Female entrepreneurship in developing economies

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The aim of this project is to analyse the problems faced by many Indian women entrepreneurs to set up their own business and attain a sustainable position in the business world in India and how they are suppressed by their male counterparts. This research will also highlight the women entrepreneurs who faced the difficult situations and emerged as successful entrepreneurs by creating a strong identity of their own in the male dominant society of India proving their credentials in the long run. It will also focus on the steps taken by government and other organisations to help the women entrepreneurs of India.


The aim of this project is to find out the problems which are faced by women entrepreneurs while establishing their own business. The research will bring general awareness among the women of India to take up the initiative to start their own business by overcoming the hurdles coming in their path.


Following are the objectives which will be covered in this project:

  • To identify the issues and challenges faced by women in developing economies in taking ownership of their business careers either by introducing innovation to a running business or by setting up a new organisation.

  • An extensive study of research material related to entrepreneurship and the practical approach adapted by established female entrepreneurs in international markets.

  • Based on the knowledge acquired in business domain and clear understanding of the problem, setting up directives for women inclined towards innovations to establish themselves as entrepreneurs.


The focus will be based on India and subcontinents and case studies of successful female entrepreneurs of two different countries will be studied in comparison to India to identify the problems and developing the solutionfor these problems in India by learning from the steps taken in other countries to counter this situation. Also, the scope will be limited to the survey (in form of questionnaires and interviews) which will be conducted among a selected number of women in India.


The role of women in our society is often neglected. They are considered to be subordinate to men and their role is confined to house hold chores. Being in the 21st century, where the world has developed rapidly, this subordination of women hampers the society. Therefore, being a woman myself, I want to highlight the issues which are faced by the women in the corporate world and the achievements attained by them to prove that we are no less than men. This is precisely the main reason for selection of this topic for my dissertation.


Godara (2007) highlights that women in India enjoyed equal opportunities and rights during the ancient period. However, their position deteriorated in the medieval period, which is also known as the “dark age” for women in India. After that period the status of women went down and the same situation still prevails in many developing countries including India, which is hampering the personal and professional growth of women in the society.

According to Epstein (2007), classification based on gender is the basic social divide around the world. All over the world role of women is regarded as lower than that of men. Due to this gender division role of women in decision making and other highly rewarded jobs or tasks is limited. In the past economic period, many economists thought of women of being a subject to the authority of men. However, whenever provided with the right opportunity, women never hesitated to come in front and join the labour force either by working as elite professionals or doing the manual craftworks.

But still in many developing economies, particularly in India, women are still considered as a mere commodity rather than treated as equals amongst all. They are struggling hard to establish themselves in the business world.

Therefore, the problem which will be highlighted is the challenges which Indian women have to face while working in the male-dominant society and how they are trying to overcome such problems to attain a distinct position in the economy.



It has been illustrated that entrepreneurs are the individuals who manage to establish a business enterprise, industry or a shop of their own. They are the “self-starters” and “doers of a business”. Entrepreneurship is referred as the foundation of economic development.

Female entrepreneurs in India are the women who contribute towards the economic development of the country by breaking the so called norms of the gender based society and surviving the hardships and trials to achieve success. Women have a productive role in the development of the Indian economy. Therefore, they should be provided with the equal opportunity and should not be suppressed by the male counterparts. (Rani, 1996)

2. Status of Women in the Past

In the historical period, women in the Indian society did not have equality with the men, although they were awarded the status of the goddess. The roots of this discrimination go back to the ancient times where the women were considered to be confined to domestic chores. According to a great Hindu writer, “be a young girl, be a young woman or even be an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her house”. Hence, this type of thinking still prevails in the Indian society. Due to this, there is a wide disparity in the literacy level of the males and females. As a result of this gender discrimination women are suppressed and are not allowed to come forward in various sectors.

To overcome this problem, steps have been initiated by several government and non-government organizations. Many companies in India are planning to arrange flexible working hours for women, allowing them to work near their partner's workplace. Various organizations such as Pepsi, ICICI bank consider that women managers have their own distinctive style and attitude, which helps in increasing the profitability of the organization.

