Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Opportunity parity, not pay parity, is the burning issue in our country: Bala Deshpande

The founder & partner at MegaDelta Capital on why women lag in the race to the top compared to their peers, the likely emergence of more women entrepreneurs this decade, and more

Samidha Jain
Published: Jul 20, 2023 10:56:43 AM IST
Updated: Jul 20, 2023 12:05:41 PM IST

Opportunity parity, not pay parity, is the burning issue in our country: Bala DeshpandeBala C Deshpande, founder & partner at MegaDelta Capital. Image: Neha Mithbawkar

Bala C Deshpande, founder & partner at MegaDelta Capital, an India-focussed late-stage venture and early-growth fund targeting high-growth opportunities in technology, health care and consumer-facing companies, has 31 years of investing experience. She began her investing career as director investments in ICICI Venture in 2001, and in 2008, joined NEA at a general partner level to set up and head their India practice.
Prior to her career in the investment space, she had a decade of operational experience with multinational companies in India, including ICI, Cadbury's and BestFoods.

Over the years, she has held close to 40 board positions in companies across industries—from startups to listed companies. Deshpande was also an independent board member in Info Edge (India) Ltd for over 15 years.

In a conversation with Forbes India for the 2022 Rich List edition, Deshpande spoke about the gender-agnostic criteria that investors should use while funding companies, reasons for the gap between men and women billionaires, and India Inc's burning issues. Edited excerpts:
Q. What are some of the reasons for a considerable difference in the number of women billionaires compared to men—in India and worldwide?
The fundamental reason is that women have entered the business and/or corporate world much later. If one were to look at decadal trends in India in terms of the number of women completing higher education, taking up employment, staying in employment post marriage etc, we started with a very low base and have seen sharp increases only after the turn of this century. More women in employment translates to more women who have the requisite experience or mindset to start a business and become successful. So, in my opinion, it is only a matter of time for this difference in numbers to diminish.
Q. Is it tougher for women to raise funds/capital compared to men? If yes, what are some of the reasons for this?
I believe that a great differentiated business proposition will find capital regardless of the entrepreneur’s gender. Having said that, I have heard from a few women entrepreneurs about their unfortunate travails and uncomfortable rounds of questioning, so I do not want to dismiss their difficulties in an off-hand manner. But these experiences will slowly disappear as capital supply increases in our country and the buy-sell market goes up the maturity curve.

Also read: Meet the women of Indian origin on Forbes' list of America's most successful businesswomen in 2023
Q. A report by Deloitte mentioned that about 17 percent board seats in India were held by women in 2021. The numbers were about 43.2 percent in France (highest), 30 percent in the UK, and about 24 percent in the US. Why do you think this doesn’t necessarily translate to women leading companies?
Board participation does not automatically translate to leadership. All the statistics quoted above are an outcome of regulators (rightly so) making women inclusion in boards mandatory. Gender diversity in boards, as research has proven, has led to better corporate governance, more accountability and better risk management. But leading a company is an executive function that requires all of board skills and deep functional competencies. The point is not that women do not have it in them to become leaders, but the correlation between being on a board and becoming a leader is a weak one.

Q. Comparing men and women graduating from college—they get equal opportunities and the same competitive pay scale. What changes as they go up the corporate ladder or want to start something new? What are the factors, at that stage, affecting the career prospects and growth of a woman, especially when they start equally?
In my opinion, pay parity is not the burning issue in our country, but the issue as I call it is of ‘opportunity parity’. Simply put, not being chosen for promotion even if deserved, losing a career-enhancing international posting, not being given a break because it is a man-centric role or industry et al. When these career constraints appear continually, it is but natural that women lag in the race to the top compared to their peers.
Also read: Gender equality still a far cry: report

Q. Female founders in the past have told us they need to put a man's name as co-founder or investor to get a seat at the table or asked what would happen to their companies when they have kids? Is that still the case?
I have not come across such cases. We have evaluated many deals with women founders and did not feel the need to even raise this issue. The quality of the business and the entrepreneur are far more critical… these factors are definitely gender-agnostic.
Q. Do you think things will change for women in terms of raising capital, individually handling companies without a family backing, making profits, and eventually turning billionaires?
Of course, I truly believe that it is a great time to be an entrepreneur in our country today with deepening markets, great room for innovation and availability of great talent. We are already seeing the emergence of wonderful entrepreneurs like Falguni Nayyar. I am confident we will see many more in this decade.