WE-Can, Space Bangkok, and Sasin held a workshop and sundowner in celebration of Women Entrepreneurship Week

28 Oct 2022
On October 20, 2022, in celebration of Women Entrepreneurship Week, WE-Can, Space Bangkok, and Sasin Sustainability & Entrepreneurship Center held a ‘Women in Entrepreneurship’ event to develop skills and share resources with the community of women entrepreneurs. Starting with a hybrid workshop on digital tools for women entrepreneurs. As the best digital tools can be expensive to buy and time consuming to learn, this workshop is designed to alleviate these challenges by pre-vetting the best digital tools on the market and giving women the inside knowledge on the most cost-effective and quality tools. Despite the ongoing fight for equal rights, women still face discrimination in the startup world, getting less funding from investors to scale up and having fewer opportunities to get into top executive positions. We also held a sundowner session on ‘Synergizing Gender Finance in Entrepreneurship & the Gender Responsive Procurement Agenda.’ Joining the discussion were Siriporn Rathie, Country Program Manager of WeEmpower Asia at UN Women, Paul Ark, an active venture capitalist and angel investor working as Partner and Head of ESG, and Natthida Kiattiwong, CEO of Charoon Bhesaj. The MC was Sasin’s lecturer, Pinnaree Tea-Makorn. Discrimination against women in the business world is rampant: Siriporn stated that despite women owning 1 in 3 businesses globally, they only win an estimated 1 percent of the procurement spend of large corporations. Natthida, who leads one of the top pharmaceutical companies in Thailand, said that the industry prefers to hire pharmaceutical representatives by appearances instead of their abilities and credentials. “Female representatives get rejected because they don’t look beautiful,” she said. Paul, who is conducting doctoral research at Sasin’s DBA program on the root causes of gender funding gaps in startup and venture capital ecosystems in Southeast Asia, said that it’s no different in the venture capital sector. “Eighty percent of startups are founded by men, while twenty percent are by women or are gender diverse. The startups founded by women or are gender diverse only get 8.9 percent of the venture capital investment when they should have gotten twenty,” he said. There are also barriers for women trying to get into top executive positions. “In a male-dominated industry, women are judged at first sight. When I enter the waiting rooms with suppliers, it is common that I am the only woman or youngest in the room,” said Siriporn. Paul and Natthida witnessed that even in interviews, men and women get different questions. Questions for males are about what they want to achieve in the future, while questions directed to women are about past achievements. In business proposals, Paul finds that male entrepreneurs get questions like, “What are your plans to achieve XYZ, while women get risk assessment questions like, “How do you plan to defend your market share?” While there are biases on the investor side, Paul said discrimination could also occur in interviews or negotiations due to the entrepreneur’s behavioral characteristics. “Women suffer from imposter syndrome, which may impact posture or body language,” he said. In addition, Paul said that women won’t apply to a job she is unqualified for even if she is a hundred percent qualified, while men will apply if they are only sixty percent qualified. In contrast to women, Paul noticed that men entrepreneurs often suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. There are many times when he sits at venture capital meetings and had to get men back to reality. Paul also witnessed the toxicity in the male dominated tech field and the fraternity found in venture capitalist groups that is not gender inclusive. “When you own a business, make sure there are no gender pay gaps and create opportunities for women to climb into senior leadership,” he said. Moreover, investors should invest in businesses that cater to women’s welfare. Startups that solve health problems for women like relieving the stress in women’s menstrual cycles are rejected. “Men have no idea how big the problems are so they do not want to fund them,” he said. The solution to this problem is easier than it sounds; be more inclusive of all genders. Natthida gave advice that although people will try to attack women because of gender discrimination, she said that she never backed out and spoke her mind at meetings. “Your performance [at work] will speak louder than you,” she said. As a business owner, Siriporn bridged the gender gap by being more inclusive of all genders, including the LGBTI group. She employed 80 percent women and LGBTI groups who were salespeople rejected from other pharmaceutical companies. “They do high-quality work, and employees are happy to work with me,” she said. Paul added other considerations that could help improve gender equality at work, like personal welfare. For example, he believes that the traditional idea that men have to be the breadwinner while women are caregivers causes mental strain on both men and women as men need to spend all their time at work. In turn, women have fewer rights in the workplace when they may have to spend more time taking care of their families. Siriporn agreed that business owners should not only look at salary or holidays they get, but extend their concerns to family needs. “There is a company where the owner built a small daycare center in front of his factory. When the mothers come to work, they can drop their babies at the daycare with the nurses. At lunch break, the mothers will run to the daycare center, have lunch and take care of kids, and in the evening, they go home together, with a smile on their faces,” she said. Pushing for better welfare of all genders at work and defying traditional stereotype roles, women may find themselves able to break the glass ceiling and finally build a large-scale business and reach top executive positions.
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