However, women are still not accepted in many higher-rank jobs because it is presumed that certain jobs are meant to be handled only by men. Therefore, women are not encouraged to take the jobs which involve lot of travelling, living away from their homes or working till late in the night. This type of segregation hampers the career progression of the females in the Indian society.(Benson, 2006)

3. Present Scenario of Women Entrepreneurs

The status of women entrepreneurs in India is steadily increasing however; women employees still do not possess higher positions in the corporate world. According to The Financial Express (2006), only 2.3% of women hold the posts of legislators, senior managers and officials in the companies. Women in the age group of 29-59 years comprise of 54.9% of the total population but still they constitute only 17.8% of the total employees in the organized sector. Therefore, it clearly indicates that women are not given the same priority in work as their male- counterparts.

Koshal et al(1998) states that women entrepreneurship is a recent phenomenon. All over the world only 5% of the total corporate jobs are handled by females. Also, most of the top positions in many organizations are generally occupied by the men and only 2 to 3 percent of these jobs go in the kitty of women.

Benson(2006) highlights that the number of women entrepreneurs is steadily increasing in the Indian economy. However, the presence of women in management is only 3-5 % in India compared to around 10% globally. The presence of women can be seen mainly in service sector, HR related jobs and IT Industry. On the contrary their participation in hard-core jobs such as marketing or production is considerably less.

Women entrepreneurs hold a dignified position in many countries like USA, Holland, Sweden etc. However, in India women comprised of only 16.5% of total work force which is considered to be too low according to the census. The role of women in the business world has come into foreplay after the Tenth plan (2002-2007) of the government which planned on empowering the Indian women as the agents of socio-economic change and development. Women entrepreneurs face a range of problems for establishing and running the business successfully .This includes a number of tribulations such as lack of finance, providing collateral security and finding a right market to sell their goods or services. It has been highlighted in many researches that women make a considerable amount of contribution to the family business. However, their work is always criticized and goes unappreciated.

Therefore, women are not able to achieve their goals as they are suppressed by their male counterparts. (Tiwari , 2007)

3.1 Role of women in family business

Mitra(2002) highlights that the role of women in large-family businesses is limited in India. It is analysed that the Indian family business is based on the social system wherein the father is the head of the family and men have complete authority over the women. Thus, the participation of women in the business is not encouraged. The daughters are not allowed to take part in managing the family business. Also, the daughter-in-laws role is confined to manage the children's upbringing and other house related work. They are given the liberty to set up the small scale business of their own, for example, running boutiques or doing interior decorations etc. However, their earnings are not considered as the part of family earnings rather it is taken merely as a part of indulgence and the male members are usually arrogant towards them. This show that even in today's world women are not treated as equals in the business world. This article highlights that the possibility of women to succeed as entrepreneurs in large family businesses is considerably less.

3.2 Role of women in Professional world

Furthermore, Mitra (2002) states that the studies conducted on the Indian women have a prime focus on considering women just as workers rather than entrepreneurs. Although, the women are educated and have managed to establish their economic status to some extent but still due to the lack of experience and skills they are not able to manage the work confidently as they lack the exposure to the outside world. It also says that in addition to the suppression by the male society, women are not able to succeed because of their own personal traits such as shyness, lack of leadership qualities, inability to communicate etc. Due to all these reasons, the growth of women as an entrepreneur is limited in the developing economy.

3.3 Types of Women Entrepreneurs in India

The article categorises the women entrepreneurs into four categories which are:

Young-Achiever Entrepreneurs

These are the women who start their career at the early stage that is straight after their college. This helps the women entrepreneurs as by the time they have reached the age of 45, they have considerable experience regarding the business and are able to handle the work more efficiently. This will boost the confidence level of the women entrepreneurs in the long run.

Block- Factor Entrepreneurs

These are the women in the age group of 35-40. Women in this group are the individuals who prefer spending more time at home than at the work place, so, they choose to keep their business at a considerably lower scale. They tend to concentrate more on personal and family related goals. These entrepreneurs face the shortage of resources to commence their business at the initial stage.

Family-Driven Entrepreneurs

These are the women who inherit the family business. However, the business is given the second priority and the family is considered as the first priority for these women. The business is considered as a hobby of self -fulfilment.

Additional Income-Driven Entrepreneurs

This group primarily consists of women for whom additional income is a necessity rather than just a hobby or interest. Women in this category are generally resource poor as they had suffered problems like personal trauma, death, divorce etc. which affects their financial status. These entrepreneurs try to keep their firm running and are ready to take any risks so that they are able to run the enterprise successfully. (Mitra, 2002)


According to Rani(1996) qualities of entrepreneurship is one of the important assets to promote entrepreneurship. Therefore, swot analysis plays an important role in analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats experienced by the female entrepreneurs.


