Women entrepreneurs in the Indian informal sector

Colin C. Williams (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Anjula Gurtoo (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India)

International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship

ISSN: 1756-6266

Publication date: 29 March 2011



Studies on women entrepreneurs either view women through a structuralist lens, as marginalised populations engaged in low‐quality work, or through a neo‐liberal lens, as engaged in relatively higher quality endeavour more as a rational choice. The aim of this paper is to evaluate critically these explanations in relation to women entrepreneurs in the informal sector in India.


To evaluate the contrasting explanations of structuralist and new liberal approaches, questionnaire surveys were conducted in two phases, namely 2007 and 2010, over a period of several months. The sample design was stratified random and the sample was taken from a range of cities in different parts of India.


The survey of 457 women entrepreneurs of the informal sector shows that although the structuralist representation is largely appropriate for women working as waged informal employees, it is not as valid for women informal entrepreneurs working on a self‐employed basis. The results challenge the traditional understanding of the informal sector, and self‐employed women in particular, and are discussed in the light of the institutional rational choice framework.

Research limitations/implications

The analysis highlights how the decision of entrepreneurship does not stand in isolation from other decisions and choices, is in line with normative considerations, and is a collective rational choice for women entrepreneurs in the informal sector. This analysis is a first of its kind and calls for additional surveys to be undertaken of female (and male) informal entrepreneurs in other countries to establish this concept.


The analysis critically evaluates established explanations in relation to women entrepreneurs in the informal sector through an empirical survey and establishes new explanations on women entrepreneurship.



Williams, C. and Gurtoo, A. (2011), "Women entrepreneurs in the Indian informal sector", International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 6-22. https://doi.org/10.1108/17566261111114953

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