Boosting women’s entrepreneurship and economic leadership
W omen’s representation in leadership positions has been on a rise in recent years, but not enough to close the economic opportunity gap. The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 reveals that it will take almost a century to achieve full parity at the current pace.
The disparity is particularly striking in India. It ranks 112 out of 153 countries on the overall Global Gender Gap Index. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have applied brakes in several areas where workplaces were becoming more diverse as well as areas where access to resources across gender had become more equitable. The pandemic has hit the most vulnerable the hardest, making these disparities worse. Oxfam India has estimated the economic loss from women losing their jobs during this pandemic at nearly $216 billion.
In these trying times, we need to transform challenges into opportunities and accelerate the shift towards both greater inclusion of women in the workforce and women-led entrepreneurship. Covid-19 is far from over. Work from home is now widely prevalent. Here is an opportunity to deploy technology as the new leveller to strengthen women’s economic participation. It is heartening to see 34% of Indian IT workforce is women. They could be further provided access to new skills and blended technologies to move seamlessly in the rising sectors on digital platforms — telemedicine, e-learning and e-commerce.
As the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrate, adopting the gender lens properly and creating a culture to provide more opportunities to women requires collaborative and concerted action. We need to do the following.
One, accelerate women’s entrepreneurship. Currently, women constitute around 14% of the total entrepreneur base in India. We must accelerate both the quantity and quality of entrepreneurship through capacity- building in areas such as branding and marketing as well as facilitate financial and institutional linkages for business support.
Two, increase women in the workforce at all levels of management and leadership. Women account just 14% of leadership roles and 30% of professional and technical workers. We have not made much progress in terms of leadership roles at the chief executive officer (CEO) level. India has the third-lowest rank in the Asia-Pacific in CEO representation (2%), the second-lowest rank for female chief financial officer (CFO) representation (1%). Ranked 23 globally, India’s female representation on boards increased by 4.3% over the past five years to 15.2% in 2019. The global average is 20.6%.
Three, empowerment of women at the micro-enterprise and grassroots levels. Women-owned enterprises can generate over 50–60 million jobs by 2030. Financial reforms must come with a gender lens as micro-enterprises led by women face specific issues that require interventions such as digital and financial literacy programmes, handholding for reliable market access, and a greater network of Self Help Groups (SHGs).
In the 2019 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, India ranked 52 among the 58 countries. We must aim to be in the top 10 over the next few years. There are some developing economies which are already are outperforming their more developed counterparts. Women business-owners as a percentage of all businesses account for 38.2%, 37.9% and 36% respectively in Uganda, Ghana and Botswana. With equal access to education, health and financial resources, there is no reason why India cannot reach one of the highest levels of women’s entrepreneurship.
The road ahead is not easy, and the pandemic has not been gender-neutral. Long -existing inequalities and social disparities have sharpened on gender lines and in access to resources including food, education and health care. Industry must use its position to work with all stakeholders in championing and “empowering the greater 50%”. For it is only where women work that economies grow rapidly and countries prosper.