15 Problems Faced by Women Entrepreneurs in India

Updated Oct 7, 2022.
Problems Faced by Women Entrepreneurs in India

Entrepreneurship and self-employment is no easy task. There are several challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in their quest to build successful business models. Without having the four key elements of entrepreneurship, you are doomed to fail.

Female entrepreneurship comes with unique challenges, especially if you operate in countries like India with gender biases.

This article will discuss the main challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in India and how this issue has affected the advancement of women's entrepreneurship.

Let's get started.

1. Few Sectors are Women-Friendly

Despite the various policies and measures to advocate for and promote gender equality globally, especially in the professional world, men are still the dominant players in India's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Despite the innovative ideas from which these businesses were birthed in India, most women-led businesses operate in low-revenue sectors. Alternatively, men dominate and control the more influential and profitable sectors, such as manufacturing and construction.

Since most industries and financial institutions are male-centric and have chosen not to value the input of women in Indian society, women are forced to retreat to seemingly “women-friendly” sectors like fashion, education, apparel, and beauty care.

This factor has significantly limited women's professional growth, experience, opportunities, and capabilities.

Where female entrepreneurs are most and least common
Source: Statista

2. Poor Funding Prospects

The funding scene in the Indian business sector is plagued with massive gender biases, which is part of women entrepreneurs' major challenges.

Women-led businesses in India face difficulties gaining access to capital for starting and enhancing their business operations.

This action is based on how society views women and the selective prejudice of notable investors. It is not news that most financial institutions and banks think women are less creditworthy than men.

Additionally, many Indian women do not have assets and properties that can serve as collateral while applying for loans. It may prevent the institution from giving them the loans they applied for.

3. Lack of Social and Institutional Support

The social support women business owners get when they want to start their business is not always encouraging. In most situations, they do not get any support, especially from families, peers, and immediate ecosystems.

Additionally, the absence of mentorship within the business has disadvantaged most women because they have to learn from their errors rather than being led in the right direction.

Apart from the social support women lack regarding starting a business, they also encounter the same issues regarding institutional support.

Most women do not receive guidance or support from authorities which may result in them missing vital opportunities that may emerge within the business sector.

4. Lack of Access to Professional Networks

One of the reasons why successful women entrepreneurs in India have been few and far between is their inability to sync a proper network base. 

The lack of a professional network of Indian women entrepreneurs causes fewer Indian women to be successful in entrepreneurship, leading to an even scantier network of Indian women entrepreneurs, and the cycle continues.

For context, networking is interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

Many people with leading businesses today will tell you they are where they are now, not because of what they know but because of who they met. 

The Internet is unarguably the biggest networking platform in the world. An IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE report (2020) showed that women constitute only 43% of the active internet users in urban India and 42% in rural India. 

On average, Indian men use the Internet more than Indian women. Therefore, besides the lack of a professional network, Indian women are doing very little on the Internet to connect with potential allies in the business world.

5. Pressure to Stick to Traditional Gender Roles

In India, a news report by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) suggested that only 32% of married women aged between 15 to 49 years are employed. 

In many Indian homes, all women cook, clean, and care for the other family members. These roles are considered women's obligations that society expects them to play.

Married women who intend to have successful businesses must have good control over their professional and social life, which includes familial responsibilities. 

Even then, society would not see “a successful woman entrepreneur who happens to be married.” Rather, it sees “a married woman who happens to be successful in business.” 

Their marriage roles much more regard Indian women than their business advancement. There is pressure to conform to their social expectations and a lack of encouragement when they decide to do otherwise.

6. Lack of an Entrepreneurial Environment

There are four factors of production: land, capital, labor, and entrepreneurship. These factors help build the entrepreneurial environment and drive home the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Indian women may lack this entrepreneurial spirit, as they do not always have the opportunity to be on the field of play, feet on land, providing the capital, and overseeing the labor. 