Rao(2005) highlights that from the past many years the social status of the women is increasing, so they have better access to education than they used to have in the past period. Thus, it helps the women to establish their own business as they are aware about their rights and are confident enough to establish their own place in the male- dominated society. Also, women are supported by their family and they can take decisions on their own. In addition to this, it has been observed that the employment level of women in unorganized sector has subsequently increased.


Rao(2005) highlights that the gender related issues still exist in the society which hampers the growth of female entrepreneurs. They experience difficulties in obtaining loans, finding suppliers for their products and services. Also, many women do not get the financial and moral support from their families; they are confined to the household chores and are not allowed to work. Further, many people believe that providing education to the females is just a matter of status symbol, which only rich people can afford , so poor people do not bother to educate their girl child, which affects the growth of entrepreneurship.

It has been illustrated that women employees face a lot of criticism of their work from the other members of the society which affects their attitude towards work and they lose confidence. Also, as many women are new to the business, they lack experience and skills which becomes one of the weaknesses for them. (Rani, 1996)


Indian government is helping the female section of the society by providing them with equal opportunity to work. The Indian constitution has made a law to prohibit the discrimination based on gender and also formulated law for equal remuneration for both men and women. Also, government of India has developed a National Policy for empowerment of women (2001) and the government is taking crucial steps to raise the literacy level among female section of the society. (League of Nations, 2007)


According to Rani (1996), threats are faced by every entrepreneur, be it men or women. However, women face major threats from the competitors and bigger enterprises as they are comparatively new players in the market. Another threat faced by women is the unavailability of funds to invest in the business, as women do not have capital of their own required to run the enterprise successfully. They also face the threat by the family members to leave the business and the work-home conflicts also affects their growth.. Hence, all these threats affect the women owned business.


Women Entrepreneurs encounter a large number of problems and constraints which hampers their growth in the Indian economy. Aga (2006) highlights that females constitutes for about 48% of the total Indian population out of which only 8% receives the opportunities to get educated. Women are deprived of education, jobs in large organisations (only 4% of women employees). Furthermore, women also suffer as there are no benefits provided to them in terms of securing a job and retirement benefits. Following are some of the major barriers faced by the women entrepreneurs:

Financial Barriers

According to Parikh et al (2005) finance is the most important aspect for any business. However, women face many difficulties in acquiring long-term finance because they do not have enough credibility in the market as they are either dependent on their father or husband for their finances. Also, they face gender -related issues while procuring finance from various institutions as they do not have the same connections as men. In addition to this, the article states that the Diana project of States in 2003, had around 50%of shareholders as women but less than 5% of those women received any sort of investments from the organisations. (Pratt, 2004)

Therefore, it is clear that getting loans and finances from banks and other financial institutions is extremely difficult for female entrepreneurs as they do not possess any property of their own and are generally under estimated by the male counterparts and various companies.

Socio-Cultural Barriers

According to Carter et al (2001) women entrepreneurs experience many obstacles, which include traditional cultural barriers. They are treated differently and the level of their education, ethnicity and position given to them also varies largely than men. Women in India are confined to household activities and their involvement at workplace is also limited. In our society, the male child is given more priority; hence, there is lack of schooling and proper training of females.

Also, women face a lack of confidence as they do not get the appropriate support from their friends and family which hampers their growth in the corporate world. They do not get access to many resources such as transportation, education and literacy, technology and financial resources for carrying on their entrepreneurial activities. (Crable et al, 2007)

The figure below highlights the reasons why women in the Indian society are not able to represent their entrepreneurial skills. According to the article, the main barrier faced by women entrepreneurs is male-stereotyping, excluding the women from various communication networks, due to which they are not able to develop contacts with other individuals and organisations which affects their working. Also, family responsibilities bestowed upon and lack of experience in the particular field hampers the growth of female entrepreneurs.(Koshal et al, 1998)

(Source: Koshal et al, 2009)

Marketing Barriers

According to Davidson et al (2006), many women entrepreneurs are not taken seriously by the suppliers, wholesalers and business clients. This leads to difficulty for the women entrepreneurs as they are not able to market their products and services properly. Attaining acceptance from all these people becomes a highly difficult task for women as they judge the female entrepreneurs on the basis of their prior experience rather than the skills and knowledge possessed by them.

