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Barriers to success: What is holding India’s women entrepreneurs back?

The Indian startup ecosystem continues to expand but women entrepreneurs in the country continue to battle several odds. Here are some reasons why.

Barriers to success: What is holding India’s women entrepreneurs back?

Friday August 05, 2022 , 5 min Read

Ever wondered what the percentage of women entrepreneurs is in India? According to the  sixth economic census, by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, women comprise 13.76% of the total entrepreneurs in India which is 8.05 million out of the total 58.5 million entrepreneurs.

As per the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (2015), India performs below the 20th percentile in the female entrepreneurship index. This is far below developed markets such as the US and UK, and developing markets such as Brazil, Russia, and Nigeria.

So, what is holding back women entrepreneurs in India? Let us look at the three major factors and brainstorm some solutions that can level the playing field to maximise the chances of success for women entrepreneurs.

1) Lack of financial support:

It is a known fact that women have a certain risk covering possibilities financially and a lack of credit support. In most states in India, land, property, and ancestral wealth is inherited, and the key barrier to women staking claim to their rightful share of inherited property is the widespread belief that a woman’s fair share is limited to her dowry. This is a major hindrance for first-time entrepreneurs and women growing up in semi-urban and rural India.

Solutions: We need to provide women access to capital through alternate means and gradually change the narrative of risk coverage in semi-urban and rural areas. How we could go about doing this is:

I. Build an altered loan process across the country and make things more transparent and simplified. We need to come up with women-friendly financial products, such as small-sized and innovative collateral loans.

II. Provide greater visibility for Investors within women-led companies by both the mainstream and general media. Investors and mentors of women entrepreneurs need to become an ecosystem within the larger system to spread awareness.

III. Create external growth opportunities for small business owners so they can amplify their economic contribution. These women entrepreneurs will have an immense effect on overall job creation and will serve as an aspiration to their female employees.

2) Struggles of the average middle-class working woman in India:

Oppressed in the workplace for a lack of quality higher education, fighting the war on wage gap, managing household chores, being a mother to her children, and all this while needing to cook the perfectly round rotis, the parallels between Entrepreneurs and the middle-income working woman are there to see. Yet, the middle-income working woman has a tiny chance of being able to explore entrepreneurship as a possibility, and most of that sector comprises the upper class.


Solution: We need to enable the ambitious middle-class woman, who has shown success and confidence in the workplace, to scale by expanding access to structured knowledge, finance and market opportunities. Here are a few ways  how to do that:

I. Improved accessibility to adult learning and continuing education for scaling businesses in India. The enrolment rate in higher education in developing countries such as Egypt is 20%, Thailand 20%, Mexico 16% and Turkey 10%; but India lags far behind them at 7% of its population

II. Campaigns that highlight success stories of entrepreneurs and their families, emphasizing their outcomes, via all media platforms

III. Provide encouragement for women entrepreneurs in the corporate sector by pushing for a reassessment of corporate Human Resource norms 

3) Oppression in women-dominated sectors:

The healthcare workforce is dominated by women at 70% globally, women are also the primary caregivers for the elderly and children. Despite this clear dominance in healthcare, investor interest in health startups by women is scarce, even high-level positions in this sector fall behind the statistic, according to the recent Oliver Wyman reports, women make up 30% of C-suite executives and 13% of CEOs.

Another example is the fashion industry which is virtually propped up by women, they spend three times more on clothing than men, fill a majority of the entry-level jobs and over 88% of fashion designers are women. However, fewer than 50% of well-known womenswear brands are designed by women, and only 14% of major global brands have a female executive in charge.

A little closer to home, according to a recent study by the Time and Trend Academy, 8 of the top 10 most successful Indian fashion designers in India are men.

Solutions: Since there is no shortage of potentials and candidates within Industries dominated by women, there should be no reason for women entrepreneurs to still be at a disadvantage. Here are a few ways how we can prevent women from being held back in these industries:

I. Women-focused scaling accelerators with sponsorship from influential leaders.

II. Mentorship pledges from the existing entrepreneurship ecosystem

III. Creating Networks with successful male and female entrepreneurs that will help build a platform for ideas, information, capital and mentorship.

In conclusion, the persistence of the 13.7% of women to make it as entrepreneurs despite all the adversities of both being a woman and trying to make it as an Entrepreneur is something truly commendable.

While we applaud these women, we need to realise that if they can do it so can the others who aspire to come forth in this field. Regardless of the clear oppression in the field, women have always met adversity with our own unique blend of tenacity and resilience.