What Are the Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face in G20 Nations Despite Gender-Based Govt Reforms

Access to capital, labour markets, cultural, regulatory and administrative barriers, and gender pay gap, lack of funding opportunities are some of the major challenges women face in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico.

This is the second part of a two-part series of articles written by the Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES) – Swabhimaan – InfoSphere’s latest editions. See here for more details on this special G20 focused InfoSphere edition and here for reviewing Team InfoSphere’s work. You can read part 1 here.

The first part of the series discussed the complex nature of gender-based development performance indicators for G20 member nations like India, Germany and Mexico.

The story delved deeper into the female employment level trends, women-labour force participation rate, working conditions for women, and the safety net promised post-retirement.

For the second part, we observe the entrepreneurship landscape of these identified countries – India, Germany, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia – and understand how the business landscape shapes the involvement of ‘women as leaders’ and in driving business levers across sectors.


In recent times, India has become a hub for entrepreneurship. As per the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020/2021 report, the total entrepreneurial activity (TEA) in India is at 14.4%. Out of this, the TEA for men is at 16.3% while that for women is at 12.3%.

Additionally, women in India are reported to have start-up intentions at parity with men and close to the global average (GEM). However, when compared with other economies, and when it comes to gender equity in entrepreneurship, India still has a long way ahead.

The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2021 ranks India at 57th place out of 65 countries. As per the report, India continues to lag behind its peers when it comes to having women entrepreneurs in the country, because of underlying cultural conditions and bias that prevent or discourage women to become entrepreneurs.

According to the report, women tend to have a less inclination towards business ownership. It further says that they are reluctant to grow business they own due to lack of funding.

Therefore, India needs to work towards increasing enrolment in higher education and access to financial resources for women entrepreneurs. It also needs to provide to women with single window clearances, tax breaks and other measures to promote women entrepreneurship in the country.

There are already several self-help groups (SHGs) in the country, which not only allow for economic empowerment of women but also make space for social change.

An SHG usually consists of 12 to 25 local women between the ages of 18 and 50. Members of these groups make small regular savings contributions over the span of a few months until there is a substantial amount to begin lending out to the community.

Many of these SHGs are linked with banks for the delivery of micro-finance services.

In addition, SHGs give underprivileged women a forum for fostering camaraderie. They enable women to come together and act on problems related to their own lives including health, nutrition, governance and gender justice.

SHGs can also be found in other nations, particularly in South and Southeast Asia.

According to Alka Upadhyay, additional secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, “The government, through the National Rural Livelihood Mission [NRLM], has given them a capitalisation support of Rs 10,200 crore, and these SHGs have also earned bank credit of over 2.9 lakh crore.”

She said that the government tries to ensure that women-led SHGs have low non-performing asset (NPA) rates, an important factor that highlights their role in India’s economic recovery. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) estimates that as of March 2020, the total NPA rate for women-led SHGs was approximately 4.9%, which is less than half the rate for NPAs in banks.

She also stressed on digitising the SHG channels.

Saudi Arabia

 For many years, Saudi Arabia had one of the lowest rates of female workforce involvement worldwide. In 2018, only 19.7% of Saudi women who were residents were working or actively looking for work.

Before 2011, women were not allowed to work in many professions and were required to obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, work, or marry. However, in recent years, the government has implemented a series of reforms aimed at increasing women’s participation in the workforce.

As per the Saudi Arabia government, the number of women in work was at “the highest level in the kingdom’s history” in 2022. In the recent past, per experts, the country has made staggering progress towards women’s empowerment in the employment sector.

Most importantly, the increase in female employment was not caused due to the Saudi government hiring women. The job growth was fueled by the private sector. For example, during 2019-2020, there was a mere 5% increase in the number of Saudi women working in the public sector.

Source: Team InfoSphere

One of the reasons for the rise in women employment in Saudi Arabia can be attributed to the initiatives taken under Vision 2030.

Vision 2030 is a strategic plan for the future of Saudi Arabia, which was launched in 2016 by Mohammad bin Salman. The plan aims to transform the Saudi Arabian economy, reduce its dependence on oil exports, and promote social and cultural reforms.

Apart from that, it plans to create job opportunities for Saudis, particularly in non-oil industries. It also seeks to increase the participation of women in the workforce.

Under Vision 2030, women were finally allowed the right to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The plan also includes initiatives to improve the quality of education, to prepare students for the job market, promote gender equality and empower women, and improve public services, including healthcare and transportation.

At least 7,000 women found employment in 2021 with the help of the Tamheer programme, which provides on-the-job training to Saudi women.

A minimum of 51,000 women with jobs have benefited from the kingdom’s Wusool programme, which provides transportation facility for employees. At least 3,500 working mothers took advantage of initiatives such as Qurrah, which provides child support. According to labour market data highlighted in the MHRD press release, 27.7% of Saudi women were employed in the education sector and 17.7% in the retail and wholesale sectors, as of March 2022. These are the two sectors where women’s participation can easily be improved further.

