Gender biases restrict women entrepreneurs
It is no secret that the majority of start-ups in India have been set up by men. But this does not mean that women don’t aspire to entrepreneurship. It is just that it is far more difficult for women to make a go of it because they face so many more hurdles — from domestic restrictions to lack of resources and training — than men do . This is hurting the economy as IMF studies show that closing the gender gap could mean a 6.8% gain in GDP. More than economic figures, it means that women’s potential is being frittered away.
The statistics are not encouraging. Women entrepreneurs, according to a study, made up a mere 13.76% of the total number of entrepreneurs. This puts India at 52nd of 57 countries in the Index of Women Entrepreneurs. Across the labour force, women are not getting the opportunities they should. Such opportunities are fewer when they want to strike out on their own. Last year, the participation of women in the work force was just 26% with merely 9% being in any kind of leadership position.
Unless well-educated, women suffer from the handicap of not understanding the laws regarding business. They are unable to find the tools to get funding or hire the right people. It is not that women lack the drive or enthusiasm to start businesses. But subtle gender biases hold them back when it comes to even securing loans. They often don’t know how to pitch their businesses or what works best in order to secure loans. Despite all the strides made in women’s rights, business is still seen as a male preserve (we have often heard that men are much better with numbers than women). This belief makes it more difficult for women to get male partners in business or deal with their peers. Even successful women entrepreneurs have spoken of lacking the confidence they should have when dealing in a male-dominated business environment. If the formal workplace is not kind to women, the world of entrepreneurship is even less so.
Apart from the lack of confidence and perhaps inadequate knowledge of how to navigate the world of entrepreneurship, women are held back by the fact they often have no collateral in the form of property or money to call their own. Family finances, which are often not a problem when it comes to funding a man, are not as forthcoming when the aspirational entrepreneur is a woman.
Networking is a huge part of the business world, and here, even successful women have complained about being kept out of the men’s club. Societal norms also make it more difficult for women to network as easily as men, since they will often have to combine their business venture with their roles as mothers and wives, or caregivers for other older family members. We often hear it being said with approval about men, that they are workaholics who rarely see their families. This is not always an option for women and their businesses suffer on account of their being absent from networking opportunities. A woman who has family support to take care of her children while she pursues her entrepreneurial ambitions is considered lucky. Many women are not so lucky in that they don’t have the resources to manage childcare and care for parents, which means that they cannot achieve their full potential.
Finally, there is the issue of safety that all women travelling outside their homes on work or business have to face. If a woman has to succeed in a business, she cannot be worrying about what time she should get home in order to be safe and how she will do so. Families are not supportive of women working late, out of town or even with male colleagues and these are just some of the hurdles that they have to address before devoting themselves to making their business work. Mobility, which should be taken for granted, is actually a huge impediment for many women, especially if their work place is some distance from home.
Despite all this, there are so many heartening examples of women doing well in business from the village level and above. Imagine the difference if they had better access to education and progressive policies to push them into the workforce and into leadership roles. Better access to finance and networks as well as public safety could be a game changer for women entrepreneurs. If there was a more concerted political push for women starting their own businesses, it would make a huge difference. We would then be one step closer to that five trillion dollar economy.