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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Female Business Owners Need to Overcome Challenges

The number of women entrepreneurs in South Africa continues to grow, but the increase is not at a level it should be due to the higher number of challenges they face in comparison to male entrepreneurs.

Chana Boucher

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Female entrepreneur amongst male entrepreneurs

This is the outcome of a number of studies done on the state of entrepreneurship in South Africa. While many of the findings are inconsistent, the feeling that women have the potential to play an increasingly important role in the country’s economy is evident. The South African Women Entrepreneur’s Network’s (SAWEN) study ‘Women Entrepreneurs in South Africa’ claims: “Women entrepreneurs are expected to increase rapidly in the next decade and they are expected to make an important contribution to their national economies.”

The South African female entrepreneur

According to the FNB and Centre for Entrepreneurship at the Wits Business School White Paper on Female Entrepreneurship, up to 38% of all established businesses in South Africa are owned by women. Of these more than 25% are making in excess of R750 000 a year. The research found that the general age of female business owners was 35 and above, while start-ups were mostly under 35. Women entrepreneurs were as likely to be married as unmarried and one one-third have children. A further finding by the research was that most women entrepreneurs have at least a Grade 12 certificate, and many a national diploma or bachelor’s degree. Most of the start-up business women were black.

The ‘Survey of Women Entrepreneurs’ by the SAWEN states: “Women business owners do contribute positively to our economy, with most employing between five and ten people. Both formal and informal businesses contribute significantly towards employment with the slight dominance of formal business.” It also claims that women-owned registered businesses generally dominate over informal businesses in the finance and investment, ICT, minerals and energy, construction, services and transport sectors. Informal or unregistered businesses are more common in the agriculture, arts and crafts, manufacturing, retail, textile and clothing, and tourism sectors.

Starting a business

According to the Survey of Women Entrepreneurs, most women started their businesses for financial reasons. The White Paper said that it is untrue that women were not natural entrepreneurs and only started a business because they had to or to do good. The research showed that most women are choosing to start a business even though they have other options. Some of the most common motives included wanting to be their own bosses, wanting to develop a product idea or wanting to gain recognition. The paper showed that women had the same motivations for starting a business as male entrepreneurs. Many wanted to start their own companies because of the lack of career opportunities in their previous jobs, but also wanted to keep learning and growing, have greater flexibility, build on past experiences and training and increase their income.

The ‘Women Entrepreneurs in South Africa’ study found the reasons women had for becoming entrepreneurs included the challenges/attractions of entrepreneurship, self-determination/autonomy, balancing career and family, lack of career advancement and organisational dynamics. Another strong motivating factor for women entrepreneurs was helping others. “Research suggested that this caring attitude manifests in women’s leadership styles and that goals other than economic growth guide a woman’s business.”

The majority of respondents surveyed for the White Paper, almost 80%, used their savings to start their businesses rather than obtaining external funding. Many also use their personal credit cards or overdraft facility, or they continue being employed part-time and use their salaries to maintain their company. This sentiment was shared by the Survey of Women Entrepreneurs. It said: “The major obstacle to starting up was of a financial nature. The source of start-capital has been mainly the women’s own personal savings or investments. Those women operating in the mining, energy, transport, and retails sectors also used bank loans.”

Major challenges

According to the White Paper, women feel their families are supportive of them in their business endeavours, but their communities value women being employed far more than them having their own businesses. They believe there are greater barriers for women entrepreneurs than men.

The Women Entrepreneurs in South Africa study found that women generally lack the necessary resources for starting and developing their own businesses. It said women had less human capital for the management and development of their businesses. Some of the major obstacles women face include finance, a lack of sales and marketing skills, educational and work background, motivation, comparative earning levels and external networking. For some family responsibility was another challenge. “Pressure to run a home, look after children and care for a husband and family limit women.”

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Collaborating To Create #balanceforbetter

Communicating this business case, setting goals and reporting on progress are key to driving change. The door to diversity will not open itself.

Anna Curzon

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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.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

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.

Nicole Crampton

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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

  1. The Isivande Women’s Fund (IWF)
  2. Women Entrepreneurial Fund (WEF)
  3. Business Partners Women in Business Fund
  4. IDF Managers Funding
  5. Enablis Acceleration Fund
  6. The National Empowerment Fund (NEF)
  7. Absa Women Empowerment Fund
  8. The Special Projects and Programmes Unit (SPP)
  9. 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.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

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.

Gugu Mjadu

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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. 

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

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. 

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

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.

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