Source: Team InfoSphere


About half of Russia’s workforce is made up of women. Women made up 47.5% of the workforce in Russia in 2020, according to the Federal State Statistical Agency. In spite of having greater education levels than males, Russian women are more likely to work in low-status, low-paying jobs. They make around 30% less money than males do on average.

In Russia, gender roles are viewed from a traditional perspective. In the Russian parliament, women hold just around 14% of the seats, and they are underrepresented in other positions of leadership in industry, politics, and education.

Russian women continue working due to various financial difficulties. This has caused the birth rate to plummet. Although Russia’s fertility rate peaked at 1.8 in 2016, it was still below the benchmark replacement rate of 2.1.

In July 2019, Russian authorities signed a decree which opened more than 350 jobs for women, which were previously off-limits under the Soviet-era labour restrictions. From 2021, women were allowed to work as truck and train drivers, as well as serve in the navy.

According to the new rules, out of the earlier 456 jobs that were off limits for women, only 100 remain limited to men due to the physical challenges or harmful working conditions.

Source: Team InfoSphere

Despite reforms toward less gender bias in the labour market, there is traditional “female” and “male” job differentiation in the country.

According to a research carried out by a popular Russian recruiting website Avito Jobs, most Russian men and women still eye traditionally “female” or “male” occupations and differ in their salary expectations significantly. This can be a direct consequence of the historic prejudices that are deeply embedded in the culturally orthodox society. However, as reforms are being introduced in the nation, there should be a positive breakthrough for women in predominantly male jobs.

Female labour force in Russia

Source: Team InfoSphere

In 2021, Russia’s female labour force was estimated to be 34.4 million. In 2021, the indicator fell by 0.6% from the previous year. The female labour force in Russia fell by 4.5% between 2010 and 2021.

From 2010 and 2021, Russia’s female labour force was highest in 2011 and lowest in 2021.

Female labour force means the entire female working-age population which is either employed or looking for work.

A country’s labour force or workforce consists of the number of persons of working age who are either employed or looking for work. This would typically encompass anyone of working age who is able and willing to work.

Source: Team InfoSphere

Russia’s gender gap in employment has been one of the lowest in the world, with a difference in labour force participation between men and women between the ages of 30 and 55 of less than 4 percentage points.

However, Russia has one of the greatest gender pay disparities among high-income countries. The gender wage disparity is a little over 30%, making it the second-largest among high-income countries, behind South Korea.

Pension gap between men and women in Russia

Source: Team InfoSphere

The income disparity is not just limited to pay gap. Due to women’s lower access to corporate and political power and a general tendency to own fewer assets, there is a 45% income disparity between men and women in Russia. Since lower wages inevitably result in lower pensions, they have lesser pensions. Given that there are twice as many old women as senior men in Russia (28.6 million against 14.3 million), this issue is especially significant.

Also read: The Distressing Situation of Women Entrepreneurs in India

Women entrepreneurship in Germany

 Entrepreneurship among women in Germany has been steadily increasing over the recent years, although there is still room for improvement in terms of gender equality in the business world.

According to the German Startup Monitor, the share of female founders in Germany has risen to 20%, and 37% of founding teams currently include at least one woman (but they do remain significantly underrepresented).

However, women-led businesses still face challenges, such as limited access to funding and a lack of representation in leadership positions.

  • Gender gap in capital: All-male teams receive almost nine times as much capital on average as all-female teams.
  • Investors are mostly men: While only 6% of female founders are active as business angels, the share among male founders is 16% – an imbalance that increases challenges for women when it comes to financing their businesses.
  • Work-life imbalance: The added stress faced by female founders with children often comes at the expense of their working hours. This is why 81% of them feel there’s a need to improve balance between their work and family.
  • Number of employees: Startups founded by female teams more often do not have employees and are significantly smaller when compared with male lead teams.
  • Funding: Female teams are nearly equally likely to receive funding, but the amounts they receive differ significantly. With an average capital demand of €1.6 million, they are behind by a factor of 3 and thereby plan more cautiously.

In Germany, a number of initiatives and support programmes have been implemented to stimulate female entrepreneurship. Through the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, the German government is providing funding as well as assistance for female entrepreneurs.

The National Agency for Women Startup Activities and Services (BGA) is a government agency in Germany that supports and promotes women’s entrepreneurship. It was established in 2000 and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth. Also, there are a number of non-profit organisations and networks that offer training, mentorship, and networking opportunities for women in business, like the German Association of Women Entrepreneurs.

Through programmes like the EXIST program, the German federal government is encouraging the growth of entrepreneurial activity in higher education. There are several programmes such as “Equality in the labor market: creating prospects”, “WeiberWirtschaft eG”, “FRAUEN Unternehmen” that support equal opportunities for men and women to participate in the German labour market.

Women entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in entrepreneurship among women in Saudi Arabia. This can be partly attributed to government initiatives that aim to promote women’s economic participation and empowerment in the country.

Several initiatives such as the Women’s Business Center and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Support have aided women to start a business, expand it, and reduce bureaucratic obstacles for female entrepreneurs.

