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LONGITUDES

How women entrepreneurs are changing Indian society

Indian women

In India, the proportion of women in paid work is among the lowest in the world, at just more than 23 percent – a figure that contrasts sharply with the corresponding rate of more than 78 percent for men.

Opportunities for women to enter employment in the country remain limited by a range of factors. These include a dominant tradition of female domestic responsibility and a prevailing social patriarchy.

Deeply entrenched cultural expectations mean that women are more likely to stay at home. And when they do work, it is mainly on an informal basis, without the luxury of secured wages and contracts.

Against this backdrop, the idea of female entrepreneurship in India faces major challenges. Setting up a business can require significant efforts outside of normal work times and can lead to the perception that women are irresponsible if they dedicate time to entrepreneurial activities.

“Women entrepreneurs in India are contesting social, cultural and family pressures to challenge the status quo in Indian society.”

Changing times

But it seems as if things may be changing. My research on women entrepreneurs in India reveals they are contesting social, cultural and family pressures to challenge the status quo in Indian society. They are also empowering other women while providing innovative solutions to major social problems.

Some of the women I spoke to greatly inspired me with their stories. One manufacturing business founder, Pinky Maheshwari, received a challenge from her son to make environmentally friendly paper. She went on to create handmade paper made out of cotton embedded with seeds.

Her award-winning ideas won appreciation and support from the highest levels of Indian government. She likes to empower others and “hires women from rural and small towns so that they earn a livelihood and get acknowledged for their creativity.”

She added: “I have employed largely women, and I support them in any way I can.”

A similar spirit shone through other women entrepreneurs I interviewed. Padmaja Narsipur, the founder of a digital marketing strategy firm, supports women “re-starters” to join her workforce after a break in their working lives.

She said: “Women re-starters are highly qualified and committed. I have been one myself. I have built a workplace where trust in employees, flexible hours and work-from-home options are built into the DNA, and it is paying off.”

The CEO of Anthill Creations, Pooja Rai has a vision to create “interactive learning environments in public spaces with a primary focus on sustainability” by using recycled materials to build accessible play areas in remote parts of India.

“Indian women will hopefully inspire women entrepreneurs from around the world while encouraging policymakers to create avenues that support their aspirations.”

Rewriting the rules

These are just some of the many Indian women entrepreneurs I met who are creating businesses of real purpose. Despite the cultural obstacles, they are changing perceptions and creating innovative businesses that have a real impact on their communities and beyond.

Their work is rewriting the rules for business, families and society while challenging the mindset that there is limited scope for them to create good businesses.

With a blend of social purpose and business acumen, Indian women are embarking on a journey to change perceptions and create prosperity for themselves and their nation.

This is the new face of women entrepreneurship in India. And there is evidence that public policy is increasingly supportive of this transformation while society is beginning to celebrate their successes.

 

Indian society is gradually becoming progressively egalitarian with much needed government initiatives such as “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) designed to improve the prospects of young girls.

Improved access to social media, education and social enterprises are all contributing to change. Such trends are providing momentum for the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in India.

Their stories will hopefully inspire women entrepreneurs from around the world while encouraging policymakers to create avenues that support their aspirations.

Such policies could include promoting entrepreneurship education among women and helping to finance women-led startups. The work has started, but there is much more to do to encourage the female businesswomen of India to overcome historically entrenched barriers and become part of a global entrepreneurial society.

Republished with permission, this article first appeared on The Conversation.

 

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