Less Than Half of Indian Startups Have Women Directors: Survey
Gender bias continues to plague all aspects of India’s start-up culture.
Less than half, or 43%, of recognized startups in India had a woman director in 2019-2020, according to the latest Economic Survey. Women’s representation remained low in states such as Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, which otherwise ranked as top performers in terms of state-wise distribution of recognized startups.
Internationally, India doesn’t do well either — according to the Index of Women Entrepreneurs, India ranked 52 out of 57, which means that very few women in the country who choose to become entrepreneurs experience success.
According to an Indian venture debt and lending platform, InnoVen Capital, the number of funded startups with at least one woman co-founder decreased from 17% in 2018 to 12% in 2019.
These numbers are despite the Startup India, Stand-up India initiative announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 to encourage entrepreneurship among youth. Policies directed at women, specifically, are missing from this initiative.
“Women are missing in the Startup India initiative because many women, who start their initiatives, are not in the limelight or mentored professionally. Additionally, when it comes to funding, women are not only scrutinized about how they’d manage their businesses, but also their families in parallel, which isn’t a filter men are put through,” Riya Saxena, an innovative finance associate with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told LiveMint.
Most businesses in the last decade have been founded by men, states a paper by public policy think tank, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
On tracking why it was difficult for women to succeed in this field, ORF listed reasons such as unconscious bias, low confidence in women’s business skills, and difficulty getting access to finance and networks as easily as men do. An unconscious gender bias, the report stated, was about, “unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture and/or experience.”
The report found that while those women founders who were in the early stages of their career said they hadn’t experienced gender-based discrimination, the senior ones, on the other hand, did describe being a woman founder as a more difficult experience.
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“While it is possible that the younger entrepreneurs had not (yet) experienced unequal treatment based on their gender, the discrepancy of perceptions could also indicate a lack of awareness of subtle bias, which is often worse than blatant discrimination,” the report stated.
When it comes to financing, the report states, women are perceived differently than men. For instance, investors believe, “business is not a woman’s world,” and therefore prefer pitches from men compared to women despite identical content. It added that although 79% of women-owned ventures are self-financed, families are often hesitant to support their entrepreneurial ventures. While lack of family support and safety in public places along with the burden of child care continue to hamper women’s growth in the entrepreneurial space, the ORF report stresses how their inclusion will promote innovation, economic growth and create jobs.
And for that to happen, not only is it crucial to provide equal access to education to women but also to encourage them to use their acquired skills by joining the workforce. The second step, the ORF report states, would be for women to learn to become aware of the unconscious bias. The third, it adds, would be for authorities to ensure more inclusive, non-discriminatory and safe work environments. “Measures to improve the safety of public spaces are necessary, so women can commute between their homes and offices without the mental load of having to always worry about their security.”
And the last, the report adds, is for women entrepreneurs to have more support from their families. “Household and care duties should not be understood as women’s sole responsibility,” It adds, “Furthermore, granting maternity benefits to women entrepreneurs, improving childcare, and cultivating social acceptance would help them combine their entrepreneurial pursuits and family responsibilities.”
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.