While many talented and dedicated women may seek to venture into entrepreneurship, there are various challenges they face that serve as hurdles to growth and empowerment.
--BY DEEPA SHAKYA
The discourses related to women entrepreneurship have become broader in recent years. The government, banking and other stakeholders are putting an effort to address the needs and demands of women entrepreneurs. However, scarcity of dedicated survey, reliable, updated and valid data continue to be key obstacles to understand the challenges specific to women entrepreneurs. A large section of issues women entrepreneurs face is moulded around socio-cultural norms, values, perception and expectations, be it while expanding, maintaining or starting an enterprise.
Block 1: Fear of failure
Any business venture comes with the possibility of failure and this insecurity generally keeps people away from taking risks and exploring entrepreneurship. The fear is comparatively higher among women due to lack of asset ownership and capital. They face a lot of pressure and blame if they are unsuccessful in making a profit. Due to this, they are less likely to start a business. The fear is exacerbated as there are limited avenues that better prepares girls and women to have the confidence to be prepared for any losses or challenges and see them as learning moments to achieve the ultimate goal.
Block 2: Limited access to knowledge and capital to secure finance and women-friendly banking services
Banking transactions and history are one of the key factors for formal banking services to assess and give scores for financial credibility. Lack of this basic information refrains women from getting adequate points to be able to secure loans. In addition, lack of asset ownership further pushes them back from securing loans. There are several provisions and schemes by the government and banking and financial institutions, but these do not seem to be targeted towards startups. Until you let someone sow the seed how will it grow to become a plant?
The prevalent biases and confidence of bank officials, family and society against women's entrepreneurial capability further impede their access. Another major challenge for aspiring women entrepreneurs is the lack of women-friendly environment at the service points. Aspiring women entrepreneurs, more in the rural context, have expressed their difficulty in reaching out to connect and express their views and issues to male service providers. It is comparatively easier for women to talk frankly with a female service provider than a male service provider. Thus, bank officials that cater to the needs of aspiring women entrepreneurs, should be sensitised on gender equality and gender-based communication to avoid any biases and reflect on the importance of designing gender-targeted products and service delivery. Each bank that caters to women in business should offer a help desk with a female service provider to make them feel welcomed and listened to.
Block 3: Homogeneous Enterprises
There are efforts made to build the skills of women so that they can make income out of it, but generally, these skills are limited to the cliched skills – tailoring, beauty parlours, cooking and similar other gendered skills. Thus, a majority of the trained women open their businesses in the same area, which doesn’t let them stand out, capturing each other’s market. Following a herd mentality without considering one’s competence and market demand research is one of the major problems for women entrepreneurs. Limitations on mixed-gender networking can further confine women to low-profit, low-productivity sectors, rather than enabling them to branch out into more profitable sectors traditionally dominated by men.
Block 4: Lack of informed choices and access to mentoring
Where to go, what to do, how to prepare the various documents, which type of business should one consider? These are the basic questions that hover around any aspiring women entrepreneur. There is no one-stop-shop they can go to get all their questions answered. The women business federation could play a crucial role in this area and ensure that all aspiring women entrepreneurs have basic knowledge. The seasoned women entrepreneurs are the role models for aspiring women entrepreneurs but the avenue and platforms to get mentored by them is limited and might not be accessible by and informed to all.
Block 5: Taught to work and not to create work
One of the major stumbling blocks is the way the education system (apart from a few exceptions) prepares students to become ready for jobs rather than enabling to think of creating jobs. Additionally, the pedagogy is gendered, creating a conceptual divide between what one should do and aspire to become at a young age. Thus, there should be strong advocacy for the implementation of gender-responsive pedagogy and curriculum on entrepreneurship in schools. Imparting the basic knowledge, skills and information should be key, so that they are prepared if they wish to, to take a step forward to translate ideas into an enterprise with confidence and be ready to tackle what comes their way.