#Asia ECID 2016: Women entrepreneurs, think beyond your gender

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On day 1 of Echelon Indonesia, six entrepreneurs engaged in a panel discussion about how the ecosystem can enable greater female participation

Women Echelon Indonesia

From left to right: Aryo Ariotedjo, Aulia (Ollie) Halimatussadiah, Shannon Kalayanamitr, Pocket Sun, Faustine Tan, Stephanie Yoe

Radically shifting societal attitudes in gender roles, has brought upon major changes not only in the dynamics of a household, but also that of the workplace. That said, there is still work to be done; the glass ceiling still hasn’t been completely eradicated, and the disparities between representation of men and women in the tech world are very much present.

But are these inequalities necessarily rooted in gender bias, or are there other underlying factors involved? Either way, entrepreneurs and mentors need to find ways to elevate female participation.

These were the topics brought up in a panel discussion between Aryo Ariotedjo (Managing Partner of Grupara), Faustine Tan (Co-founding Partner & Managing Partner of HotelQuickly’s Indonesia arm), Aulia (Ollie) Halimatussadiah (Co-founder & Chief Content Officer of Zetta Media), Pocket Sun (Founding Partner of SoGal Ventures), Stephanie Yoe (Founding Partner and CEO of Appstrak), which was moderated by Shannon Kalayanamitr (Group CMO of Orami – which was formally MoxyBilna)

Is it difficult to find female Founders?

In Indonesia, Tan said that the challenges were about finding people with the right skills – which cuts across both genders.

She, however, added that there might be a perception of people perceiving females as weak, and thus, hire them for only certain positions. Thankfully, she said, there a lot of articles and resources out there that could bring exposure to females in tech, and help inspire other aspiring female tech entrepreneurs.

There are a lot of female entrepreneurs now, Yoe said, but many of them are in the fashion industries. She hoped to see more entering male-dominated tech industries. Since the startup ecosystem is fairly nascent with no established rules, there would be a lower barrier for young female entrepreneurs to enter (as opposed to a traditional industry such as oil&gas).

Also Read: ECID 2016: Tech startups in SE Asia will not experience a nuclear winter

Yoe also added that both men and women face the same problems in securing funding and resources in Indonesia.

Resources for women entrepreneurs

Halimatussadiah helps run Girls in Tech in Indonesia. It includes a ‘Founders Dinner’ where 10 female entrepreneurs sit together to discuss and share their issues, as well as female entrepreneur-oriented talks and workshops. It also runs campaigns and competitions.

Sun founded SoGal Ventures, which is a VC firm which aims to help young millennial women realise their full potential. It currently funds early stage female entrepreneurs in the US and Asia, and will be launching in Jakarta in the future.

Ariotedjo made an effort to bring on three female entrepreneurs onto his incubator Grupara. He said it was stemmed out of the fact that most people who pitched to him were male, and he wanted to help diversify and include more female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem. This would also bring greater exposure to female entrepreneurs.

Root causes of the problems female entrepreneurs face

Many of the panellists agreed that traditional cultural perceptions plays a key role in stifling female entrepreneurship.

“It is rooted in the asian culture…they are taught to just get married and have kids after they have finished their studies,” said Yoe. “Women are being stereotyped based on their gender.

Also Read: Isabel ‘Pao’ Barrientos on dispelling myth that women can only make it so far

Sun echoed that statement. “Women are evaluated on their marital status, instead of their merits and ambitions. When we raise a girl, we tend to protect her, that is the cultural stereotype. We should instead encourage girls out there to be brave and do whatever they want to do.”

The way forward

Having female entrepreneur-orientated programmes are positive steps, but to effect long-lasting changes, the whole ecosystem need to work together.

The panellists spoke about how men and women entrepreneurs should leverage each others traits and skills.

Halimatussadiah had an interesting take and said that both female and male entrepreneurs should learn to be balanced individuals and get in touch with both their feminine and masculine sides. The feminine side would be qualities such as the ability to care and nurture, while the masculine side would be needed in scenarios where you need to put your foot down and be tough.

Also Read: I am guilty of writing sexist ‘women in tech’ headlines

Sun said that women are good at displaying empathy – these soft skills would be advantageous when doing business.

Yoe said that women shouldn’t perceive gender as an disadvantage or something to be overcome. “Don’t think of your gender, just do your best.” She, however, acknowledged the biological differences between men and women, and cautioned women against making decisions based on emotions. Women also tend to be more perfectionist than men.

Kalayanamitr conclude the panel discussion by saying female entrepreneurs shouldn’t be given special treatment. Instead, they should be given the tools and resources that would encourage them to pursue their ambitions.

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