With a thriving startup atmosphere in place, India has made quite a position for itself as the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world. What is furthering the agenda is that startups are also leading the way in accelerating women’s workforce participation in India. According to a report by Women's in India's Startup Ecosystem Report (WISER), women-led startups have risen to 18% in India in the past five years.

Startups in India have the potential to create 2 million new jobs for women by 2030, suggests the report, adding the ecosystem is uniquely positioned to attract female talent.

While there were about 6,000 startups in India in 2017, with 10% of them being led by female founders, by 2022, that number had risen to 80,000, with women leading 18% of those startups. As per the report,105 startups became unicorns in 2022 from 13 in 2017. Out of this, women-led startup unicorns increased from 8% to 17%, the report adds.

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

“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 the report.

What WISER underscores is that startups provide a highly favourable environment for women to flourish in since they allow for faster career advancement and greater autonomy, allowing female employees to achieve their goals at different phases of their careers.

The WISER report comprises the participation of more than 200 startups including Urban Company, Meesho, Zomato, etc. Aakanksha Gulati, Director – ACT for women, shares, “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 the report has found that stand-alone programmes or DEI initiatives are just not enough.

Highlighting the necessity for inclusivity, she says, “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.”

She also acknowledges that there is much that needs to be done but is optimistic about this ecosystem’s potential to build a case for why employers must prioritise gender equity at work.

With 32% of women in managerial roles in startups compared to 21% in corporates, the report highlights the rise of women in charge of startups in contrast to corporate firms. The difference gets even more pronounced at the CXO level, where the percentage of women in leadership roles in corporates is just 5%, while it is 18% in startups. Although the numbers are encouraging, there is still much to be achieved – ten years into their careers, eight out of ten men in startups hold director-level roles or higher, compared to only five out of ten women.

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