Breaking gender bias in entrepreneurship

Putting the global picture aside, if we talk about only Bangladesh, the bias is more acute in the case of women entrepreneurship

Every year International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on 8 March to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women.

This year, the campaign theme of the day was "Break the Bias."

Bias is defined as "inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair."

The Gender Social Norms Index published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2020 found that despite decades of progress closing the equality gap between men and women, close to 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against women.

The same index reveals, over 40% of the world’s men and women feel that men make better business executives.

Putting the global picture aside, if we talk about only Bangladesh, the bias is more acute in the case of women entrepreneurship.

In a recent study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Social Research (BISR) on women entrepreneurship development in Sylhet, it has been found that though women’s employment is now socially approved to a certain extent it is limited to a few selected jobs, like teaching, medical professions, government and non-government official jobs.

These jobs are regarded as the “ideal job” for women and those who are doing these kinds of jobs are being valued by their families.

Women who want to do something beyond these are rarely approved by the family members as well as society as creating a business is not a socially accepted career for women.

Due to this kind of gender bias women hardly take the step to be an entrepreneur.

Consequently, only 10.8% of the studied women aspire to become entrepreneurs compared to 39% of men, a 28% gender gap.

Similarly, data from a 2016 study by the International Finance Corporation shows that women-owned businesses constitute just 7.2% of the 8 million businesses in Bangladesh.

Moreover, there exists a “social class” in the case of women taking the entrepreneurial initiative.

The study of BISR found that most of the women who are doing some kind of business are either from the lower or higher social class.

Women, who are in poor economic condition, want to get rid of poverty by engaging themselves in any kind of income-generating activities.

Not having much education makes the chances of getting a job limited for them.

These women want to take entrepreneurial initiative through which they would be able to support their families.

Here, poverty is the driving force to creating women’s entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship literature termed this kind of necessity-driven entrepreneurship as “push entrepreneurship”.

In reverse, the types of entrepreneurial initiatives taken by the higher class women are mostly “pull entrepreneurship”.

They want to achieve more or be lured by new business ideas and, thereof, initiate enterprise.

Apart from these, very few women show interest in entrepreneurial activities although the huge potential is there.

Access to market

Another gender bias against women’s entrepreneurship is regarding their access to the market, especially in rural areas.

Generally, women are expected to stay in the home and are not permitted to visit the market without any companion.

Also, there is an inclination among the parents to marry off their girl as soon as possible.

Girls, who reach the age of marriage, are discouraged to go outside the home as it may decrease their demand in the ‘marriage market’ as they consider them less disciplined.

Women, therefore, do not take interest in the outer world and therefore, confine themselves to what is called ‘bird in the cage’.

Moreover, there are religious misconceptions about the mobility of women in rural areas.

The perceived religious value does not allow women to communicate with other men outside their families.

They are also not encouraged to visit the market if it is not an emergency.

Indeed, building market linkage and business network, under such a social fabric is not an easy task for a potential women entrepreneur.

The gender role of women in society also enhances the bias against women’s entrepreneurship.

They are supposed to be solely responsible for all the household chores and unpaid care work.

Abiding by this role, women found it difficult to engage in entrepreneurial activities as it may hamper their family responsibilities.

Furthermore, managing finance is also perceived as a male domain which limits women’s access to finance.

A study of HSBC Bank in 2019 shows that more than 35% of the female entrepreneurs do experience gender bias when trying to raise capital for their business along with other barriers.

As a result, the entrepreneurial initiatives taken by women tend to be informal home-based and concentrate in the traditional sectors.

Overcoming biases

Overcoming these biases would be possible through addressing the existing discriminatory gender norms around women's freedom of movement, access to the market, access to finance, participation in decision-making, and prevention of early marriages.

Besides, several initiatives have already been taken by the banks, NGOs and INGOs to provide financial support to potential women entrepreneurs which many women are not aware of.

Dissemination of this information is necessary.

Delivering the message regarding the usefulness of women’s entrepreneurship to the community through different government and non-government initiatives might also entail support from family and community.

However, despite these gender biases women entrepreneurs represent about one-third of the growth-oriented entrepreneurs active in the world today.

Additionally, women entrepreneurs are creating more job opportunities as the EY Global Job Creation Survey 2016 shows, women are outpacing men in job creation with an average expected growth rate of 10.9% compared to 8.3% among male entrepreneurs.

Bangladesh with a 6.8% woman unemployment rate (twice that of men), needs to break the existing gender bias of women entrepreneurship to create more employment opportunities as well as to ensure a sustainable and inclusive path of development.


The author is a researcher of social and gender division of Bangladesh Institute of Social Research (BISR) Trust