon Web Services, Singapore.

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