For me, the highlight of this year’s International Women’s Month was this article published by The Next Web.

It highlighted how startups in India are calling for the government to cancel the regulation that obliges startups and small businesses to implement a six-month paid maternity leave policy for their employees. A petition in a local community platform argues that for businesses with an annual turnover of less than INR10 crore (US$1 million) should be exempted from the rule, and apply a three-month paid maternal leave policy instead.

The report further detailed that, despite the law’s good intention, as soon as it was passed, the country experienced a 10 per cent dip in women employees in its total workforce. The law is seen as a burden for startups and small businesses as they would also need to pay for a replacement during the employee’s maternal leave.

This is an unfortunate situation as paid maternal leave was one of the forms of support that women need to further continue their career, leading to more women in executive positions and a more diverse workplace in general.

If I understand correctly, the barrier that prevented companies from providing the necessary support for women to succeed is cost –and the goodwill to actually open the wallet.

Also Read: With 2 successful business exits, this ex-CEO of Rocket Internet (SEA) is now championing gender parity in startup world

After some musings, I came into the conclusion that profitability is not merely a sustainability issue for the startup ecosystem.

It is also a matter of inclusivity.

A healthier finance, a healthier culture


Let us take a look back into 2019 –to those particular moments that had triggered a change of perspective in the global startup ecosystem, including Southeast Asia.

Since the failure of coworking space giant WeWork to IPO, followed by other similar incidents, both startups and investors are putting heavier focus to become a sustainable business. They would no longer opt to pump truckload of money to burn, in order to pursue rapid growth. They would focus on making profits instead.

In general, this has been a piece of great news. But there is one angle that we have not explored: Inclusivity.

Being a sustainable company means that startups will have a stronger foundation to provide support for their employees to excel in their career, particularly those who need it the most due to the structural barrier.

Also Read: Malaysia’s boardrooms lack diversity in gender and age representation, finds study

For this piece, I reached out to startups understand more about the kind of support that they give to their employees.

Companies such as Indonesia-based coliving platform Rukita, who had recently closed their seed funding round, are providing “skills upgrade benefits” to support its team members to accelerate their competency according to the latest industry standards.

If an early-stage startup is able to provide that kind of support for their team members, then it would be instinctive for us to expect more from bigger companies.

Certainly, it would be naive to think that money alone is enough to support a sociopolitical cause such as gender equality. There has to be goodwill from industry players to allocate their resources into the cause; that willingness has to start from having the awareness.

Having awareness aside, in times of a global crisis like today, when many businesses are barely surviving, it might be insensitive to even talk about profit. However, I am going to take that risk to point out that this moment further highlights the importance of having efficient financial management. Gone are the days when startups would burn money to attract customers with cashback programmes and the like.

This time, it is all about staying healthy.

Image Credit: Christina @ on Unsplash


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