Published on November 21, 2022.

Women’s Employment & Entrepreneurship in India

Introduction & Role of The Udaiti Foundation:

The Udaiti Foundation [1] (TUF) is a key platform/ collaborator in the CEDA-BMGF project ‘Partnering with the private sector to enhance women’s economic empowerment (WEE)’. The scope demarcated for TUF within the project includes primary data collection pertaining to the private sector, private sector collaboration, and advocacy.

Primary data collection in the private sector

The scope would include both large corporate employers and the startup ecosystem. The objective would be to collect data such as on the gender composition of workers at different levels and across industries and build an understanding of the barriers that employers face while hiring women and barriers that women face while entering the workforce. These surveys – questionnaires plus semi-structured, in-depth interviews – would be supplemented with secondary analysis of existing corporate sector data from paid sources like Crunchbase and Tracxn, to get basic industry data on private sector organisations and the startup environment and help stratify and identify the organisations that can be covered or engaged.

 A couple of specific survey ideas are as follows: (a) The first such survey will focus on the subset of highly skilled women and seek to gain insights into the constraints on their entry/re-entry, retention, and progression in the workplace in India. (b) A second survey will be conducted among a sample of hiring managers in the private sector to better understand hiring practices with a gender lens – what works well and where there is scope for intervention for improved outcomes. A detailed list of hiring managers and intermediary hiring firms will be prepared that will be used to engage private sector actors, as part of the hiring managers survey.

Private sector collaboration

Based on the findings of the primary surveys and secondary analysis as well as those of the research component of the grant, TUF will help design and pilot high-impact interventions in partnership with the private sector. TUF will also conduct a series of roundtables, focus group discussions and closed-door meetings to more broadly interface with the private sector. This step is intended to fully understand the specific problems faced by actors within the space as well as co-creating solutions with them, to create a sense of involvement and ownership.

Advocacy efforts

TUF will focus on networks and events, messaging and communications surrounding findings emerging from the research and analysis conducted by TUF and CEDA, and organise convenings with private sector players and other key stakeholders. CI’s aim in these advocacy efforts is to present a business case for greater representation of women in the private sector, at all levels, and not merely a social case for it. TUF will also work towards creating impactful organisational pledges and marketing campaigns to increase awareness among employers about the gender composition of their organisations and how female-friendly the workplaces are. Additionally, TUF intends to constitute a group of ‘champions’ among private sector players, to act as proponents of TUF’s advocacy efforts. 

 TUF will continually engage with CEDA to identify activities that intersect with the common goals of the partnership.

How the project will add value

The vertical seeks to achieve key goals related to generating evidence, piloting programs based on the insights derived from research, building and sustaining partnerships and coalitions that enable implementation and advocacy, and creating necessary policy frameworks.

  1. Generating comprehensive evidence around women and work, which includes a clear firm-level understanding of attitudes, preferences, and barriers to hiring women – both real and perceived, insights into what holds back women from connecting into value chains, and a deep understanding of constraints on women’s retention and advancement to leadership levels in the workplace.
  2. The project will consolidate findings and pilot interventions in order to provide insights on ‘what works’ to improve private sector engagement with female workers and enterprises. 
  3. An enabling and comprehensive policy framework for female entrepreneurs, as well as designing and implementing targeted efforts to uplift and support them
  4. Build a coalition of private sector champions, professional bodies, and experts who will implement and advocate for progressive practices for WEE.
  5. Advocacy, outreach, and messaging to amplify the findings and recommendations

Year 1 Scope

TUF’s  scope for the first year of the project includes the following:

  1. Designing and conducting primary surveys for data collection and insights 
  2. Data-driven report(s)
  3. Onboarding partners in the private sector
  4. Helping design high-impact interventions, which would be piloted in Year 2
  5. Network-building
  6. Act as a convenor and bring ecosystem players together to shape the narrative around WEE
  7. Advocacy and communications to amplify the findings from our research

Strategy (including potential partnerships)

As a part of the CEDA-TUF partnership, TUF is thematically focused on the issues of employment and entrepreneurship. To this end, a number of activities have already been initiated and several others are in the offing over the coming months. The following are the key thematic areas of focus for TUF as part of this collaboration, and the activities designed to explore them.