Also, it was established in the study conducted in India (Himachal Pradesh) that women find it difficult to market their products as they face tough competition from established large organizations. Also, lack of good transportation facility and poor location of their shops affects their business. (Vyas et al, 2007)


It has been observed that the number of women in the politics is steadily increasing, which is a positive sign for all the female workers around the globe. In 2008, countries like Argentina, Chile, Finland and even India (Dr. Pratibha Patil) has female Presidents. Therefore, it clearly indicates that women are capable of handling high office jobs. However, women in the professional world are not able to climb to the top level of the hierarchy. It has been evident by the research conducted by ILO (International Labour Organization) that in Asia only 15% of women employees are able to make it to the top position.(Gaag, 2008)

Therefore, it has become necessary to adopt several measures by the government and other organizations to help the women workers so that they can establish themselves in the corporate world. Some of the steps taken are as follows:


In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. However, India signed the convention in 1993. Therefore, it is one of the major steps taken by the government to protect women from any kind of discrimination at the work place. India is one of the participating 23 countries in the UN- CEDAW group and has to produce the country report periodically in front of various members. (National Alliance of Women, 2006)

According to Gaag (2008) this convention helps the women to enjoy all the civil, political, cultural and economic rights without any sort of discrimination. It also helps in developing various measures wherein women can achieve equality with men.

It has been analysed that despite of us entering into the 21st century, discrimination against women still persists in the modern society. Therefore, this convention is a critical treaty to provide justice and equality to the women all over the world. India has been working really hard to provide equal opportunities for women in the country and has adopted the steps directed by the CEDAW committee to improve the status of women in India.

  • In July 1995, workshop was arranged for the women lawyers in U.P, so that they are aware about the CEDAW convention. This workshop was successful as it helped the women lawyers to have relevant knowledge about the convention going on to protect women from various discriminations. It also enabled to make them acknowledge their rights (social, legal etc.).

  • In 1992, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India wherein court made use of the convention and asserted that there was need of protecting women at the work place by making it more safer to work for the women employees. This step helped the women as they felt safe and secure at their workplace and it also enhanced their performance at work.

  • Also, the committee emphasizes on providing equal right of education for the females as the literacy level of women in India is quiet low in comparison to men, due to which women are not aware about their social, legal and political rights. (National Alliance of Women, 2000)

4.2 NCW (National Commission for Women)

The NCW was established in 1992 as a legislative body in India under the National commission for Women Act (Government of India). The NCW helps the women by “reviewing the Constitutional and Legal safeguards for Women” and also “advising the Government of India on the policy matters affecting the women in India”. The NCW has developed the strategy (2005-06) of empowering the women of the Indian society by helping them to develop necessary skills and knowledge so that they should be able to work on their own or in any organisations. It has also helped women by political empowerment and also by preventing any sort of discrimination faced by them at their workplace or elsewhere in the society. NCW also publishes many books time to time concentrating on the issues faced by the women, so that it may be helpful for the society to be aware of their problems. It also helps them by making them aware about their legal rights so that they can use these rights for their benefit. Their vision is to make the Indian women globally-oriented and self-reliant so that they feel secure in the Indian society.(National Commission for Women, 2009)


According to Aga (2006) to achieve “global standards”, it is vital to enhance the lives of women in our society as their role is inevitable in the economic development of the country.

Many organisations are working for the welfare and empowerment of the female society in India, listed below are some of the organizations coming forward to help women employees and entrepreneurs.

SEWA (Self- Employed Women's Association) is one of the groups which help women to cope up with their business needs. SEWA was the first organisation to start the women operated bank, one of its kind in India. This bank provided financial help and loan to the members, which helped them to set-up the business of their own. Also, SEWA focuses on increasing the literacy rate among females and also emphasises the need of educational programmes and training of the women. SEWA has also helped women to develop their business not only in domestic market but in international markets as well. (Treacy, 2003)

