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 A patient but unbending will needed for gender equality in entrepreneurship

 

 South Africa is no exception to the world-wide phenomenon that women, who represent more than half of the population, are still in the minority when it comes to entrepreneurship. For every ten South African males who are entrepreneurs, only eight women are.

Mjadu reckons this ratio masks an even deeper inequality. Research all over the world shows that when it comes to power entrepreneurship – high-growth, substantial businesses – female entrepreneurs are even more of a minority.

In the US, for example, only one in five businesses with a turnover of more than $1m are owned by women. In Europe, only 8.3% of patents awarded to businesses are awarded to women. There is little to suggest that the picture is any less skewed in South Africa.

If anything, the situation has probably deteriorated recently. The latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual survey, showed that only 6.2% of South African adult women are involved in early-stage entrepreneurship, down from 9% a year earlier.

This knock is probably due to worsening economic conditions, which are particularly bad for female entrepreneurship, because women have been shown to be somewhat more risk averse than male entrepreneurs.

It is deep-seated cultural legacies such as these that have made it so difficult to overcome the last hurdles to total gender equality in the world of entrepreneurship. We need to ask ourselves which are the remaining hurdles keeping women from starting their own businesses, and which are the incentives that have worked so far, says Mjadu.

On the positive side, there is no doubt that women are steadily advancing in the acquisition of skills, with any remaining gaps in academic performance fast closing, and numerous examples of fields of study world-wide in which women as a group academically outperform men. But such advances take a while to filter through into entrepreneurship because education is only one of the requirements, says Mjadu.

Another requirement is management experience and industry networks, which entrepreneurs only build up by spending some time working for someone else.

While women have academically already found their rightful place in nearly every academic discipline apart from perhaps engineering and computer science, the world of work is less egalitarian. Because the workplace generally serves as the incubator of entrepreneurs, one cannot expect equal numbers of male and female entrepreneurs to flow from industries in which males still dominate.

The move to equality is bound to be a slow, generational shift, but one that will require a conscious effort to complete. One such an effort is affirmative action and particularly its cousin in the world of entrepreneurship, namely affirmative procurement with its BBBEE scorecard.

Mjadu worries that while female entrepreneurs still score high under the BBBEE, the enticement of the corporate sector supported by Employment Equity policies will encourage more women to stay in their corporate jobs. This is mainly because they would probably make the same amount money, receive recognition without the risk of associated with running their own businesses.

From the point of view of an individual aspiring female entrepreneur therefore, there are probably more opportunities for self-actualisation by remaining inside a corporate than stepping out and starting her own business.

But the BBBEE scorecard is just one place on which South Africans can and must give more weight to female entrepreneurship. When schools celebrate career days, for example, they should look towards the local female supermarket owner, and not the usual corporate middle manager.

Female entrepreneurship must continue to be celebrated, says Mjadu, who is pleased that BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ latest Entrepreneur of the Year is female, bringing the total number of winners of the prestigious award to 16 – out of a total of 51 previous winners, indicating the size of the gap that still needs to be bridged.

Also when it comes to supporting female entrepreneurs financially, BUSINESS/PARTNERS remains committed to at least keeping within the band of 35% to 41% of its total loan book to women entrepreneurs, and will slowly but surely pioneer the way towards 50%, as it should be.

Business Partners Limited recently launched the Women in Business Fund, which in addition to providing business loans from R500 000 to R50 million to female entrepreneurs, offers a technical assistance (mentorship) grant up to the value of R25 000 to approved businesses. A further R35 000 interest free loan for technical assistance, should it be required, will also be available .


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