Each year on 8 March, International Women’s Day, I get invited to attend events that celebrate and discuss gender diversity in the workplace. They’re often rich with intelligent discussions about women and work, a topic I am immensely passionate about.
But all too often, I sit up on stage, look out to the crowd and I think, ‘where on earth are all the men?’ There are many supportive men on gender diversity (I know quite a few) but there is still work to be done as I often find myself singing to a choir of women who already know that gender diversity is a business priority.
It’s irrefutable that having a gender balance leads to better business outcomes, greater profitability and value creation. Better balance between women and men means broader insight, more empathy, and fresh ideas.
Gender diversity is not only a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. And the majority of our business leaders today, in particular in technology, are men. The only way we are truly going to make headway is to have the men standing with us to create a business environment where women can thrive.
I believe collaboration is vital to have as part of any gender diversity discussion and would even go so far as to say it’s negligent if this isn’t on a male or female business leaders’ agenda.
However, I think it’s easy to point fingers and we all need to look at how we can create more inclusive environments. It’s critical we have discussions in an open forum, and that organisers of events and support groups create positive opportunities for discussion that encourage men and women to attend and work together.
It worries me that the 2018 McKinsey and Company report on Women in the Workplace shows that progress hasn’t just slowed, it’s stalled. All the while, companies are reporting that they are highly committed to gender diversity. It’s a frustrating paradox. We didn’t open the door to diversity, only to turn around and shut it behind us.
Recently, I was introduced to the term moral-licensing through Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. I can’t help but think that the phenomenon might be at play here. It describes the subconscious decisions we make to engage in prejudice behaviour, because in the past we did something virtuous.
Moral-licensing became a popular theory in 2009, describing those who voted in US President Barack Obama, and subsequently reverted to racist behaviours.
When I think about it in this context, I think about the companies who have hit a quota of females and assume the job is done. But token acts of egalitarianism do not mean you have an egalitarian workplace. It’s box-ticking and it’s bad for business.
I encourage every business leader to introduce a diversity plan and to really think about fostering an inclusive and respectful environment for diversity to thrive. Here’s where I think is a good place to start:
Women need to feel supported in the workplace, they need allies to feel confident enough that they can share their beliefs, their values and their views. Our leaders need to reengineer working environments to make them a safe, supportive place.
We need to be aware of our unconscious biases and flagging behaviour in the workplace that isn’t inclusive. It’s little things like calling grown women ‘girls’. They’re small but reinforcing behaviours and when added up, they have impact.
Support groups and events around International Women’s Day are great, but how can we make sure we have a diverse spread in the room and it’s an inclusive and encouraging environment for everyone.
I do believe the majority of businesses have the very best of intentions in this space, but leaders need to turn those intentions into actionable plans. So this International Women’s Day, I challenge you to speak out publicly about your business’s progress and goals for diversity. How is your organisation tracking and what is your vision and plan for the future? What you’re doing to ensure you’re not giving in to moral-licensing?
Communicating this business case, setting goals and reporting on progress are key to driving change. The door to diversity will not open itself.
Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs
Female entrepreneurs are growing in numbers, but without access to appropriate funding many start-ups will find it difficult to grow their businesses, regardless of whether there’s a man or woman at the helm. Fortunately, access to funds for female entrepreneurs is improving thanks to government and private enterprises.
In fact, The Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) noted that 72% of micro-enterprises and 40% of small enterprises are currently owned by women. Government and private enterprises have put programmes and funds in place aimed at empowering the women of South Africa.
Starting a business is always a challenging objective, what makes it more challenging is trying to find funding to get your innovative idea of the ground.
Content in this guide
- The Isivande Women’s Fund (IWF)
- Women Entrepreneurial Fund (WEF)
- Business Partners Women in Business Fund
- IDF Managers Funding
- Enablis Acceleration Fund
- The National Empowerment Fund (NEF)
- Absa Women Empowerment Fund
- The Special Projects and Programmes Unit (SPP)
- Women in Oil and Energy South Africa (WOESA)
Funds and Financial Assistance
Here are seven funds and financial assistance programmes as well as two resources for women entrepreneurs in South Africa.
