By Atul Raja
India’s growth story is an incredible one, but the unfortunate truth is that it has left behind a key demographic component: women. Despite the various advances in social indicators, India’s progress has been slow towards economic inclusion and the development of women.
Fostering women’s entrepreneurship in India is a critical part of the overall solution. Apart from boosting the economy by generating jobs, it also leads to transformational social and personal outcomes for women. In the last decade, the number of women-owned enterprises went up from 14 per cent to 20 per cent, as per government sources. However, India still lags behind when compared with other emerging economies.
Which begs the question, what is holding back Indian women entrepreneurs? And what can they do to seek the right kind of aid in order to succeed?
The number one hurdle that female entrepreneurs in India face is the lack of monetary support. They lack adequate access to finances and credit-lending facilities. There is a widespread but hugely erroneous belief that a woman’s right to ancestral property and wealth is limited to her dowry. However, this limits women from staking their rightful claim to generational wealth and acts as a barrier for women, especially in semi-urban and rural areas.
Women entrepreneurs have time and again spoken out against limited access to formal credit-lending platforms as well. And when they do gain access, the trend shows that their applications are less likely to be considered favorably as compared to men.
Secondly, societal beliefs and cultural norms are major stumbling blocks for women. The assumed role of women is that of primary caregivers. Professional work, especially outside the confines of home, then becomes secondary. It’s 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.
Finally, budding women entrepreneurs have traditionally lacked inspirational role models in terms of successful women-led businesses making it difficult for them to visualize how success will look like. Although the winds of change are blowing today with women-led unicorns like BabyChakra, MyGlamm, Nykaa etc., there is still a long way to go. As per a 2021 IWAGE report, in the organized/ formal jobs sector, only seven out of every 100 entrepreneurs in India are women.
With India ranking 70th among 77 countries covered in the Female Entrepreneurship Index, a lot needs to be done at a policy and corporate level to encourage women’s entrepreneurship. At the same time, women must also meet challenges head-on and persevere in the face of adversity.
A critical thing women entrepreneurs can do to further their entrepreneurial ambitions is to tap into established platforms. In semi-urban and rural areas, where resources are limited, it becomes all the more vital to seek assistance from community networks. Such platforms can provide business guidance and support to women, right from market reach to financial aid. Women must not shy away from actively reaching out for help and seeking solutions.
Women should also keep an eye out for opportunities that will advance their businesses. For instance, they can sign up for special training or peer-based learning in developing and growing their business by participating in the widely available incubator and accelerator programs that provide crucial business inputs on concepts, frameworks, tools, and networks. Increased digitization is now a major facilitating factor in addressing the erstwhile accessibility and mobility constraints.
Women entrepreneurs should also aggressively seek out and engage with business mentors who act as sounding boards and advisors giving objective yet personalized suggestions. There are mentors who are experts in specific business domains, and there are others who simply focus on strengthening the business fundamentals and aiding in taking the right business decisions. In many cases, mentoring has proved to be the secret sauce to achieving entrepreneurial success. As India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem matures, many mentors now have vast experience in understanding the trials and tribulations of starting a business and the market forces that come into play while scaling up.
As India works towards its ambitious growth plans, we must put every effort into increasing the share of women in the entrepreneurial landscape of India as this will not only lead to their financial empowerment and independence, but it also has the potential to foster tremendous social change. A World Bank report of 2022 says India can grow in double digits if more women participate in the product line of the economy. Ecosystem stakeholders must come together with a sense of urgency and coordinate interventions and efforts to enable women entrepreneurs to create jobs and million-dollar businesses.