March , 2022
Gender based disparities in start-ups in India - a cause for concern
21:26 pm

Kishore Kumar Biswas

An article published this year on International Women’s Day, that is, on March 8, 2022, pointed out that despite India’s rich entrepreneurship ecosystem, there was only a single woman CEO among the 80 unicorns present at that time in India.  

Unicorn represents a privately held start-up company valued at or over $1 billion. The word was introduced in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee. In the last December 1 issue of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), three economists of Dublin University, Ireland, namely A Tewari, T Hogan and C O’Gorman wrote a pioneering article on the status of start-ups in India. One of the important aspects of their paper was to observe the role of women in Indian start-ups.

Importance of women entrepreneurs in an economy like India

Women participation in economic activities has special significance for economic and social development. A lot of economists and social scientists have studied this. Nobel Laureates like Esther Duflo and Muhammad Yunus are only two of the brightest examples. Economists like Minniti and Yunus have observed that women’s entrepreneurship is crucial for poverty reduction - especially in developing economies. In their studies on female entrepreneurship, they found that female entrepreneurship contributed significantly to innovations as well as to job and wealth creation.

It has a positive role in social development. First, many studies observed that employing women can make them independent. Enhancement of independence of women has been an important indicator of social development. Secondly, women participation can strengthen team activity. Thirdly, increased female involvement in economically productive activities is a must for economic growth and development. Recently, Renu Sud Karnad, Managing Director, HDFC Ltd quoted a World Bank’s observation and said, “A World Bank report says India can grow in double digits if more women participate in the product line of the economy.”

India’s status of women entrepreneurship

The Economic Census of India (2013) suggested that women accounted for 48.5% of the population in India in 2011 and owned 13.8% of all Indian enterprises in 2013. But more recent evidence from a variety of sources shows that little has changed since the Census 2013 (EPW, December 5, 2021). It can be obtained from BBI data (2019) that only 5.9% of start-ups in India had a women-only founding team. Moreover, 38.6% of all founding teams had at least one female founder, while 55.5% had no female founders. In the earlier mentioned EPW article, it has been pointed out that underrepresentation of women in the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem has also been reflected in international rankings. India ranked 53 in women business ownership out of the 58 participating countries in the master-card Index for Women Entrepreneurs of 2019. In the same way, in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2019 report, India scored much lower in the total early-staged economic activity (TEA) as against other Asian and West Asian counterparts except for Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Reasons behind lower rankings

There are several reasons responsible for the low level of realization of entrepreneurial potentials of women in India. On the basis of studies, it can be seen that limited access to financial resources, inadequate training, lack of technical expertise, lack of access to information, issues relating to safety, gender-based violence, lack of social support and lack of enforcement of property rights leading to a low rate of property ownership are the primary reasons behind low woman entrepreneurial involvement in India. 


There can be remedies if the government is ready to accept the problems of under-representation of women in start-ups. Then it has to take measures to rectify the system. Political will can have a great role in creating such an atmosphere.     


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