The impact of business on women’s empowerment: A field study in rural India

Examining the role of marketing employment on women’s empowerment in developing countries

Gender inequality is one of the world’s leading development challenges. Despite considerable work on policies to combat this issue, the improvement of women’s empowerment continues to be a pressing issue that is especially acute in developing economies. This research aims to explore a business and marketing solution to this challenge. The project seeks to understand the unique impact that businesses have in empowering women in emerging markets, specifically the role that marketing employment can play in improving women’s economic empowerment. This work builds on “Can selling change the salesperson?” , where the engagement in sales activities improved resilience among women in rural India.




The challenge

The challenge of gender inequality has significant impact on social and mobility restrictions for women in developing countries, limiting opportunities for education, employment and participation in decision making. While gender inequality is prevalent across many countries worldwide, it has particularly destructive effects in countries that are already confronted by poverty and deprivation.

UN Women , the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, declared a dramatic increase in the poverty rate for women and girls in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, reversing decades of progress in eradicating extreme poverty for women. Research has highlighted that earning income through employment or entrepreneurship alone may not be sufficient in improving women’s empowerment. Thus a deeper understanding of the elements of employment that enable empowerment, and in turn the elements of empowerment that are enabled by employment, is required.

The intervention

Social and mobility restrictions prevent women from obtaining wide exposure to, or interaction with, diverse and unfamiliar people, ideas and environments. The practice of sales activities can have significant impact for women in developing countries.

This study will measure the impact of sales employment on women’s empowerment by leveraging a randomised controlled trial from the “Can selling change the salesperson?” research. Of the 1048 women in the sample, 378 women were assigned to the “sales treatment” intervention to engage in various sales activities and associated marketing campaigns to sell products. A comprehensive and rigorous measurement of women’s empowerment will be examined in this study, analysing the improvement of self-efficacy and confidence, autonomy within one’s household, influence on spending own income and household decision making, social status and perceived similarity with influential community members, visibility within community, participation in communities, and more.

The potential impact

This study has the potential to represent the most comprehensive casual examination of the impact of business employment on gender empowerment. By measuring the psychological, social, financial and institutional categories of empowerment, and determining the way in which engaging in marketing activities can shape not just how individuals think, cope and behave, but also the way in which their communities will then respond to them, this research will offer a solution to the way that women in emerging economies can transform themselves and become more empowered.