  1. Thematic focus areas for TUF as part of this project are employment and entrepreneurship, at present. These may change and evolve over time.
    1. Employment
      1. Recruitment of women – hiring biases, pipelines or lack thereof, etc.
      2. Return to work for women – reasons for a break (such as maternity leave, upskilling, caregiving, illness, Covid), challenges with returning to work, flexibility in work for returnees, and so on.
      3. Professional networks and mentorship – the value of professional networks, existing networks and how they function, mentorship or lack thereof for younger female employees, peer mentoring, etc.
    2. Entrepreneurship (in partnership with Bain & Company) focused on the state of female entrepreneurs in India
  2. The modus operandi that TUF is taking will include partnerships, primary research through surveys and interviews, secondary research to augment (for example, around policy enablers/constraints, good practices, etc.), and events and activities (including workshops, focused group discussions, advocacy efforts).
  3. TUF’s strategy to address the issue of women’s work is premised upon partnerships we have entered, or intend to enter, to augment CEDA’s work in this regard.
    TUF has partnered with ACT for Women [2] to create a series of activities over the course of 2022-23 that will culminate in a ‘State of the Sector’ report on the role of women in the startup ecosystem in India – encompassing female founders, employees, and contractual workers at all levels.
    The TUF-ACT for Women partnership’s scope includes:

    1. A State of the Sector report including data on women’s participation in the sector, a white paper outlining the key challenges, barriers, and opportunities for women’s employment within startups (including insights gleaned from semi-structured interviews conducted with women from the sector), and a compendium of best practices in the startup ecosystem in India today. 
    2. Several smaller events, such as panel discussions, closed-door meetings with actors from the startup ecosystem, and workshops, which take place throughout the next 8-9 months. TUF and ACT for Women also plan to organise 1-2 large events over the same period to launch the State of the Sector report.
    3. Building initiatives that create and amplify opportunities for women in the start-up ecosystem from entry to retention such as:
      1. Return-to-work program after maternity leave
      2. Board and leadership composition
      3. Internships, career programs
      4. Mentorship networks/ platforms
    4. Advocacy for gender representation in the startup ecosystem
      1. Tracking & disclosure of metrics, public pledges, etc.
      2. Lead efforts in the sector by building a shared vision around gender parity, amplifying voices, convening key stakeholders, and building surround sound
    5. Working with gig economy platform startups to test a range of solutions/ interventions that would help improve women’s participation on the platforms including flexible work options for women through targeted interventions (worker benefits, safety, (up)skilling, job matching, and so on) with strong measurement.
  4. Another aspect of TUF’s strategy on the issue of women’s employment is conducting a survey and series of interviews that will tackle challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace in India. This survey is designed to feed into the work TUF is undertaking in partnership with CEDA and ACT for Women. For the survey, an initial series of 10-15 interviews will be conducted during June 2022. Once these initial interviews are completed, the results and insights from this exercise will be used to design a detailed survey on women in the workplace as well as create a series of questions that can be posed to a broader group of women from corporates and startups.
    1. TUF is targeting survey results from around 50+ CHROs by (chief human resource officers) September 2022 and from around 150 women from senior management positions in corporate workplaces. Additionally, TUF is aiming to conduct semi-structured interviews of around 50 women from senior management, also by September 2022.
  5. With regards to TUF’s strategy on the issue of entrepreneurship, the organisation is focused on working with our partner, Bain & Company (and its partners). Programatically, there are two streams of work that TUF intends to undertake. These are:
    1. ‘State of the Sector’ report focusing on female-led enterprises
    2. Building on implementing some of the recommendations from Bain’s work on female entrepreneurship in recent years
      1. Accelerator/ fund for women-led startups
      2. Leveraging digital technologies to make access to mentors and networks more widely and easily available
  6. In order to embark on these avenues of work, TUF has entered into early conversations with a number of institutions and actors in order to better understand the landscape of work within women’s entrepreneurship. Some of these include T4GLabs, G.A.M.E., Charity Moore, Trayas, Stead View, Dasra, Employee Provident Fund Organisation, etc.


[1] The Udaiti Foundation aims to be the leading women’s economic empowerment organisation. It will take a foundation approach and utilise a variety of levers – build political salience, engage with the private sector, innovate, use markets, provide seed funding, shape supply, and build the ecosystem in this area. 

[2] ACT for Women is a part of the ACT Grants fund and is focused on creating a pact for gender parity and solving systemic challenges.