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Posted: 2008-01-09 / Author: Jan Beeton

Women Mean Business

Women mean business, the title of this article, can be interpreted in different ways

§ Women are highly entrepreneurial and are making headway as entrepreneurs
§ Women are changing their role in society and are determined to make a go of it
§ Women are important decision makers

Women are entering self-employment successfully at an ever- increasing rate According to the latest results from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), women are doing better on average than male entrepreneurs in the country. This year’s rankings show that SA’s female entrepreneurs rank 23rd, and are outperforming SA’s overall (male and female) entrepreneurial population which is only ranked 30th. Around the world, women outnumber male entrepreneurs. This has led to a renewed focus on gender entrepreneurship and the development of appropriate interventions for gender-specific groups across the globe. In South Africa, women are working at all levels of entrepreneurship across the racial spectrum.

Women entrepreneurs pack punch through networking and business groups

All over the country, a multitude of local networks and national structures are springing up on an ever increasing and powerful scale on a wide range of issues pertinent to women’s success in business, as well as their personal well being and growth. A selection of these networks and structures are:
§ Women’s Development Bank (
§ Business Women’s Association (BWA) (
§ The South African Professional and Businesswomen's Network (
§ SA Council for Business Women
§ SA Women’s Entrepreneurs Network (
§ Technology for Women in Business (
§ Women At Work (www.womenatwork.coza)
These groups and structures not only provide an opportunity for women entrepreneurs and women business people to meet together, network and support each other, but also provide powerful platforms from which to advance and represent their interests as business people and entrepreneurs. Who are women entrepreneurs in the country and what are the major challenges they face?

All kinds of women in SA are turning their hand to entrepreneurship. The latest GEM study shows, however, that the typical South African woman entrepreneur is black with very little education (more than 60% of those surveyed had only completed Grade 12) and earns less than R3999 per month, yet despite this, they are still outdoing their male counterparts.

In common with their male counterparts, women entrepreneurs deal with the following challenges:

§ poor access to finance
§ substandard infrastructure; and
§ regulations that create administrative burdens and costs

All of this makes survival and success in the entrepreneurial business world tough for anyone.

Yet, in spite of their ever swelling ranks and growing representation, women continue to deal with additional challenges peculiar to their gender

§ Negative socio-cultural attitudes

§ Gender discrimination.

§ Lower credibility when it comes to dealing with suppliers at banking institutions and with clients

§ Lack of self-confidence arising from discrimination, negative attitudes and generally lower levels of education An integrated approach is needed to the development of women entrepreneurs

GEM suggests that when it comes to promoting and supporting women entrepreneurs in SA, an integrated approach is needed. The GEM study recommends a number of framework conditions that need to be addressed

§ Access to finance
§ Targeted government policies and programmes
§ Education and training
§ Transfer of research and development
§ Specialist commercial, legal and financial infrastructure
§ Openness of the domestic market
§ Access to physical infrastructure

Women are determined to make a go of it and change perceptions of their roles

The last of the framework conditions recommended by the GEM is of most interest to the writer of this article. The GEM suggests that the success of women entrepreneurs is as much dependent on the extent to which prevailing social and cultural norms support the choice of a woman to start a business as a career option, as it is on any of the other eight framework conditions identified. It is high time that recognition is given to the following realities

§ Women are highly entrepreneurial – they multi-task, are multi-skilled and manage well (running efficient homes, well-stocked kitchens, daily catering for the family, and run jobs or generate income and profit at the same time), they are successful as managers and developers of people (they raise their children successfully, often without the presence of a father or male figure, they plan and control budgets successfully and purchase and manage stock efficiently (as homemakers and managers) – the list can go on and on – what better experience and skills for running businesses well?

§ Successful economically empowered women in many households still complete their household chores and child-caring, as a stay-at-home mother – the myth that working women cannot or do not rear successful children or run successful and comfortable homes remains just that – a myth.

Vani Moodley, Chairperson of the Durban branch of the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa was recently reported in the media as having the following to say on the particular challenges facing women entrepreneurs with regard to negative socio-cultural attitudes

“In our experience of working with women entrepreneurs in urban and rural communities, and through interviews and action research conducted, we found the following:

§ The 'power' relationships between women entrepreneurs and their male spouses or companions contributed to them having almost no control over the income that was generated from the business enterprise

§ This contributed largely to the lack of re-investment and this often resulted in the failure of the enterprise.

§ Successful women entrepreneurs inadvertently threatened the traditional role of men in the household - as breadwinners of the family. This often contributed to domestic violence.

§ Household living expenses took priority over re-investment (purchase of raw materials).

§ Fear of growth - personal and financial- for it unsettles her partner and further threatens her relationship.

§ Many women grow at the risk of their relationships.

The process of change on all such issues must be actively engaged in for any real and effective change to occur. But let us also acknowledge those men who are embracing the successful women in their lives and share a balanced relationship”. An economic powerhouse in waiting – some concluding points Head of Gender Entrepreneurship Markets in the International Finance Corporation, Amanda Ellis, has recently described women as the economic powerhouse in waiting, who will take the markets by storm should their enterprises be given an opportunity to enter into mainstream business. She was addressing delegates at a national conference on women's access to finance, hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), at the end of March.

Experience and research alike have constantly indicated that women wield significant influence in purchasing decisions not only of goods and services specifically for their needs, but in larger purchasing decisions concerning equipment, vehicles and machinery- both in the workplace and at home. The time is largely yet to come when they influence to any degree the design and manufacture of goods in the marketplace suited to their ideas and needs– but, (and tongue very much in cheek!) come it will, in all its glorious innovation and creativity…………………………………

A veritable new marketplace waiting in the wings- designs for women by women!

About the Author:
Ms Jan Beeton is a Managing Consultant and owner of QED Development Consulting.
The consultancy seeks positive transformation in the socio-economic realities of the marginalised and poor in South Africa. Find out more about Jan on her website

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