As technology has connected the world, eCommerce has reshaped our individual lives and communities. It has proven to be a powerful force that creates equal opportunities and bridges urban-rural divides. The Women in eCommerce 2022, convened by Daraz, focused on creating a fearless future for women in eCommerce by bringing together women from different backgrounds and expertise. It was a full-day learning experience for women business owners, entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders.
The conference had networking sessions, example-driven discussions, and problem-solving workshops. Leaders across the Asia-Pacific region also spoke about their experiences to highlight valuable examples and lessons that will help their peers find their success within the ever-changing digital economy landscape. Here’s a snapshot of the insightful ideas shared toward building a more inclusive and diverse eCommerce community.
Opening up new opportunities for women
Women in eCommerce 2022 opened with the Head of Performance Solutions in SEA at Google, Shabana Badami, delivering the keynote. She pointed out that data from Shopify shows that globally, 53% of entrepreneurs on said platform are women. A similar study by Forbes shows that 70% of online purchasing decisions in the USA are influenced by women. Moreover, Shabana explains, “An IFC study found that by closing the gender gap, the eCommerce industry in SEA could increase their value by USD 280 billion between 2025 and 2030.” These findings show how women create a significant impact in the eCommerce sector. Shabana went on to note that erasing the invisibility of women, supporting women in the industry, and inspiring young girls to join the IT and other “non-feminine” industries can help bridge the gender gap. Her thoughts were echoed in the soundbites where the two speakers shared their experiences.
Lessons from experienced leaders
The Women in eCommerce 2022 conference united a diverse group of women redefining the contours of commerce in the digital era. The first soundbite featured the Director of Business Development and Innovation at Hemas, Sabrina Esufally. She spoke about building relevant and meaningful products and services in the eCommerce space by sharing her experience launching Vivya, a skincare line. In addition, she shared four lessons she learned in the process:
- Make a product you love that would sell even without fancy packaging.
- Innovate in the gap by identifying opportunities and seeking out necessary help.
- You’re here to create value for consumers. The value for the business will follow. While your product may be unique or innovative, it’s about catering to the customers.
- Convert your team and help them see the product’s or service’s positive impact.
The second soundbite featured the Managing Director of Barressential, Saira Nanji. She spoke on how eCommerce helped them survive the pandemic without shutting down completely. Even before the pandemic, Barressentials offered eCommerce options with online booking, payments, and such. But when COVID-19 struck, they adapted to the new situation, offered classes online, and generated some revenue instead of none. She noted three takeaways from her experiences:
- Meeting and working with inspirational women – We can look up to these women as role models and ask for advice and guidance from them. They may have or may be going through the challenges we are facing. As such, their experiences offer valuable insights.
- Importance of effective and transparent leadership – A diligent, knowledgeable, and inspiring leader will help build team morale and lead the company through rough patches. Transparency about the goals, plans, and other details of the company helps build trust in the company. This will help everyone join in and solve any problems that arise.
- Aim to have a high level of empathy for everyone around us – This includes the team, clients, service providers, community, and everyone else. Thus, helping us make decisions that will benefit many and build meaningful connections.
Shaping a fearless future for women in eCommerce
The first panel discussion at the Women in eCommerce 2022 was on shaping a fearless future for women in eCommerce. The panel consisted of the Senior Director at Myntra, Bindiya Bhatt, Founders of Suta, Sujata and Taniya Biswas; Founder CoNatural, Myra Qureshi; and Managing Director of Vitawell, Roshini Galappatti. The session was moderated by the Founder of Empathy Everywhere, Mimi Nicklin.
Speaking first, Myra spoke about challenges in raising funds. “There are many things to think about when it comes to raising funding. The main thing is to be prepared for long hours, long lists, and lots of fine print. To better prepare, ask other entrepreneurs who’ve gone through raising funds about their experiences,” she advised.
Next, Sujata and Taniya spoke about using eCommerce to empower local artisans, protect their heritage, and take it to the international market via eCommerce. They also help the women in the villages they work with. When the two sisters visited the villagers they work with, they realized that while the husband is considered the head weaver and would collect the money, the wife plays a large role in weaving with the children helping. So the two tapped into the potential of these women. Sujata opens bank accounts for the women they onboard and deposits the money they earn directly to their accounts. This has significantly changed the villagers’ lives as women spend money differently than men. A bigger focus was given to their children and enriching their lives. Taniya highlighted how digital has helped people reach a global market with their products and learn from people and courses worldwide.
