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How to boost woman entrepreneurship in India

The share of women in the workplace in India has declined from 37% in 2005 to 21.7% during 2019; the largest decline vis-a-vis any other country in the world.

By Sunita Singh

The past decades have seen more women get educated, get into STEM programmes (35%), and making up 40% of the workforce globally. India mirrors this representation in education – AISHE data for 2018-19 indicates that gender parity in higher education in India has reached 1 for the first time. It is expected that by 2030, India will see the impact of large numbers of women graduates from higher education, including from STEM programmes.

Yet paradoxically, the share of women in the workplace in India has declined from 37% in 2005 to 21.7% during 2019; the largest decline vis-a-vis any other country in the world. Similarly, while the TEA (total entrepreneurial activity) amongst women is higher, women business owners as a percentage of total business ownership in India is reported at a low 11% as per Master Card Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019. Furthermore, most of these businesses fall in the lower middle-income category indicating more necessity driven rather than opportunity and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

This is something for policymakers, entrepreneur support organisations, and Indian society as a whole to think about. As a country, we need to leverage the latent power of the women in India to fuel the economic development and prosperity of our people. While many of the challenges that women entrepreneurs face in other parts of the world, equally affect women in India; perhaps, we have specific areas that require even more attention if we are to reverse the trend of women in the workforce and propel women entrepreneurship in the country.

First, let us consider what the term ‘woman entrepreneur’ means for a country like ours. On the one end, we have large numbers of women-driven micro-enterprises functioning mostly in the informal economy. On the other end, we have a very small number of innovation-driven startups and small businesses that have the potential to become leading enterprises, solving hard problems and creating wealth and jobs in the economy. Do these two sets of women behave similarly, have similar challenges and need similar or same support structures? There is no simple answer to this, but it would be worthwhile to consider some of the common factors that can dramatically affect the development and growth of women enterprises in the country.

Areas that merit attention include:

  1. Remove ‘unconscious biases’ against women: we need to create greater awareness and education – with women and men in ‘power’ at home and at the workplace – of the role unconscious biases play in influencing perceptions and decision making with regard to women; and the impact that this has on women’s ability to build support, confidence in self and resources to advance themselves and their businesses.
  2. Help build aspiration, knowledge, skills and confidence to startup, stabilize and grow a business. Women entrepreneurs could use more structured learning support in a) financial literacy and comfort managing money b) business development c) building profitability and innovation in their business models d) Information, knowledge and application of business and technology tools that would enable them to scale.
  3. Create support structures that give them room to grow their business
    a. Create respect, recognition and role models at all levels so that more women start and grow businesses to reach their full potential and not just out of economic necessity.
    b. Recognize that women should not have to be ‘superhuman’ to succeed – they need support around the child and house care to successfully manage business and work.
    c. Build larger number of active, visible and accessible networking forums for women that may be organised and serve needs different from men’s networks – the success of microcredit self-help groups as also groups like BNI Queens are a testament to the impact that they can have.
  4. Create better access to finance: this is a common gap the world over even though data shows that businesses with women founders or co-founders give better returns to their investors. We need not just have schemes for women but a purposeful implementation of those schemes. Given that women investors have a better understanding of women founders, we also need more women investors at all levels handling different types of credit, including equity, debt and grant funds to support women entrepreneurs.
  5. Leverage technology to create better access markets, knowledge, tools and finance.
    More women across rural and urban India are using technology tools to communicate and do business today. Intuitive technology platforms that inform and enable women to learn, use tools, network, connect and access funding can be very powerful to overcome the barriers of access that many women face today.

Source: HR Economic Times

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