Too Few South African Women Become Entrepreneurs, But This Can Change
Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.
Although South Africa’s constitutional democracy has been advocating for gender equality for the past 24 years, the level of entrepreneurship among South African men and women is still far less equal than the country’s economic peers such as Ghana and Uganda. This is an indication that a progressive constitution alone is not enough to ensure that women join the local community of entrepreneurs in equal numbers to men.
Illustrating this, are the latest figures from the 2017/2018 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) which show that 13 out of every 100 South African men are involved in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity, compared to just 9 out of every 100 women.
This research shows that the inequality goes deeper than just the headline figure. A higher percentage of women who do start their own ventures do so out of necessity (34.3 percent for women vs. 18 percent for men), whereas South African men, on the other hand, are more likely to start a business in response to an opportunity (82 percent for men vs. 65.7 percent for women). As research indicates that opportunity-driven entrepreneurs are more likely to create wealth than necessity-driven entrepreneurs, this is definitely an area for improvement for our country.
The GEM study is an annual survey, and dishearteningly, a look at the GEM figures over a number of years shows no discernible trend towards closing the gap, while some of South Africa’s economic peers such as Brazil and Vietnam consistently show an equal number of men and women starting businesses.
Gender parity in entrepreneurship needs a consistent stretch of truly high economic growth, north of 6 percent, to shake lose any remaining cultural, psychological and economic chains that are keeping women back. Unlike its counterparts, South Africa’s economic growth over the past few decades has seldom breached 4 percent – hovering around 3 percent since 1994.
This might also explain the general low levels of entrepreneurship in the South African population, among both men and women, compared to its economic peers – 11 percent of the South African population is involved in entrepreneurial activity. Wealth creating businesses start in response to opportunities, which multiply when economic growth is strong.
Short of a massive economic stimulus needed to propel South Africa’s economic growth upward, is there anything that can be done on an incremental level in order to establish entrepreneurial equality between men and women in South Africa?
I believe that there are many low-key ways in which to entice more women to become entrepreneurs. One place to start, is to focus on the income-generating side-lines that many South African women are engaged in. A scan of social media shows that South African women are not short of ideas nor initiative. From activities that are traditionally seen as female-oriented such as baking and sewing, to truly innovative social clubs and online initiatives seem to provide an outlet for many women’s entrepreneurial urges. Yet too few of them develop into proper full-time careers.
Programmes focused on women and their side-hustles might find fertile ground to grow them into fully fledged businesses.
Another factor that might entice more women to start businesses is more accessible finance. There is no easy solution, however, as research shows that men are more likely to start looking for finance early when they launch their ventures. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use their own funds to start a business and thus delay seeking finance until their venture is potentially in trouble making it more difficult to secure finance.
The solution, if any, lies in education and training deep enough to effect a significant shift in mind-set. Given the poor state of the educational system, South Africa still has a way to go, but it could be argued that any incremental improvement in the education system would boost the country’s levels of entrepreneurship.
It remains to be seen if an increase in gender equality and representation among bankers and financiers may lead to improved access to finance for female entrepreneurs, but because it is a good thing in itself, gender parity in the finance industry is worth pursuing.
The celebration of female entrepreneurship in popular culture, social media and as part of cultural events remains important and probably cannot be overdone. Awareness of the possibility of success in the business world for females remains fundamental to any young woman’s decision to choose entrepreneurship.
Finally, a strengthening of the profile of women’s business associations in South Africa can become an important factor in increasing the number of female entrepreneurs. Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.
3 Ways Women Owners Of Early-Stage Companies Can Fight Adversity
Only 11 percent of venture capital firm partners are women, which explains why men get funded so disproportionately more. So, what are you going to do about this?
Male entrepreneurs have an inherent leg up over their female counterparts. This may not come as a shock, but maybe the actual numbers do because they don’t represent an equal playing field.
Take start-up funding, for instance. Pitchbook revealed that only 11 percent of venture capital firm partners are women. This is a strong reason why runway capital – a vital resource for any business – is awarded to male leaders instead of female leaders at an astoundingly disproportionate rate.
