She-cession in the Indian economy — and in start-up land too?

Feb 1

Happy new week, folks! I almost didn't want to write this letter, since it looks like everyone is going to be massively distracted by Elon Musk's Clubhouse debut. No denying that app is 🚀 🚀 Personally, I've barely recovered from the week. We adopted a little baby girl, Maya, from the SF SPCA last week, and she's been running us ragged [bonus pic at the end of the post!]. Puppies are a handful, and I'm not looking forward to the next few months of minimal sleep. But in the meantime, I have this newsletter to keep me sane 🙂 Today we look the issue of poor female participation in India's labour force and think about this in a start-up context. We also have a round up of news, reads, podcasts and books!

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The very real problem of "she-cession"

This isn't start-up news per se, but it is a subject I think about a lot, and one that I think many in start-up world don't think about enough. The Economic Times had a good piece on the negative impact Covid has had on India's already dismal female labour force participation (FLFP).

Apparently, almost 17 million women lost their jobs in the first month of lockdown alone. This brought down an already dismal female participation rate in the workforce to a four-year low - now 11% compared to 71% for that of men. The data also showed that this impact has been higher among women in their early 20s.

India's poor female labour force participation is not new but it is a problem that has actually been worsening. According to the World Bank, in 1990, India’s FLFP was 30.3%. By 2019, it had declined to 20.5%. All of this despite female literacy increasing.

This a broad issue for the Indian economy, but start-up India is not exempt from these issues. Women founders are in the minority in India. A recent RBI study put the number of female founders in the country at a pretty dismal ~5%. There are a host of reasons women find it difficult to be entrepreneurs in India - inherent bias, lack of easy access to credit, societal and familial pressure, etc. And while there are no conclusive stats on this, I think I can easily say that women are underrepresented at the C-suite level, and would venture to guess even more broadly among start-ups.

This might be a reflection of a bleak reality, but given the emphasis start-ups put on disruption, I do often wonder why disrupting gender norms isn't one of the things they aim for? A diverse workforce doesn't just come about on its own, but has to be a priority within a company's culture and something that is deliberately addressed both in recruiting and day-to-day operations. I'd personally love to hear stories of start-ups that are doing a good job on this front, and how they approach this issue. Please feel free to comment or tweet at us!

🗞️ News of the week

  • Several Indian startups are considering going public in global markets and are awaiting guidelines on the corporate affairs ministry

  • a16z invests in Clubhouse

  • Reckitt Benckiser has led a Rs 45 Cr investment in the popular Bombay Shaving Co, which makes grooming products for men

  • GrowFix, a digital investment platform for Securitized Debt Instruments (SDIs), has raised $2M from Zerodha and others.

  • ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, has begun the process of laying off its employees in India, following a permanent ban on the app

  • B2B marketplace for pharmacies Saveo has raised $4M in a seed round co-led by Matrix Partners and RTP Global

📰 What we've read and listened to this week

🎙️ Podcast of the week: Chetan Puttagunta (GP, Benchmark) knows where to get gulab jamun in Scotland

📚 Book of the week: The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga

Seemed like a good choice since the movie just dropped on Netflix last week 😃

🐶 Bonus Maya photo