Roshini shared how eCommerce is changing lives by helping women join the workforce again. “Only about 36% of Sri Lanka’s labor force are women. This phenomenon is because, after childbirth, most women leave the labor market to stay home and look after their children. But with eCommerce, we’re allowed to unlock our potential and create something for ourselves,” she explained. Speaking on the changing landscape of eCommerce, Bindiya said, “There’s never going to be the perfect answer. Unlike in an offline space, things will constantly keep evolving, although there’s still a bit of a threshold. So you have to pivot quickly and prioritize.”
Creating an inclusive labor market
The second panel discussion at the Women in eCommerce 2022 conference focussed on strategies for a more inclusive labor market. It was moderated by the Head of Corporate Affairs and ESG at Daraz, Anishka de Zylva. The panel consisted of the Country Director at the International Labour Organization for Sri Lanka & the Maldives, Simrin Singh, Chairperson of the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Anoji De Silva, COO of the Daraz Group – Singapore, Zornica Zaifirova, and Sanjini Munaweera, Country Director at ADA, Sri Lanka. . a.
Speaking on her observations, Simrin said, “Culture and care responsibilities are fundamental roadblocks, among other reasons. Women often bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities for children and the elderly. It can be a mental burden when you’re pulled in multiple directions and have your own business.” Zornica suggested several approaches companies can take to help ease women’s burdens. She mentioned that while it’s easy to increase diversity in the workforce, it’s tough to increase diversity in leadership positions. Having role models can help with this, as women will have someone to turn to when they need advice or encouragement.
Another is to support women during significant shifts in their lives, such as pregnancy and childbirth. She mentioned that allowing men to take time off work to care for their families can help. The third is to remove unconscious bias from the hiring stage onwards. Adding her thoughts, Sanjini said, “I think it’s also about giving somebody a chance. We form opinions and perceptions but don’t try to understand what they’re going through. More so for women, because we’re always juggling responsibilities.” Anoji also gave some valuable insight into growing and scaling an eCommerce business. She said that business, personal, and digital skills are the three main areas that need constant upskilling. Learning digital marketing and reaching out to the international market to scale your business is also essential.
The role of platforms and collective action
The third panel discussion at the Women in eCommerce 2022 conference focused on the role of platforms and collective action in enabling women in eCommerce. The panel for this session consisted of the Managing Director of Daraz Nepal, Aanchal Kunwar, Co-Founder & CEO of Hatch, Brindha Selvadurai, General Manager of UberEATS Sri Lanka, Bhavna Dadlani, Senior Strategic Partnerships Manager at Airbnb for APAC, Rachel Bartholomeusz, and Country Director – Malaysia Chapter of Women in Tech, Yuki Aizawa. Mimi Nicklin also moderated this panel discussion.
Speaking first, Brindha touched on how startups in Sri Lanka needed a space to interact with each other. “We noticed that a lot of startups were making the same mistakes. Hatch came to be because we wanted to make a space where startups could learn from each other. We also have several programs focused on helping female entrepreneurs.” Brindha explained that the cultural differences in how women and men are treated create challenges unique to women entrepreneurs. The difference in a female-oriented startup program is that it helps them overcome cultural challenges alongside assisting them with the business fundamentals.
Adding to this, Bhavana gave examples of how Uber made an effort to recognize the challenges women on their platform face and provide solutions for them. “When it came to our female courier drivers, we’re able to block out certain areas where they might not feel safe driving. Then our onboarding tech makes it, so they don’t have to travel to us to join the platform,” she explained. She talked about how this has made it easier for women to tap into the platform—enabling them to open doors to new opportunities. Joining in on the topic, Rachel added that platforms make it easier to start a business of your own by removing specific barriers to entry.
Yuki pointed out how the benefits of training, grants, and other programs for building your own business don’t equally reach women across the nation, especially away from urban areas. “This is why it’s important to have government agencies on board and align with the country’s digital economy blueprint. This way, we can share knowledge and make it efficient,” she adds.
United women innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders
The Women in eCommerce 2022 discussed many topics about closing the gender gap while giving all the participants a valuable opportunity to network and meet new friends. As Aanchal said, meeting and discussing what needs to change regarding building policies or how to address different needs women may have in a work setting can make all the difference. As Saira said, “With eCommerce, the entire business world has come to your fingertips. Today, you have options of becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business or simply finding a job online and gaining financial freedom. You have access to a wider range of possibilities with eCommerce, and what you thought was impossible today might be possible tomorrow.”