While Indian women continue to play a significant role in the domestic sphere, their participation in the country’s paid employment sector remains below optimal level. The already large gap between the percentage of unpaid female (66 per cent) and male workers in India (12 per cent) has only been widened by the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the ‘new normal’ has brought about both challenges and catalysing changes for women entrepreneurs in India.

Negative Immediate Impact

Overall, the pandemic has had a negative immediate impact on women entrepreneurs in India in terms of increased unemployment, domestic responsibilities, and social injustices. Investigating the same, Bain and Company, Google, and AWE Foundation surveyed and conducted interviews with close to 350 women solopreneurs and small business owners in urban India. The report cited that almost 73 per cent of the women were negatively impacted; the revenue of almost 20 per cent of the women entrepreneurs dwindled to zero.

Muted customer demand proved to be another major impediment for almost 45 per cent of the women entrepreneurs. The coronavirus-induced lockdowns resulted in new demand patterns, rendered some obsolete, and caused customers to reassess and reprioritise expenses. Services based on physical impact, like salons, dining, and gyms experienced a wholesale drop in revenue. Furthermore, over 20 per cent of the respondents cited disrupted supply chains and lack of financial resources as major challenges. Because of these and other factors, a recent survey conducted by the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) showed that women-led businesses are twice as likely to consider closing down permanently as compared to those run by men.

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Increased Domestic Responsibilities

Additionally, almost 43 per cent of the women surveyed by the three companies experienced a decline in productivity vis a vis work from home due to increased domestic responsibilities and distractions. This figure is higher for women based in metropolitan and tier-1 cities as compared to those in tier-2 or tier-3 cities, potentially due to a higher prevalence of nuclear families in the former.

Echoing the same, one in four women entrepreneurs surveyed by WeConnect International stated that the increased domestic demands placed on them during the pandemic-induced lockdowns have reduced the time they devote to their businesses. The same findings extend to the Indian context as well as cited above.

Transformative Changes And Opportunities

Amidst all these challenges, female entrepreneurs in India have also risen to the occasion and planned for survival as well as growth. Almost 99 per cent of the women surveyed by Bain and Company, Google, and AWE Foundation expressed hopes of surviving the pandemic with altered business models and cost structures. As of October 2020, 54 per cent of the respondents had already changed their business model in response to COVID-19 by including new products or services, digital sales, and delivery channels, as well as reorienting supply chain, sales, and marketing function.

Other positive changes brought about by the pandemic for Indian women entrepreneurs include acknowledgement of women’s contribution towards family income as well as increased flexibility, improved productivity, and better accessibility for some courtesy remote working. Most female entrepreneurs believe that these transformative changes will hold them in good stead in a post COVID-19 world.

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The Way Forward

The pandemic has provided women entrepreneurs with an opportunity to reassess and adapt to capitalise upon the resultant structural changes. Policy actions and business reconfigurations that can aid the same include making financial and digital coronavirus interventions gender-inclusive, creating opportunities and targeted mentorship models for female entrepreneurs, altering cultural mindsets to support female entrepreneurship, and revamping knowledge and capability building resources.

Overall, research has shown that though COVID-19 has had a negative initial impact on women entrepreneurs, the combined efforts of women entrepreneurs, key industry participants, and governmental policies, can turn the same challenges into opportunities as well.

Tarini Gandhiok is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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