Due to home responsibilities, many Indian women are in the condition of working from home; this limits their experience and expertise to their encounters alone. 

They cannot see and learn from what other women entrepreneurs go through in the business environment and are also unable to build personal relationships with other businesses and gain market access. 

Entrepreneurial Environment
Source: SlidePlayer

There is a likelihood of a disconnect between female entrepreneurs and other factors of production. In this case, the business they are trying to build will not thrive. 

Providing cheap and conducive business spaces would also do a good job of tackling the problems women entrepreneurs face.

7. Limited Mobility

Indian women are more vulnerable to being jumped or raped and have limited mobility around India's slums and urban centers. It is an unsaid rule that if a woman is out alone by midnight, she's looking for trouble. 

There are also restrictions on traveling and lodging for Indian women, as some airlines and hotels insist they must have male company for their safety.

The hassle of public transport in India is one that the Indian woman might be unable to bear. Therefore moving from one place to another would be a struggle. 

Although many buoyant Indian women have availed themselves of personal vehicles to convey them around India easily, there are still many Indian women who do not have this luxury. As such, the mobility of women entrepreneurs in India is greatly limited.

8. Lack of Education

Women in the rural parts of India do not always enjoy opportunities for higher education. A large chunk of India’s uneducated population is women. 

A nation that invests in its educational sector is said to be investing in its future. In 1991, the number of women aged seven and above in India was about 330 million. Only 40% of this number were schooled or received formal education. 

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) report, the percentage of literate women has gradually increased to about 70%. In the coming decades, 30% of illiterate women would be left to compete for resources in a denser population with even more stiff competition. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was also rumored to have severely affected the education of students with weak financial backgrounds in India, especially girls. 

Women Entrepreneurs & Female Literacy
Source: Scroll.in

9. Low Risk-Bearing Ability

An entrepreneur has to be well accustomed to bearing risks in business. Indian women, however, do not have much practice in bearing risks from their familial duties.

Many decisions the family makes, like where to live or when to travel, in many cases, are not theirs to make but their husband's. Many Indian women do not experience making tough choices and dealing with the consequences. Frequently, they do as their told. 

Indian women face challenges when presented with tough decisions to be made in the business. In addition, a woman is not as independent when making decisions as a man is in India. 

While it is ideal for both genders to seek counsel and blessings from family members before taking a step as bold as starting a business unit, the men are easily forgiven when they do not. Women cannot afford to be that spontaneous. 

A married woman must inform her husband before investing, even if he has access to the funds, while a married man can inform his wife after. Unmarried and married women must also seek counsel from their fathers, mothers, and brothers. 

A female entrepreneur in India who tries to be spontaneous and bear risks will have herself to blame because society is not very kind to them. They need as much support and approval from the family. 

In the delay of trying to get a brother on board or convincing an unbelieving father of the reliability of an investment, the chance to become a successful female entrepreneur may have passed.

10. Balancing Responsibilities between Family & Business

Many successful women entrepreneurs will tell you that finding the right balance between their professional and family life is one of the biggest challenges in running a business. 

Indian society expects a woman to prioritize her family responsibilities in a way that is not expected of a man. 

A man showing love to his family is a man that is diligent in his work, while a woman showing love to her family is a woman who is available to care for their immediate needs. These roles are hardly ever reversed. 

An Indian woman cannot prove her love for her family by being diligent in her business. She can prove it when she sacrifices business for her family. Therefore, it becomes natural that a conflict arises at home whenever she picks business over family, even in extreme situations.

She would inevitably take leaves off work at certain times, like when she gets pregnant or has to nurse a child. At these times, she has little control over her business and the professional world. 

Balancing responsibilities between family and business is one of the major challenges that Indian women entrepreneurs face. Indian women entrepreneurs have little control over the balance and are inherently conditioned to care for and love their families.

11. Stiff Competition

Due to how naturally competitive a man is, he is unlikely to allow anyone to be the best in the workplace, especially if it is a woman.

