Despite rising number of women-led businesses in recent years, there is a renewed debate on how India needs to bridge the gender divide stemming from socio-cultural factors.
Many agree that if women have equal access to health, education and earning opportunities, their talent and new technologies can be harnessed for sustainable economic growth and innumerable benefits to the society.
At the recently-concluded 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad, a large number of participants were of the view that though Indian women entrepreneurs are beginning to make a mark on the global horizon, they face steep obstacles along the way.
Hence the need to bridge gender entrepreneurship gap in the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Unless women – who comprise nearly half of the population – are integrated into radical transformations underway, the country will compromise on innovation and productivity both.
There has been a growing demand for concerted action to facilitate women’s integration in the workforce. Still, women entrepreneurs face hurdles while accessing capital, mentors and equitable laws.
A recent report by the World Bank says that India can grow in double digits if more women participate in the product line of Indian economy.
And thus bring about a transformational change as the Fourth Industrial Revolution dawns upon us in a new digital age.
Women in India have not got the place they deserve. They have been a neglected lot despite having the potential to become entrepreneurs.
Over two-thirds of them are not directly involved in any productive workforce. In a way, this amounts to crippling a 2.3 trillion dollar economy.
In a patriarchal society, women are discouraged from going into business. They hardly have access to training, financial literacy, and financing beyond the micro level. Even if they secure loans, many struggles to manage it.
The business culture remains largely dominated by men, and there is little for women entrepreneurs for effective networking that supports business advice, mentoring, learning and creating resources.
All this must change fast. It is critical to note that with more than 65 percent of Indians below the age of 35, the country is poised to rise as an economic superpower which will contribute one-fourth of the world’s total workforce by the year 2025.
Since the economic liberalisation in 1991, the government has come up with many policy initiatives to support women entrepreneurs.
Organisations supporting micro, small and medium enterprises, public sector banks and even NGOs have launched various schemes, including entrepreneurship development programmes, to encourage potential entrepreneurs who may not have adequate educational background and skills.
The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) has been running special schemes for women entrepreneurs.
Under the Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojana (PMRY), preference is given to women beneficiaries. Overall, the government has over 27 schemes for women under different departments and ministries.
On top of it, many sectors like artisanship can support semi-skilled women workers and leverage e-commerce to sell their products within and outside the country.
Similar initiatives can build a large ecosystem of women entrepreneurs, and give a fillip to infrastructure development and the overall economy.
Despite odds, there are thousands of women who have excelled as entrepreneurs and inspired others.
India needs to encourage this trend so that they can make a difference in the rapidly changing world of work being impacted by automation and globalization.
There is a fundamental case for empowering women with equal access to health, education, earning power and political representation.
Promoting women entrepreneurship is crucial at this juncture when India is positioning itself as a world leader in business and trade.
India has done well by moving 30 points up to rank as a 100th country in terms of ease of doing business in the World Bank’s latest Doing Business 2018 report.
This will further help and support in creating a sizeable base of entrepreneurs in India.
As the government accelerates gender equality with initiatives in the space of skilling, job creation and more importantly linking new skills to jobs, businesses to need to devise solutions and adopt best practices like closing the gender pay gap, non-discrimination while hiring women and career breaks for them due to parenthood duties.
Removing barriers for women and giving them access to technology is undoubtedly a must for nation building, innovation, and inclusive development.