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Executive Director, Rayna Dolphin advocates for the upliftment and empowerment of women entrepreneurs and leaders in South Africa

7 March 2022: The South African business environment has not always been as welcoming to women as it has been to their male counterparts. Historically, women entrepreneurs have struggled with access to capital, the effects of unconscious bias and discrimination, and experience more challenges in negotiating contracts with suppliers and employees. This same trend is mirrored in the corporate world, where a “glass ceiling” prevents women from taking their place amongst men in the C-suite. The solution to bridging this divide and closing the gender gap must begin with a greater recognition and appreciation of the unique value that women bring to leadership roles in business and in the boardroom.

This is the opinion of Rayna Dolphin, the first female executive director at South African small and medium enterprise (SME) financier, Business Partners Limited. Her appointment in 2021 marked an alignment by Business Partners Ltd with the drive to build a more inclusive leadership team.

On her role within the executive team at Business Partners Ltd Dolphin comments: “Celebrating International Women’s Day should never be a matter of paying lip service to gender equality. It’s a day that should act as a reminder for both the public and private sector to continually take decisive and practical action towards gender diversity in all facets of our society, including business. I am proud to be part of a company that is aware and appreciative of the immense value of women in the workplace, as employees and as leaders. As an SME financier, we apply a similar approach to how we support women entrepreneurs, and we encourage all role-players to join us in doing so, particularly now more than ever due to the impact of COVID-19 on the South African economy.”

Women entrepreneurship as a tool for job creation

The pandemic has brought the unique challenges of women to light. Even with the odds stacked against them, there are a multitude of South African entrepreneurs who continue to demonstrate the value and broader perspective that women bring to the workplace and business.

According to research by Development Economics – the research and data arm of the World Bank – in South Africa, women-led businesses established between 2018 and 2022 will generate an estimated R175 billion year-on-year. In a socioeconomic environment that is characterised by record-high unemployment, it is evident that women in South Africa could play a critical role in job creation.

“With the onset of the pandemic, we became acutely aware of the uniquely challenging position of aspiring women entrepreneurs in South Africa. We also recognized the inextricable link between the economic success of women and the well-being of their communities, as well as the broader economy. It is vital for stakeholders in the South African SME eco-system to work together to stimulate greater economic participation by women in a country where women’s empowerment could very well be a critical driver for turning the tide against a range of social challenges including poverty and unemployment,” says Dolphin.

Female representation in the boardroom

With almost two decades of experience in financial services at multinational corporations, Rayna Dolphin brings not only a wealth of experience to her role but also an invaluable perspective as a South African woman. Her appointment to the executive team forms part of Business Partners Ltd’s strategic objective to support the gender equality cause in a way that is tangible and reflective of its belief that women’s entrepreneurship is key to South Africa’s economic recovery.

As a female executive, however, Dolphin is still part of a minority. A report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)  in 2021, found that only 5% of chief executives in South Africa are women and that a substantial gender gap exists amongst the top JSE-listed companies. This data is indicative of a  South African reality, but also a broader, global problem that has come under the spotlight during the pandemic, which many are referring to as a “shecession” in order to highlight the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 has had on women.

Dolphin concludes: “If we can make a greater effort as industry role-players to invest in women as leaders, we will be taking a great stride towards building an inclusive business community, that can uplift and empower communities and civil society as a whole. For some companies that support women, this might take the form of mentorship programs or further training initiatives for women. For others, it may mean addressing the gender pay gap with swift and intentional action. Women need men to be allies which includes acknowledging the challenges faced by women and standing up for women when they see discrimination taking place. International Women’s Day presents the perfect opportunity for companies across the board to examine their practices and ensure that they are doing everything they can to put gender equality at the top of their priority list.”


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