Making entrepreneurs of women

| Updated on November 22, 2019

Policy and institutional support and mentoring are key. So is the need to change entrenched gender biases

A mere 14 per cent of the 58.3 million businesses in operation in India when the Sixth Economic Census was carried out in 2013-14 were owned by women, across formal and informal sectors in both rural and urban India. This is not a flattering statistic. A sizeable number of the 8.05 million women-owned business — over 83 per cent — did not have any hired workers; the corresponding number for male-owned businesses was about 70 per cent. Also, on average, women-run businesses are smaller than those run by men. However, there are many shining examples of women entrepreneurs who have not only set up successful ventures but have also carved out a niche for themselves. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is one such woman entrepreneur. There are also some who gave up very successful corporate careers to turn entrepreneurs such as Falguni Nayar, a well-regarded investment banker who set up an e-commerce venture as she was turning 50 years of age. There are also the likes of Ritu Dalmia, who broke out of conservative industrialist families, to venture into the world of gourmet food and fine dining with a chain of restaurants. Each one of them is a trailblazer and an inspiration for others. More recently, the start-up boom in India has seen many young, professionally qualified women taking the plunge. Self-help groups and non-profits focussing on skill development in rural areas have helped women entrepreneurs bloom.

Setting up a business is not easy in India. It is even tougher for a woman. A would-be woman entrepreneur has to overcome socio-cultural biases, which requires her to prioritise home and family above all else and sacrifice her own aspirations. Access to finance is that much more difficult, whether from formal banking channels or from venture capitalists. Managing a male workforce entrenched in a patriarchal society poses its own challenges. It also doesn’t help that many men are not supportive of women’s ambitions and even attempt to break their confidence. Another problem unique to women is their failure to network with business associates as easily as men. Policy interventions have tended to be sporadic, superficial or poorly thought through, like the Centre’s failed experiment with a women-only bank.

However, these issues are addressable. Mentoring of women entrepreneurs by specialists in various fields can encourage women who are tentative about taking that first step. Networking platforms for women entrepreneurs can provide some support. Most of all, socio-cultural changes need to be engineered to encourage women to set up business ventures.

Published on November 22, 2019

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