Women account for just 19,4% of business owners in South Africa, while Uganda (39.6 percent) ranks first in the world with the highest number of women business owners, followed by Botswana (38.5 percent), and Ghana (36.5 percent). 1
While this is a sobering and concerning statistic, it also shows that there is an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to change the narrative in South Africa.
Glass Half Empty
We asked what some of the challenges are confronting South African women entrepreneurs, and this is what you had to say:
Access to funding
South African women have historically battled with access to finance because they were disadvantaged with regards to property ownership, which could be collateral on a loan. In addition, marital law and custom used to require the husband’s signature for loans and other commercial contracts. Women are still confronted with these antiquated attitudes today in many organisations.
It is estimated that there is a $1.5 trillion credit gap for women SMEs in developing countries around the world. The World Bank confirms this disparity through data collected in ten African countries that highlights that on average, male-owned companies have six times more capital than female-owned enterprises.
This is a massive lost opportunity to encourage businesses and tackle unemployment. Goldman Sachs research shows that closing the credit gap for women-owned SMEs in emerging markets could increase annual incomes an average of 12 percent by 2030. 2
Despite, or perhaps because of, the extra scrutiny and hoops that women have to face when applying for finance, research shows that women owned businesses are often safer investment opportunities than their male counterparts. Women, however, are often reluctant to apply for loans because they fear rejection and tend to be more pessimistic about the success of their venture. 3
Financial and digital literacy gap
Poor financial literacy skills are an impediment to women entrepreneurs setting up profitable businesses. Our schools (in the main) are inadequately equipping children with financial and business skills, but this is compounded by females selecting non-financial or mathematical subjects. There is also a shortage of businesswomen role models, hence girls opt for the traditional nurturing careers.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and yet women and girls are 25 per cent less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, 4 times less likely to know how to programme computers and 13 times less likely to file for a technology patent. 4
The South African business world has traditionally been a male-dominated environment. Women business owners still face unfair discrimination in the workplace and in the marketplace. Biases range from what is perceived as ‘men’s work’ through to prejudice around equality and competence. Women entrepreneurs often describe coming up against the ‘old boys club’ or the patriarchy when pitching for contracts.
Unconscious bias against women is reinforced by social, cultural, and religious norms of what women should and should not do.
Women disproportionately tend to carry the nurturing role for child and family care, as well as the biological birthing role. Juggling family responsibilities with the demands of running a small business, often result in difficult choices and compromises. The pandemic only served to exacerbate this pressure.
Glass Half Full
Society and the business world are not going to change overnight, but women entrepreneurs can try to navigate around the challenges by:
Changing your own attitudes to asking for business or finance
Self-doubt begins with the self. The adage of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is worth remembering. Fear of rejection is a powerful limiter, but this fear can be managed by excellent preparation. Anticipate the likely objections (spoken and unspoken) and address these in your pitch. Treat every rejection, as a learning opportunity, not a full stop. Be brave!
Women are generally seen as being better communicators and relationship builders than men. Instead of trying to be ‘one of the boys’, focus on your natural skills and abilities then seek to use these to their advantage.
Finding your voice
Back yourself and what you have to contribute! Finding and using your voice requires that you not only voice your ideas, but that you do so assertively.
Networking is just socialising with a business purpose. Seek role models and mentors who will inspire and challenge you. Surround yourself with positive people who want to see you succeed and be that person for other businesswomen. Purchase from women owned business suppliers for your business and seek opportunities to collaborate.
Getting knowledge and skills
No, this doesn’t necessarily mean enrolling at a business school. The internet has put learning and access to knowledge at your fingertips… and much of it is free. For instance, If you know that numbers are not your thing, invest the time and energy in becoming more financially literate or perhaps your sales skills are lacking... there’s an app for that! There is a causal link between increased knowledge and increased confidence. Read business and economic articles, watch TED talks, join forums and industry groups where people share knowledge and expertise in business or the actual industry.
Creating and adapting
The spurt in online business and e-commerce is a huge opportunity. Staying abreast of industry trends and adapting your products and services accordingly is going to be an important skill in the new normal.
- Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020.
- The Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility Progress Report 2019).
- Boston consulting group
- I’d Blush if I Could, UNESCO