Gender inequality goes beyond the sphere of enterprise and is deeply entrenched in India’s traditional socio-economic power structures.
By Anna Roy
A path-breaking 2010 McKinsey study, “Women Matter”, found out that companies with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions posted about 41% higher returns on equity, and 56% better operating results. This revelation is yet to make an impact on the Indian ecosystem, where the ground realities are quite different. As per the 2018 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), only 11% of businesses in India are owned by women. Additionally, the index specifically identifies India as a country where the opportunities available to women to become business leaders or professionals, are the least. Out of the 57 markets which were evaluated, India ranked a dismal 52 in the MIWE. VC funding for women-led enterprises has been one of the biggest challenges, both globally and even more so in India, with less than 20% of all the VC investments across the globe directed towards women-led startups. Besides, all-male startups are 4x more likely to get funding.
Systematic engagement and involvement of women in enterprise can be a key strategy in helping India realise its larger economic aspirations. However, for this to be effectively approached, the challenges of the Indian landscape need to be addressed without falling into the ‘business-as-usual’ trap.
Gender inequality goes beyond the sphere of enterprise and is deeply entrenched in India’s traditional socio-economic power structures. Some of the common challenges faced by women are social barriers delimited by patriarchy (such as lack of family support), lower access to finance and networks, safety concerns, and resultant lower-confidence. Additional deterrents to female participation include the absence of successful precedents, lack of education, and unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities (women are expected to be the primary homemakers and caregivers). Women are not only denied access to financial capital and networks with potential partners, but are also subjected to the reality of unsafe work environments and discriminatory industry practices. These conditions directly inhibit the participation of women in entrepreneurship and as per studies also result in the low labour workforce participation.
In the larger scheme of things, India’s $5 trillion economy vision will be possible only when women are actively brought into the fold. This will require the glass ceiling to be broken, and will necessitate its complete dismantling. The challenges can be addressed with a careful, conscientious and diligent review of the existing conditions. While some of these challenges are inter-generational and improvements will require larger societal behavioural change over time, others can be implemented in a short span.
Gender gaps in economic participation and missed opportunities can be addressed with strategic policies and programmes, curated to address the existing inadequacies. There are efforts underway to better understand these factors through initiatives, NITI Aayog’s Women’s Index for Socio-Economic Opportunities, which will be used to develop actionable policy interventions, at the state and central levels. For women entrepreneurs, who are able to overcome the typical social challenges, the barrier to entry still remains high. Besides the government efforts, there are numerous initiatives by private sector aimed at promoting women entrepreneurship, including corporates, PSUs, financial institutions, civil societies, international organisations.
Despite the substantial government and private initiatives, women who actually need these services are not able to benefit due to information asymmetry. Thus several of these initiatives and programs often remain under-subscribed, as beneficiaries can’t access information timely and methodically. At the same time, women entrepreneurs continue to face business-compliance issues without the correct information or access to services that makes enterprise seem unnecessarily prohibitive even though these are easily addressed by making the right information available. Women entrepreneurs often miss out on the right kind of mentoring support in addition to other challenges.
Women Entrepreneurship Platform, a flagship initiative NITI Aayog was announced by Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog at the conclusion of Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2017, and was launched on March 8, 2018 as an aggregator platform that brings together all relevant information required by existing or prospective entrepreneurs in their quest to establish and promote their enterprise. WEP adopts a multi-pronged approached to address critical needs of a women entrepreneur, such as access to networks, information, learning resources, services and mentoring by sharing information seamlessly. The gap of not showcasing effectively women role models is also being addressed through efforts made to recognise the efforts and achievements of women entrepreneurs through awards such as the Women Transforming India Awards.
Indian society is at the cusp of change, and the role of women is one that is radically changing. There has been a slow but steady rise of women’s agency and autonomy, and as a result there has been all round positive change. But the most impactful changes are yet to come, as women slowly take up their rightful place in building India’s economy. Programs and initiatives like WEP can champion the cause of women, thus taking the lead in ushering in a new India.
(The author is Senior advisor, NITI Aayog)