FE Today Logo

Breaking barriers and forging success

The impact of social norms on women entrepreneurs

Faria Mridha Nitisha and Syed Imtiaz Nadvee | November 26, 2023 12:00:00

Women entrepreneurs are transforming the global economic, social, and gender landscapes, and Bangladesh is no exception in this case where they are contributing substantially to economic growth, job creation, and groundbreaking innovation. They constitute 24.6 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Bangladesh, engaging 8.4 million people, 10 per cent of the total Bangladeshi workforce. However, they have been continuously dealing with severe challenges such as a lack of access to finance, markets, networking, education, technology usage, and supportive social norms.

In the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), Bangladesh had an extremely low score of 36.4 (out of 100), pointing out several socio-cultural norms. While women have made notable strides across various sectors, societal expectations and norms remain formidable barriers to their full participation. The intricate interplay between female entrepreneurship and prevailing social norms reveals a significant gender disparity in entrepreneurial roles.

Influence of social norms on women's entrepreneurial pursuits: Obstacles and catalysts

These social norms often prioritise women's domestic roles and inadvertently discourage women from venturing into entrepreneurship, explored in a recent study by Innovision Consulting on behalf of the World Bank regarding the impact of social norms on women's entrepreneurship. There are several layers to discouraging women from venturing into entrepreneurship.

To begin with, the social role of women is not to be the breadwinners of the family. They are still supposed to take charge of domestic affairs, especially in the solvent families. If the financial situation is too difficult for a "male" member to handle, only then a woman can contribute to income. Still, women are supposed to maintain certain movement restrictions and maintain several societal expectations. In Innovision Consulting's study, it was found that men want women to maintain 'purdah' and conduct their business only if the male members of their families do not earn enough. This expectation limits the entry of women into entrepreneurship.

Moreover, depending on the cultural practice, marital status may act either as a barrier or a driver of women's entrepreneurship. Innovision Consulting's study found that society expects the husband to remain accountable for his wife's financial endeavours. If a husband supports his wife strongly, society creates less hindrance to that woman. The study also found parents to be significant drivers for women to pursue entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the definition of "respect" also changes from location to location. A few certain "jobs" are considered respectable for women such as teaching, any government desk job, and medical professions, especially being a doctor.

One of the key challenges for women entrepreneurs is to maintain the household besides running the business, which men do not have to take care of. This may be called a double burden on the women entrepreneurs. Moreover, there is a difference between men's and women's actions of spending money and subsequent repercussions. Men tend to be less accountable for spending their earnings.

There are opposite examples existing in society too. One of the key drivers for women to engage in entrepreneurship is having a supportive husband. Innovision Consulting's study found that husbands play the most crucial part for married women - both as a barrier and a driver. Society tends to be less indulged in limiting the entrepreneurial nature of a woman who has a supportive husband. Innovision Consulting's study has found such men who invested in their wife's businesses. Moreover, societies adopt the entrepreneurial role of women with successful examples.

Call for action

In an effort to shape a more inclusive future, initiatives need to be crafted to target the next generation of the workforce. This involves the development of awareness campaigns uniquely tailored for youth entering professional spheres, aligning with their evolving needs and aspirations. Recognising the profound impact of familial influence, a parallel focus is on motivating young individuals to serve as catalysts for change within their families. This empowerment encourages them to challenge and reshape entrenched gender norms at the familial level, fostering a transformative ripple effect. Schools, positioned as central hubs, are integral to this strategy, with programs designed to dismantle gender stereotypes and promote gender equality. These initiatives will create a friendly educational environment that not only encourages inclusivity but also nurtures an entrepreneurial spirit among students. Embracing a holistic approach, the engagement of diverse stakeholders, including community members, local government officials, and influential figures within the community, is vital. The development of a comprehensive framework ensures the active involvement of all stakeholders in fostering a supportive and nurturing environment conducive to the success of women entrepreneurs.

However, it is too difficult to change our societies in an instant. Therefore, to increase women's participation in entrepreneurship, the government needs to undertake a holistic strategy that confronts and transforms entrenched social norms. The interventions designed to promote women's entrepreneurship should be community-led, gender-sensitive, and people-centric. Through the redefinition of societal expectations, Bangladesh can, most certainly, forge a more inclusive and varied entrepreneurial landscape.

Faria Mridha Nitisha is a Portfolio Manager - Gender and Basic Services at Innovision Consulting Private Limited. Syed Imtiaz Nadvee is an Associate - Gender and Basic Services at Innovision Consulting Private Limited.

[email protected] &

[email protected]

Share if you like