Gender balance key to growth

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By Amanda Sibiya

Gender equality as a topic, is not new to the entrepreneurial sphere, while it affects businesses that are at different growth stages in different ways. There is a bigger gender equality conversation amongst corporates who have a dedicated HR department, and an established company culture to consider in how they run their operations, than there is currently happening in smaller businesses. There is certainly a need to drive this conversation within small businesses as well. Although, I believe they are more concerned about staying afloat than they are concerned about what their gender ratio is in their office – that’s if they even have an office, or staff.

Gender balance key to growth

There are a number of areas where gender equality becomes a big conversation among women-owned small businesses, and one of those is funding. When you look at the number of businesses that receive funding, women entrepreneurs are the ones who face the most challenges in accessing it. This shouldn’t be a representation of their inability to raise funding, but it shows that there is less confidence in the growth and scalability of women-owned businesses.

The African continent has the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world, with the rate in Sub-Saharan Africa being 25.9% of the female adult population, meaning that one in four women starts or manages a business. In addition to that, 22% of the working age population in Africa are starting businesses, and this is also the highest in the world. This shows not only the appetite for women to start and run their own businesses, but shows the desire for amongst young women to become entrepreneurs.

The challenge then becomes that these women-owned small businesses usually stay ‘small’, while in comparison, male-owned businesses scale to becoming medium to large businesses, and even globally recognised.

Which brings me to the second area where gender equality, or rather the lack of it, becomes quite prevalent among women-owned small businesses: Representation. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 5 businesses that have stolen the hearts of South Africans locally, and have scaled to running multiple stores nationwide, and are even globally recognised. All of them are run by men. Meanwhile, if you asked me to do the same for female-owned businesses, I could still name a few but it wouldn’t be without scratching first my head.

Great initiatives have been developed to celebrate businesswomen in Africa, and I have no doubt that there are thousands of women entrepreneurs who are growing, scaling and are recognised globally. This resulting in an increasing number of women choosing to start their own business, but equally, there is an increasing number of women-owned businesses that are failing.

When I first started my entrepreneurial journey, I quickly recognised that I was in a male-dominated industry – or maybe just a male represented industry. When it comes to gender equality and entrepreneurship, though funding matters, what matters more is the representation of female entrepreneurs as pioneers and leaders who are capable of growing businesses.

As young, black, female entrepreneur, we have the responsibility to drive gender equality in our organisations, industry, region and continent as a whole. But, more than anything we have the responsibility of making success relatable and achievable to those who look like us, so when they choose to become entrepreneurs, they would recognise that they possess that same tenacity in them that they saw in us. Recognising that leadership, innovation and success have no gender, and so the same goes for entrepreneurship.

Women in the labour market in eastern and southern Africa

– 89 percent of women work in the informal sector
– Women dominate the agricultural sector, over 50 percent of women are estimated to work in the sector
– 3.9 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa are covered by social protection measures
– Women are the backbone of the African economy, with the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world, one in every four women starts or manages a business in sub-Saharan Africa
– Women have minimal presence on boards in African companies, with the majority of the companies having at least one woman board director. Approximately one-third of companies have no women on their boards and another 33.6 percent have only one female director

SOURCE: UN Women Africa

Amanda Sibiya is Lady in Charge at Branding Africa, and a member of SVAI’s Africa Council of 8.