March 8, 2024


By 2020 Diana Award recipient, Ananya Jain from the United States of America

International Women’s Day, taking place annually on 8 March, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year, we asked 2020 Diana Award recipient Ananya Jain to reflect on their journey as an Indian woman who immigrated to the US, and what this year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress’, means to them.

International Women's Day

Introduction and Background

My first thought on International Women’s Day was very simple - it is a day to advocate for equality among men and women. Over time, my views on the topic have evolved and I’ve come to be an advocate not just for equality, but for recognising and celebrating the differences between men and women.

My background in engineering, interest in biology, and my cultural experiences have led me to look at women globally from the perspective of culture and statistics. Therefore, I want to use this space to focus on a topic close to my heart: the experiences of women in tech, especially those of female founders.

Ananya working with circuits

The Nuances in the Entrepreneurial Landscape for Women

In the world of startups, particularly in innovative sectors, women founders are noticeably underrepresented. Female-founded startups account for only 15% of new startups. The funding gap is even more alarming; in 2023, companies founded solely by women managed to secure just 2% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the United States. This lack of “investing in women'' comes from what is generally considered one of the more equal countries in the world. Globally, the data is even more alarming, if not completely missing. This resonates with the difference in my experience as a woman who moved from India to the US.

The United Nations theme for 2024 for Women's Day may be ‘Investing in Women’ but it needs to pair with action, and it is not as simple as investing more in women. The problem is much more subtle.  On average, studies show that women are less risk averse than men, which impacts the financial and career choices they make. It is a complex and multifaceted issue that cannot be addressed in broad strokes. It requires looking deep at societal structures and seeking the right method to address these differences, and only then, deciding the right path ahead.

Subtle vs. Obvious Issues - and the Misconception of Capability

As a female founder, I live in the everyday reality of the abysmal situation in Silicon Valley for women. There are problems with safety, lack of funding, and a worrying state of subtle misogynism. In some ways, it was easier being a woman in India dealing with issues that were front and centre and could be called out. In the US, the subtle things are hard to report. For female founders, small incidents pile up and can cause massive emotional strain.  

The disparity in funding and investment women receive for their businesses, and associated smaller valuations, has always raised an ominous question for me. Are women just less capable than men in leading successful startups? The evidence is a strong No. Research by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that startups founded or co-founded by women generated 10% more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period compared to those founded by men. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation found that venture-backed companies run by women have annual revenues that are 12% higher. Statistically, women are 1.17 times more likely to create social ventures and 1.23 times more likely to pursue environmental ventures compared to their male counterparts, showcasing a strong inclination towards businesses that aim to effect positive societal change.

Even then, a study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2019 found that women entrepreneurs are asked different types of questions by venture capitalists. For example, they are more often asked about potential losses (prevention questions), while men are asked about potential gains (promotion questions). Again, issues like this require a more rigorous approach not just blanket statement.  

The Solution Lies in the Subtleties  

While we strive for gender equality in developing countries facing overt disparities, it is imperative to also unravel and confront the nuanced prejudices that pervade the fabric of developed countries. As we spotlight the overt injustices in places like India, we must equally challenge the stereotypes and subtle biases that women encounter in countries like the US. By doing so, we emphasise the need for more intellectual depth to this very real problem on International Women’s Day; one that delves into the complexities and subtleties, demonstrating a commitment to first understanding the problem, and only then creating effective calls to action.  

This effort is crucial not only for the sake of heightened kinetics of progress within developed nations, but also for developing nations who often look to developed nations as models to emulate.

Ananya with her younger sister in Silicon Valley, 2023

I have a younger sister, so I think a lot about the topic. If you do nothing, rest in this realisation that every person on Earth came out of a woman’s body. So, before you think this topic doesn’t affect you, think again. Everyone reading this today has a mother. If you’re lucky, you have sisters, and female friends, too. This recognition ties us all to International Women’s Day. It underscores the universality of the day. It underscores the need to think deeply about it and act accordingly.

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