This study maps the current state of women’s participation in India’s startup ecosystem and identifies levers that founders and investors can employ to increase their participation.
India’s female labour force participation rate is among the lowest in the world – 19% as against the global average of 49%. While multiple initiatives are trying to tackle this at a systemic level, there has been limited focus on enabling employers as a lever for change. Start-ups are one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic segments of the private sector, and their unique organisational structure and culture can enable the piloting of new initiatives. LEAD collaborated with ACT Grants and Udaiti Foundation to conduct the first and largest of its kind research study that focused exclusively on Indian startups and aimed to help them advance gender diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
Specifically, it sought to:
- Create a baseline of women’s participation to show the existing state of the sector and facilitate future tracking and monitoring
- Understand the reasons for unequal participation of women at each level and identify levers that founders & investors can employ to increase women’s participation
The study gathered insights from startups, employees and key stakeholders through surveys, KIIs and FGDs.
This study bridges a critical gap in the data and literature on startups and gender diversity in India by establishing a baseline of gender participation in startups across levels, sectors and stages of startups. Further, it hopes to advance employers’ understanding of women’s motivations and aspirations to join and stay in startups and identify successful actionable enablers from a policy and industry perspective.
WISER shows that startups can offer women a more gender-equitable environment, by way of faster career progression, ability to occupy more roles of influence, and greater autonomy and flexibility, which enables female employees to meet personal and professional goals at different career stages. Women-led startups perform even better on gender equality. Startups that have at least one female founder have 2.5x more women in senior roles as compared to male-founded startups at near gender parity. An important observation has been 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, financial autonomy and innovation.