Still, there is some good news: In April, the Female Founders Fund – which includes Melinda Gates, Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Katrina Lake – did its part to begin to fix that disparity. The collective set up the Female Funders Fund II, a $27 million initiative aimed at investing in early-stage companies led by women.
Lack of funding hamstrings any young company, limiting the level of talent it can target and stunting its ability to scale in a number of areas. And for female entrepreneurs, unfortunately, funding is just one of several uphill battles they face – along with harassment and issues pertaining to family and childcare flexibility.
These barriers, and many others, can derail women early in their entrepreneurial quest. Luckily, the climate and resources are now finally there for women leaders to persevere and thrive in the face of early obstacles. Here are some tips on how they – perhaps you – can thrive.
Don’t let the muck keep you down
Naya Health co-founder and CEO Janica Alvarez had one mission when she was pitching her startup to VCs, according to a Bloomberg report: to raise capital for her young company, which had just patented a smart breast pump. Instead, the (mostly) male group of VCs peppered Alvarez with questions about how new mothers stay in shape and how she expected to balance motherhood and a business. Others were visibly uncomfortable discussing the product or even touching it.
Alvarez’s dilemma was one that’s not new to women in business. Of course, some struggles are simply a part of entrepreneurship, but there’s no question that women need more grit and determination than most men in order to find success.
Women certainly have the ability to inspire their teams in unique ways, and we are seeing them use that strength to deliver effective and enduring business strategies. But getting there isn’t all roses and sunshine. Adversity will hit, and the fate of your company will hinge on your ability to push through it. I myself made it through, mostly with the help of three methods:
1. Free your mind so the rest will follow
True story: Someone at a VC fundraiser once asked me if I was creating an all-lesbian management team because I was there with two other women leaders. Dumb comments like that one happen, but you can’t let them mentally distract you from where you want to go. When people disparage your product, revenue model, strategy or expertise, you need to keep your head above the fray even when it feels like the sky is falling.
Ban.do founder and chief creative officer Jen Gotch regularly shares about her struggles with mental health with her Instagram followers. She’s a big believer in the role a full night of sleep plays in her mental recovery. Sleep gives your brain the break it needs to declutter and put all your highs and lows into perspective.
Develop your own routine for keeping your mind fresh. These methods can be anything from meditation to set-aside times each day for a mental recharge. No matter what, it’s a habit that can mentally prep you to face whatever challenges get placed at your company’s feet.
2. Don’t take physical fitness for granted
During a speech at the 2017 TEDWomen Conference, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki spoke about the transformative effects exercise has on the brain. She explained that even a single workout improves our mood, energy, memory and attention by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
After a workout, the ability to focus lasts for at least two hours. Likewise, a workout can speed up your physical reaction times and cause everyday stumbles, such as spilled coffee or bumped shins, to frustrate you less. Being a black belt in taekwondo, running marathons and weightlifting all provide me with a physical outlet to work out my frustrations and start emotionally fresh.
Body and mind work as one, so don’t let your fitness routine fall by the wayside in the pursuit of entrepreneurial glory. Carve time out each day to get a physical workout to maintain mental fluidity.
3. Lean on others when that’s needed
Having a strong network of men and women leaders who’ve paved the path before you is paramount. They can tell you when you are on track; when you are off track; and when you need to pivot, tilt or speed up.
If you have to face additional challenges compared to male entrepreneurs, you need additional practical resources. While male entrepreneurial success stories are all over pop culture, we women have to look a little harder for triumphs by our gender in business. Hearing other women tell their stories will encourage you.
If you’re having trouble finding great mentors, find an entrepreneur networking group for women, such as Women Who Tech. Networking groups offer workshops, free events and resources.
And when all else fails, take a girls’ night out with friends: Drink a bottle of wine, cry a little, laugh a lot and be surrounded by unconditional love. Even if your friends don’t know a thing about software or coding, the power to refresh your emotional health should never be taken for granted.
If you care about your business, don’t let negativity hold you back. These tips have helped me stay sane and determined throughout the challenges I’ve faced. To overcome the odds, find what it is about you that’s empowering and apply it to your business.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.