India ranks 71 out of 154 countries in terms of female entrepreneurial activity. IMF suggests a 5% boost in global GDP with increasing women’s participation in entrepreneurship.
India, the land where Goddesses are regarded as mothers, where women are regarded as sisters, where traditions and diversity weave a rich tapestry of culture and respect, where ancient wisdom and modern aspirations converge to shape a vibrant and ever-evolving nation, also where women are faced with traditional and contemporary challenges yet working together to rewrite the narrative of their empowerment and equality.
Mostly, across India, women are ridiculed as the ‘home minister’, a term which men have curated to glorify the efforts of their female counterparts at home but might have forgotten to dignify their roles and contributions in the broader society, in the workplace.
Gender Disparities in Entrepreneurship: A Stark Reality
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2022/2023 report, India ranks 71 out of 154 countries in terms of female entrepreneurial activity. This means that only 16.1% of women in India are engaged in entrepreneurial activity, compared to 24.6% of men. Also, the Sixth Economic Census of India, conducted in 2014, found that just 13.76% of businesses in India were owned by women.
Dr. Rabiaah Bhatia, Founder, eD WebStudio Channel, admitted that India’s growth story is an incredible one, “but the unfortunate truth is that it has left behind a key demographic component: women”. She shared that societal beliefs and cultural norms are major stumbling blocks for women.
“Women are assumed to be primary caregivers, making professional work, especially outside the home, secondary. It is far from easy to juggle running a household and a business at the same time, even if domestic workers are brought into the picture. Moreover, social permission to work is often tough to obtain due to cultural practices and safety considerations. Together, this leads to reduced mobility, and in turn, reduced likelihood of becoming successful startup founders,” Dr. Bhatia added.
She also stated that, although there is a wind of change blowing today with women-led unicorns, still there is a lack of inspirational role models in terms of successful women-led businesses, making it difficult for them to visualize what success looks like.
The Funding Challenge
A 2022 study by the World Bank found that women entrepreneurs in India are more likely to be denied access to loans than male entrepreneurs. The study also found that women entrepreneurs who are able to secure loans tend to pay higher interest rates than male entrepreneurs.
Nirupama VG, Founder, AdAstra Consultants, said, “Fundraising, inherently a daunting endeavor, often presents challenges for female entrepreneurs in India. The World Economic Forum study tells some numbers: Female entrepreneurs secured 5.2% of the outstanding credit offered by Indian public sector banks. Even more, only 0.3% of India’s venture capital funding was allocated to women-led startups in 2021, leading to an unmet credit gap exceeding $11.4 billion for women-led businesses.”
Another study by the International Labour Organization in 2021 found that women entrepreneurs in India are more likely to face gender stereotypes and discrimination than male entrepreneurs. The study reflected that women entrepreneurs are often stereotyped as being less capable than men entrepreneurs and are less likely to be taken seriously by investors and customers.
Nirupama expressed that being a woman entrepreneur is a journey of confronting multifaceted challenges. “While it’s tough to pin down the ‘biggest’ challenge, what stands out is the pressure to reconcile traditional gender roles with the demands of a growing business,” she added.
The Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem, although rapidly evolving, still retains remnants of a mindset that is less welcoming to women. Sectors that are perceived as ‘women-friendly’ are limited, and the lack of institutional and societal support intensifies the challenge.
Also, in 2020, a report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor underscored the significant disparity in access to support networks and mentorship between female and male entrepreneurs in India. Female entrepreneurs, it revealed, frequently experience isolation and a lack of the vital support systems that are crucial for success.
Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs
Dr. Malini Saba, a multifaceted entrepreneur and philanthropist, and Founder and Chairman of Anannke Foundation mentioned that a multi-pronged strategy is required to address this issue, including cultural attitude changes, laws supporting gender equality, and programmes that give women access to education, mentorship, and financial support.
Based on her experience as a businesswoman, psychologist, and advocate for women and girls, Dr. Saba recommended aspiring women entrepreneurs to:
- Have Self-assurance: Have confidence in your abilities and objectives. Self-assurance is crucial for overcoming obstacles and persevering in the face of difficulties.
- Keep Upgrading: Invest in obtaining the education and training you need to become an expert in your chosen area. Success is attainable through ongoing learning.
- Establish a Support System: Surround yourself with mentors and advisors who can guide you toward success. Find other female business owners who can inspire you and provide advice.
- Develop Resilience: Failures and setbacks are common when starting a business. Develop resiliency and the ability to learn from these experiences.
- Gender Stereotypes: Challenge gender stereotypes and resist letting society’s expectations dictate your career. Push boundaries and challenge gender preconceptions in your chosen field.
- Financial Literacy: Have a good understanding of your company’s finances. This includes creating a budget, making financial plans, and, if required, obtaining funds.
- Well-being: Strive for a healthy work-life balance and practice self-care. Maintaining one’s physical and emotional well-being requires practicing self-care.
- Promote Gender Equality: Promote gender equality in your field and neighborhood. Make use of your platform to uplift and encourage other women.
- Adapt and Innovate: In the fast-paced corporate environment, innovation, and the capacity to adapt are essential. Observe industry trends and remain receptive to fresh concepts.
- Give Back: As you achieve success, think about supporting efforts that empower other women and girls or giving back to your community.
Nonetheless, as Nirupama stated, it is not just about securing a seat at the table; it is often about advocating for one’s worth in an ecosystem that often undervalues the perspectives and potential of women entrepreneurs. Such disparities are not just statistics; they narrate stories of perseverance, adaptability, and determination of women who’ve succeeded against the odds. We must champion a shift that goes beyond acknowledging these disparities, prioritizing inclusion, and equitable support for such leaders.
Jaya Mehrotra, Founder of Women Leadership Circle, stated that as we witness a shift towards greater diversity and inclusion, women need to actively seize these opportunities. She also mentioned that networking plays a pivotal role in this journey. Building connections with successful entrepreneurs, both men and women, can provide invaluable guidance, open doors to partnerships, and foster collaborations.
Furthermore, a study by the International Monetary Fund suggests that there can be a 5% boost in the global GDP with the increasing participation of women in entrepreneurship. However, the road to achieving gender equality in entrepreneurship in India is undoubtedly a challenging one. Despite the rich cultural heritage and the strength of Indian women, there are systemic and societal barriers that continue to impede their progress in the entrepreneurial space.