Accelerating participation of women in workforce: Startups show the way

The WISER report notes that startups are currently faring better than traditional enterprises. Photo: jacoblund/iStock

New Delhi: Startups in India have the potential to create 2 million new jobs for women by 2030, suggests the Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report (WISER), adding that the ecosystem is uniquely positioned to attract female talent.

The report, led by ACT For Women in collaboration with The Udaiti Foundation, finds that women made up 35 percent of the startup workforce in 2022 (the corresponding figure for the corporate sector was 19 percent) and indicates that, with careful introspection within the startup community which enables timely and targeted action, that number can rise to 50 percent by 2030.

WISER shows that startups offer women a highly conducive growth environment, by way of faster career progression and higher autonomy, which enables female employees to meet their career goals at different stages. Women-led startups in particular are observed to perform even better on gender equality, with startups that have at least one female founder seen to have 2.5x women in senior roles as compared to male-founded startups.

Says AakankshaGulati, Director - ACT, “We launched WISER in January 2023 with the foundational belief that, given their appetite for innovation and bias for action, Indian startups are uniquely positioned to lead the way in changing the game for women at the workplace. The fact that 200+ startups stepped forward to share their vulnerabilities and contribute to this report gives us immense hope that the startup community is committed to tangibly igniting meaningful change for India’s women.”

She adds, “WISER has found that stand-alone programs or DEI initiatives are just not enough. Startups that have been most successful in advancing gender equity, are also ones that understand that an inclusive workplace culture alongside enabling practices, policies, and people, together, are key to purposefully hiring, retaining, and advancing women. We acknowledge that there is much that needs to be done but are also optimistic about this ecosystem’s potential to build a case for why employers must prioritise gender equity at work.”

The report notes that startups are currently faring better than traditional enterprises, with 32 percent of women in managerial positions vis avis 21 percent in corporates. This gap widens further at the CXO level where corporates have only 5 percent of women in leadership positions against 18 percent in startups. However, while the overall figures are promising, significant work lies ahead - 10 years into their careers, 8 out of 10 men in startups occupy Director-level positions or higher, compared to only 5 in 10 women.

It is poignant to note that contrary to popular perception, women’s motivations to join startups are no different from men, with both preferring accelerated learning & advancement, fast pace of work, and innovation as key drivers.

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