For Indian women to attain leadership roles, they must be gifted and willing to work twice as hard as their male counterparts, proving their selves every step.

Asides from the internal competition, the limited resources in the business world make competition between businesses very fierce. A moment of laxity can lead to irreparable consequences for the business. 

The competition also exists among women business owners in India. As everyone is under pressure to prove naysayers wrong and be a successful entrepreneur, letting anyone, even your female allies, gain on you in business is not easy.

However, it is key to note that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Several financial institutions in India do not discriminate and can pay women their worth, so they do not have to involve themselves with the struggles of entrepreneurship. 

Successful women entrepreneurs and all female workers require a strong sense of focus and mental toughness.

Not all enterprises have a formally established and rigid approach to things, but if a business demands quality as all should, a mediocre individual, male or female, will not fit in.

12. Limited Industry Knowledge

Successful women entrepreneurs in India are not many. The existing ones have expertise in similar industries like beauty/modeling, entertainment, or commerce. 

Finding women startups in production, technology, or science industries is difficult. Many women are not knowledgeable in these areas, and they are not many examples of women excelling in such industries. 

Industries that require human resources are usually scarce for women. Men have what you may call “the upper hand,” figuratively and literally. They have more strength and endurance to carry out physically demanding tasks in the entrepreneurial space. 

Women are often referred to as ‘abla naari,' which means the weaker sex. Definitely, ‘entrepreneur' is one factor of production, and ‘labor' is another. 

Still, especially in India, where there is more reliance on the workforce due to its availability and less on technicality and intellect, if a boss cannot get her hands dirty, she is less likely to succeed.

A woman is generally lacking in this area, as even when she is presented with the opportunity and the knowledge to set on a worthy business venture, her inability to ‘pick the hoe and dig the ground' would leave her at a loss. 

Even in recruitment, it is less likely for her to employ a lady to do a man's job, reducing the chances for another woman to succeed.

13. Missing Role Models

A role model is an individual who is deemed so successful through the eyes of another that the person's lifestyle or achievements are worth patterning one's life after. 

Since money is one of the most desirable assets of our generation, being rich has become equivalent to being a role model. Role modeling, however, should not primarily be about assets but modeling yourself by the same traits in your role model. 

By attraction, it is ideal for a woman to have a woman as a role model. She would see herself more as a woman than as a man. 

The ideal role models for female entrepreneurs are women who have built a business successfully from the ground up, faced challenges and conquered them, and have the perfect work-life balance. 

However, the sad reality is that in the population of India, there are only a handful of women that a female entrepreneur can take as role models. 

14. Social Construct

The societal construct speaks of the obvious gender bias in India. You can spot it in the process by which startups are funded by private equities and venture capital (VC firms). 

During the interrogation of women founders by these firms, irrelevant and sometimes offensive questions are asked, which do not occur during male interrogations. 

Questions like “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” The answers to these questions reveal nothing about the candidate's competence in vying for funding. 

Some may even go as far as asking if the husband would be the co-founder of the business, thereby disregarding her worth. 

Another big challenge is that these firms generally do not regard unmarried women as credit-worthy individuals. 

If an Indian woman manages to get capital to start her business, getting investors in the corporate world would be even more tasking, as women-led businesses are not considered long-term ventures. 

Investors would be of the idea that the woman could close it up if family responsibilities increase.

15. Safety Concerns

With the increase in India's violent crime rate, more women are forced to remain in their shells and not venture into anything risky, which includes women entrepreneurship. Participating in social activities late into the night or evening is a problem faced by women in India. 

Many Indian women have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or even murder just for being out at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Safety concerns greatly hinder the progression of female entrepreneurs in India, as they would choose their safety over business success. If they do not, their close relations will insist that they do.

In addition, women-owned businesses are at a higher risk of being stolen and robbed mainly because of the vulnerability of female business owners. 

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.