These initiatives provide training, mentorship, and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

Moreover, cultural attitudes towards women in business are evolving, with increasing acceptance and recognition of women’s contributions to the economy. This has helped to create a more supportive environment for women entrepreneurs and has encouraged more women to pursue careers in entrepreneurship.

According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) published in 2020, women in Saudi Arabia accounted for approximately 17.7% of the total adult population who were either starting or running a new business. In 2020, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority reported that women accounted for 24% of the total number of new business licenses issued in the country.

However, despite these positive developments, women entrepreneurs face challenges in the country such as access to finance, markets, training and cultural barriers.

For instance, only 10% of women-owned businesses in the country have access to bank loans or other forms of financing.

A survey by the Saudi British Bank found that 70% of women in Saudi Arabia who were interested in entrepreneurship cited cultural and social barriers as the main obstacle to pursuing their business ideas.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only 16% of women-owned businesses in the country reported that they had exported goods or services, compared to 23% of businesses owned by men.

According to a report by the World Bank, only 7% of women in Saudi Arabia reported to have taken a business course or training programme in the past year, compared to 22% of men.


Entrepreneurial activity rate measures the proportion of the adult working age population that is actively trying to start a business, or manages a business that is less than three and a half years old.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020/2021 report, the TEA (total entrepreneurship activity) rate for women in Mexico was 16.5%, which is higher than the average for Latin America, and the Caribbean (12.3%), and high-income countries (7.4%).

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the number of women-led businesses in Mexico grew by 27% between 2012 and 2018, which is commendable.

Despite high entrepreneurial activities, there are still challenges that women entrepreneurs in Mexico face.

According to a study by the International Finance Corporation, only 29% of women entrepreneurs in Mexico have access to formal financial services, compared to 45% of men.

According to a study by the World Bank, it takes an average of 20 days and seven procedures to register a business in Mexico, which can be time-consuming and complex for entrepreneurs, particularly those with limited resources.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the average revenue per employee in women-owned businesses is 37% lower than in male-owned businesses.

According to a study by the National Entrepreneurship Institute, only 13% of women entrepreneurs in Mexico export their products or services, compared to 25% of male entrepreneurs.

To support women’s entrepreneurship, the Mexican government has launched two programmes: the National Program for Women’s Entrepreneurship and the Support Programme for Women Entrepreneurs.

Both the programmes designed to support and promote the creation, growth, and consolidation of women-led businesses in Mexico.

Launched in 2013, the National Program for Women’s Entrepreneurship has provided over 10,000 women entrepreneurs with access to funding and credit through partnerships with financial institutions and other organisations.

Launched in 2007, the Support Programme for Women Entrepreneurs has provided training and capacity-building programs to over 65,000 women entrepreneurs, helping them to develop their skills and knowledge in areas such as marketing, finance, and business management.


According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2020-2021 report, the percentage of women involved in early-stage entrepreneurship in Russia was 6.6%. On the other hand, the level of entrepreneurial activity among women in the early stages was only 1.6% in 2007.

Hence, Russian women’s entrepreneurship has progressed significantly over the years.

In this country too, despite government reforms, women have been facing several problems such as access to financial, gender pay gap, lack of networks, and legal and cultural barriers.

At least two-thirds of women entrepreneurs in Russia are inadequately serviced by banks, needing an average of $42,000 in financing.

In addition, Russian women earn only 72 cents for every dollar earned by men, which makes it difficult for them to access the capital to even start their businesses.

According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), only 8% of women in Russia reported having a mentor or advisor, compared to 23% of men.

And, it can take up to 50 days to register a new business in Russia, and there are complex tax and regulatory requirements that can be difficult to navigate for women entrepreneurs.

A survey by the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO found that 53% of Russian men and 38% of Russian women believe that women are less successful in business due to their gender.

The National Strategy for Women’s Advancement and Gender Equality has implemented some core projects to support women’s entrepreneurship in the fields of sustainable industrial development, digital economy, world trade, and financial literacy.

The Russian government’s ‘Support for Women Entrepreneurship’ programme, aimed at promoting the participation of women in the country’s entrepreneurial landscape, has provided support to more than 27,000 women entrepreneurs since its launch in 2017.

According to the government, tt has helped to increase the number of women-owned businesses in Russia by more than 10% over the past four years.

In a survey conducted by the Ministry of Economic Development, over 80% of women entrepreneurs who received support from the programme reported an improvement in their business performance and competitiveness. The credit line established for women entrepreneurs has supported the creation of over 3,000 new businesses and helped to preserve over 15,000 jobs.

Deepanshu Mohan is professor of Economics and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES), Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, O.P. Jindal Global University. CNES Team Swabhimaan includes senior research assistants Tavleen Kaur and Shreeya Bhayana along with research assistants Archisha Tiwari and Aarjavi Shah.

Team InfoSphere includes research assistants Yuvaraj Mandal, Bilquis Calcuttawala, Nishit Patil, Amisha Singh, Vedika Singhvi, Raghav Chawla.