Entrepreneur

S'pore Ranked 5th In Supporting Female Entrepreneurs - 4 Of Them Say More Still Needs To Be Done

At the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016, Dell announced that Singapore ranked fifth amongst major cities in supporting women entrepreneurs.

This ranking is a welcome surprise in line with Singapore’s TAFEP initiatives since 2014. Singapore coming in fifth is a signal that our mindsets are changing towards gender bias.

It seems that although Singapore is improving, it’s hard to really know how where we started from. We talked to a few women entrepreneurs to find out how far we’ve gotten since.

Roshni Mahtani, Founder, Tickled Media

Image Credit: Roshni Twitter
Image Credit: Roshni Twitter

Driving Tickled Media forward to 6 million mothers all over Asia is its CEO, Roshni Mahtani. She has been vocal on issues that women face daily, from parenting to equality within the business space.

To this effect, she has also produced a documentary film, “Untouchable: Children of God”, which follows the plight of Nepalese young women trafficked to brothels in India.

1) How was your experience as an entrepreneur starting up? 

When I started my company at 25, I realized no one takes 25-year-old Asian girls seriously. I think things have changed a lot in the past five years for the better, but there’s still a long way to go.

2) Were there any memorable instances where you felt your gender played a part in certain events?

I would go to these meetings with male business owners in their 40s, and they wouldn’t even look at me, directing their questions to junior male employees instead.

On the other hand, the most beautiful thing about being a woman at the helm of a company is that we’ve been preparing our entire lives for this.

As an entrepreneur, my business has been like my baby; and as any mother would tell you, there’s so much gratification in seeing your baby develop. You’re also predisposed to multi-tasking and having a nurturing approach; not just to your business, but also to the growth of your people.

3) What do you think of the gender climate in entrepreneurship? Is there a divide?

It’s clear that there’s still a glass ceiling for women in technology and entrepreneurship. Despite closing education and basic labour gaps, there’s still a lot of work to be done to close the gender gap.

The next step is to understand why this is. And that’s why we started Female Founders – to better understand this gender gap, and to play an advocacy role in solving this problem.

Elizabeth Tan, Co-founder, Techlyon

Image Credit: skillup2015
Image Credit: skillup2015

As the Co-Founder of Techlyon and Brand Specialist of AKÏN, Elizabeth Tan undoubtedly has an ear on the ground for digital media.

Founded in 2011, Techlyon is a creative digital agency, specialising in innovative technologies as well as providing consulting services to other brands. AKÏN, on the other hand, is a social centric branding firm, composed of “artists, economists, sociologists and technologists” which aims to provide a complete branding solution for companies.

1) How was your experience as an entrepreneur starting out? 

As a young entrepreneur back in 2011, I often found myself reinforcing gender stereotypes on myself and even on others. Women entrepreneurs are expected to act “more like men”. For example, women are more emotional, treated more like cheerleaders than leaders, weaker and less competent.

2) Were there any memorable instances where you felt your gender played a part in certain events?

Sometimes, this ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t remember any particular incidents but I do remember an occasion where people have delayed telling me some bad news because they would afraid that it would hurt my feelings. That in itself was an unconscious gender bias.

3) What do you think of the gender climate in entrepreneurship? Is there a divide?

I would not say there it a gender divide in entrepreneurship. I think it is actually more industry-based and this is applicable to entrepreneurs & non-entrepreneurs. I do meet many women entrepreneurs but many of them are mostly founders of very women-related business – Parenting, tutoring, etc.

Rena Koh, Co-founder, Fashory

Image Credit: 123JumpStart. Left to Right: Faith, Rena Emmy
Image Credit: 123JumpStart. Left to Right: Faith, Rena Emmy

In 2013, Rena founded Fashory with Faith and Emmy to address a simple problem all women face: not knowing what to wear. Targeting “contemporary women”, the app provides “the perfect outfit for every occasion in their lives”.

Even 5 years of experience apiece, the 3 founders of Fashory were still treated poorly by potential clients.

“People take you less seriously,” said Rena, to 123JumpStart. “You have to pitch harder to convince you are as strong as the male startups.”

1) How was your experience as an entrepreneur starting out? 

My team and I started out as budding entrepreneurs about 7 years ago, and it was difficult to get people to work with us given our young age. Fast forward to the current day, I would think that the ecosystem is much more developed in supporting new startups.

On starting Fashory, our closest competitors in SEA are mostly run by men, except for one or two companies. For us as an all-girls team, we believe this makes us the best candidates to understand and provide a solution to our own problems.

