June 9, 2023

Enabling India’s startup ecosystem to become WISER on women’s workforce participation

ACT for Women emerged from a pressing need to accelerate women’s workforce participation and make substantial progress towards achieving gender equity at the workplace in our lifetimes. Over decades, despite the gradual increase in literacy rates, women continue to remain significantly under-represented in the workforce. In response, ACT for Women has embarked on a mission to understand the challenges better through a collaborative study called WISER – Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report.

The intention has been to focus on employers as a lever of change (with an initial lens on startups) and gather customised, actionable insights. Known for their agility and bias for action, the startup ecosystem has already been a successful disruptor in multiple spaces and we firmly believe that it has the potential to contribute significantly towards helping India improve its female labour force participation as well.

WISER is the first and largest of its kind research study that is designed exclusively for Indian startups and aims to help them advance gender diversity and inclusivity at the workplace. It will look at understanding the drivers for gender diversity within the startup ecosystem by collaboratively assessing demand-side barriers to women’s representation across employment levels and spotlighting best practices that have helped improve women’s participation. A collaboration between ACT For Women and The Udaiti Foundation, with LEAD at Krea University, McKinsey & Co, and NASSCOM 10,000 startups as key partners, it aims to establish a baseline for women’s participation in the startup ecosystem while identifying enablers that reflect in better hiring, retention and advancement of women professionals. It will examine startups across various sectors and life-stages, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the factors that can enhance women’s participation across all levels. Over the last 4.5 months, the WISER team has conducted in-depth surveys and interviews with founders and CHROs from over 130 organisations as well as with 500+ startup employees – the report is slated for public release in July-August 2023.

A key highlight of WISER is its commitment to providing tailored and actionable insights to participating organisations. Through careful analysis of the collected data, the report will offer specific recommendations to each participating startup which align with each organisation’s unique context and requirements. These insights will empower organisations to make informed decisions and implement effective measures to foster gender diversity and inclusivity. While the focus is on supporting participating organisations, we will also strengthen the big picture focus of this exercise by deriving separate insights for VCs/investors who are invested in gender diversity at the workplace and are looking for ways to enable their portfolios to do better in terms of women’s representation. Finally, the hope is also to show industry-level best practices as case studies to allow the larger ecosystem to learn from the tips and tricks that resource constrained startups across stages are already successfully implementing.

To us, WISER is just the start of the conversation on women’s workforce participation and we look forward to working with the startup ecosystem to take action and create lasting impACT!

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