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) is one of the non-profit organizations which help the potential women entrepreneurs to develop their business. For the purpose of helping the upcoming entrepreneurs, TiE is taking help of already established female entrepreneurs. Tie has also started centres for imparting knowledge and training to women who want to become entrepreneurs. According to this report, the goal of the organisation is to help the women entrepreneurs by drawing help for them from established businesswomen such as Shikha Sharma (CEO, ICICI Prudential) .Therefore; women are able to attain all these benefits as it is an organisation which is solely working for development of entrepreneurship rather than for the profit motive. (Subramanian, 2009)

AWAKE (Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka) is also one of the non-profitable organisation which helps in developing the women entrepreneurship. The mission of AWAKE is to empower the women by promoting entrepreneurship amongst them to help in the economic development of the country. AWAKE is helping to develop the entrepreneurship spirit among the rural and the urban women. They also help the women by providing them with appropriate training regarding setting up the business of their own. (Tiwari et al, 2007)

According to Vinze (1987), EDI (Entrepreneurship Development Institute) is the institute of its kind which is supporting aspiring entrepreneurs to come in the front. It was established in 1983 to help the entrepreneurs who want to establish a business of their own. In India, women are thought of just as owners of home-based business such as making pickles, jams etc., however, EDI helps them to come out of the cocoon and helps them to become the decision-makers and take over new and creative business rather than just sticking to the traditional options. They also provide assistance and guidance to the women regarding the setup of the business so that they also actively contribute in the economic development of the country.

GOLDMAN SACH'S is a banking investment company which has launched the 10,000 women initiative programme in India in 2008. The company's main aim is to educate and train around 10,000 women over a time period of five years, so that the number of women entrepreneurs should increase. It has introduced a 12 months course at Indian School of Business(ISB) so that the females should be imparted with the relevant knowledge regarding the know-how of the business world. This initiative has been taken by the Sachs' ltd. as it has been observed that if the women are provided with the business education, the per capita income in India may rise by around 14%, which is a significant rise. Thus, by educating women and helping them to acquire better entrepreneurial skills, the economy of the country will considerably improve. (Balasubramanyam, 2009)


Sodhi (2009) highlights that women are succeeding remarkably in the entrepreneurial world. Women have emerged as winners in various fields be it politics, IT, fashion or arts, presence of women is inevitable in the society. Women have left behind the constraints that were faced by them in the past and are working hard to improve their position in the Indian economy.

According to Cox (1997), large numbers of women are creating landmarks in the business world. Therefore, the economic development of India will see a considerable change as the country is going through a major cultural change due to involvement of women in all the sectors of the society.

Women now are much more confident and they are equally involved in their family business unlike past, where they were confined to the four walls of the home. Nisha Ahuja is one of the women, who emerged as a successful entrepreneur. She manages the firm of her father (Bharat Bhushan and company). Although, entry to the business firm was a cake walk for her but she had to face many challenges to establish herself into the business. However, she educated herself with the essential knowledge needed to run the enterprise and at the end emerged as a winner. Similarly, Meenaxi Saraogi faced many challenges to operate the business of her husband. However, she succeeded by establishing friendly relations with the workers and by understanding their problems. (Cox, 1997)

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the richest women of India, had to face her own set of problems to prove herself as a successful women entrepreneur. Kiran transformed her small chemical enzyme manufacturer company, Biocon, into one of the India's leading manufacturing company which is estimated to be worth $480 million. However, it was not a piece of cake for her served on a silver platter, she was born in a middle class family, when she planned to setup the company, and she was not supported by anyone. It was hard for her to find employees who could work for her company. As she was a woman, landlord refused to rent her the office space as he thought that as a woman she will not be able to meet the expenditures. Further, she faced hardships from the raw-material suppliers as they did not supply her the resources as they insisted her to employ a male-manager to get access to raw-materials. Although, Kiran faced so many hardships but still she always worked hard to prove her credentials and eventually one of the foreign companies, Auchinloss approached Shaw thus taking her business to new heights. Today not only she has climbed to the highest point of the ladder but is also helping the budding women entrepreneurs by offering them advises and training in the business world. (Egan, 2004)

Thus, this shows that despite of many challenges faced by the women, they are surviving those constraints and emerging as successful entrepreneurs all over the world. Women have done remarkably well in every field and their work is slowly but steadily recognized by the society. So, it is essential that role of women should not be neglected in the society and they should not be under-estimated for their work as it has been observed that women may help in stimulating the growth of the economic development of the country, which will take India one step further for the overall growth of the country in the world economy, helping it to join the developed countries of the world.


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