2) Were there any memorable instances where you felt your gender played a part in certain events?

As an all-female founders team, we felt that our gender had advantageous and disadvantages depending on who we were talking to.

Increasingly, there has been more female-focused initiatives from pitching competitions, crowd funding to VC, this has really helped us as female founders to get our voices heard in a predominately male oriented tech startup environment.

We have on several occasions gained the support of mentors and investors who appreciates our characters in dealing with adversity and navigating the environment. For these, we are very thankful for.

3) What do you think of the gender climate in entrepreneurship? Is there a divide?

As much as I wish there wasn’t but sadly the divide still exists. The common stereotypes of women and our characters would often surface in many instances as we navigate the startup world.

I still face investors worrying about putting their money into an all female startup team who may suddenly one day decide to get married and have children to some others who thinks that the way women deal with business is too emotional.

Peck Ying Tan, Pslove Co-founder

Image Credit: theconceptualstore. Peck Ying (Left) and Caleb (Right)
Image Credit: theconceptualstore. Peck Ying (Left) and Caleb (Right)

Peck Ying’s entrepreneurial venture started in 2014, after 3 years of being involved in as an Assistant Manager at the  NUS Entrepreneurship Center. At NUS, she helped set up Block 71 and expanded startup validation programs to Brunei.

With her co-founder and tech specialist Caleb, Peck Ying started Pslove to fight period pain, a problem which plagues 500 million women worldwide. With their flagship product “MenstruHeat”, Pslove aims to bring a commercial, drug-free solution to relieving menstrual pain.

As a more recent entrepreneur, Peck Ying’s words of positivity was heartwarming:

“I’m not quite surprised that a small city like ours could rank up. I personally do not experience much gender bias in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Singapore and I believe our culture and education plays a big part. Both genders go through the same education system, both are presented with equal opportunities – it is a fair ground!”

1) How was your experience as an entrepreneur starting out? 

Just like everyone else! You have this “its-going-to-change-the-world” and “everyone-should-do-things-this-way” idea. You charge forward not seeing any walls until reality hits. You tumble.. and you start learning things the hard way.. and it gets harder! But I’ve learnt to rejoice with each challenge because that means an opportunity to become better.

To be honest, I’ve never considered my gender to have any impact in my starting up journey as a whole. But quite specific to my startup, I AM glad to be a female founder. I can’t imagine being a male founder having to ask our customers – “how do you experience menstrual cramps?” haha!

2) Were there any memorable instances where you felt your gender played a part in certain events?

There are some perks being the minority gender – we get a lot more visitors at our office as they are curious to find out about our ecosystem!

Perhaps not so much gender itself, but gender specific traits (in females) that may not go quite well with the general idea of entrepreneurship and which I written about as well!

3) What do you think of the gender climate in entrepreneurship? Is there a divide?

Fortunately or unfortunately, females tend to have certain tendencies that make us less likely to pursue entrepreneurship. In Singapore, I think there isn’t preferential treatment based on gender.

I think that there is a divide based our tendencies to become entrepreneurs. I guess this is also why more effort is needed in nurturing female entrepreneurs, whether it is to expose females to more tech, or having capital that is focused on funding female founders (I have not come across funds specific to investing in male founders!).

More Than Just Recognition

Image Credit: subarnagupta.com

 

Here’s what the four women thought about addressing the gender issue:

Roshni: 

Aside from highlighting the unconscious gender biases in startups and VCs, I think two of the biggest things we can do for young female entrepreneurs is to address: 1) a lack of role models and 2) the self-fulfilling prophecy that they can’t have it all.

Something as simple as event and conference organizers including successful women speakers in their lineup and in their panels – to show that entrepreneurship is a viable path for women – will inspire young female entrepreneurs to take the leap.

Elizabeth:

To be honest, special labels such as “mumpreneurs, fempreneurs” reinforces this divide and make it seems like it’s doubly-hard to become an entrepreneur just because we are women. This might deter many girls who are young and impressionable. What about the “dadpreneurs”? There is an unconscious bias when people give such labels.

Rena:

The prejudices which normalize how men come across as assertive and determined where women come across as bossy just does not help to blur the lines. It will be hard to erase the divide but I do believe that if both genders come together to work on this issue together, we would arrive at a more convincing solution and I look forward to the day where this happens.

Peck Ying:

I do wish there is simply less emphasis on things that divide the sexes – just so that female founders don’t get the mistaken idea that they need concessions to compete with their male counterparts.

 

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