Changing Paradigms and Business Landscape -5 lessons on Inclusion from Women Entrepreneurs in India

Written by Anju Rakesh & Athira Premarajan

Realizing aspirations is one journey. Indeed, a long one. In India, the aspect of women in the workforce has always been a concern. Even in this 74th year of independence, it is unfortunate that in one of the largest economies in the world, an unstructured process prevails towards the emancipation of women. What young women today look forward to are other sources and stakeholders to get inspired and accomplish their goals, one of them which are the self-built winners, the entrepreneurs! More specifically, women entrepreneurs who shattered glass ceilings and went outside the box for making a difference.

India only saw an upturn in the number of women pursuing careers in the early 1990s when the LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) wave swept the country. Yes, the unorganized sector has seen more women entrepreneurs in the belt, than that of the organized. Going by reports by Bain & Company, India today has 13.5 – 15.7 million enterprises that are owned by women, which represents 29% of all the existing enterprises, which provide direct employment for an estimated 22 to 27 million people.

Tapping on the unused potential of the women workforce is only a recent phenomenon, which has shown only reasonable improvement over the last decade. Going by the same report mentioned earlier, of the 432 million working-age women in India, about 343 million are not in paid formal work. However, looking at the brighter side, women entrepreneurs in the unorganized sector have been India’s pride and inspiration to the budding talents, where potential and intention matter much more than educational qualification.    

Breaking conventional barriers, women entered the entrepreneurship arena fearless. Competing against gender disparity alongside societal norms, financial challenges, and cultural barriers, women have managed to metamorphosize from their cocoon to higher levels of impact. Here’s how:

Pursuing Passion Through Grit

Most importantly, entrepreneurship has given birth to a new era where more women find their truest potential. Greater financial independence has given them the benefit of exploring their talent and skills for their better tomorrow. About 59% of women believe working for themselves reduces their dependence on a spouse or family, while 46% view it as a means to break through the glass ceiling, reports Bain and Company.

Attaining the Extended Support

Before the onset of the pandemic, the business case of equal opportunity seemed like a doable mission. And though the pandemic had its harsh hands laying out disproportionate impact especially on women, discerning companies across India Inc have been continuously striving towards gender balance for attaining business as well as social impact. Extending a warm-hearted welcome to the female workforce, huge corporates have been setting ideal examples, inspiring others by embracing the tenets of diversity, equity, and inclusion including outbound efforts that involve engagement with diverse suppliers. The BCWI 2020 report shows a heartening development in the number of organizations engaging with women-owned companies, amongst their suppliers.

Addressing a Key Market-Need

Business decisions and plans may not always come as organically as one thinks he/she could or the passion one upholds. Each of us has passion within – some inherent, some acquired – like in the case of Avtar, the pioneer Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion solutions firm in India. The first venture by Avtar was the subsequent events of a job interview that the Founder-President Dr. Saundarya Rajesh attended (Read the story here!). The unfortunate incident ignited her will to do something about the prevailing gender disparity and the rest is history. Today, Avtar is the largest provider of second career opportunities for women in India!

Combating Pressures, the Right Way!

Despite possessing equal education, equal skills, equal commitment, and several other qualities, most Indian women must make another long leap, which is convincing and managing their families. Aparna Saraogi, the cofounder of the Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (WEE) Foundation, opines that pressures from within the family are one of the major barriers to overcome, along with lack of childcare support. Gender stereotyping as per the societal norms has been disapproving the women talents across. It needs to end, and the power is within each individual, so utilize it to the best of one’s potential. Their own stories of combating familial and societal pressures help women entrepreneurs make the narrative of gender inclusion very direct in their own organizations.

Leveraging the Digital Infrastructure

The changing paradigms are notable, given the crisis-induced environment and the support of organizations and other enablers advocating for improvising the current layout of the women workforce. With the boom of e-commerce and e-retail, some of which are powered by governmental schemes and finance, women have had a breathing space to get back on track. There has also been constant effort as part of CSR activities of corporates to inculcate women entrepreneurship as an important aspect among their initiatives. Fortunately, women today are living in the digital era which gives them more networking opportunities. And, greater flexibility in the business landscape in these pandemic days has given them autonomy over schedules. How women entrepreneurs are able to engage with a diverse workforce leveraging the technology revolution, is worth emulating!

Despite the gender inequality, the struggles of managing work and home, beating societal barriers of gender, culture, religion and what not, women can still rise and seize to exist with full vigor. The above-mentioned examples prove so. The companions in this journey are their intention to pursue dreams and they themselves!


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