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Tech Can Be A Powerful Tool For Achieving Gender Equality

If we can create a tech industry in South Africa and the rest of the continent that is seen as welcoming towards women, gender equalities could diminish significantly in the space of a generation.

Edward Lawrence

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Despite the great strides that have been made to create gender equality in the workplace, imbalances in many industries still persist, particularly in developing nations. However, the ongoing advances in technology provide what is probably the most powerful tool in history to address these imbalances and provide women with opportunities to close the labour inequality gap.

It’s the 21st Century, and women still have less access to education than men

A recent World Bank survey in 34 African countries confirmed that women are lagging behind men in terms of access to education, with only 40% of those attaining a post-school qualification being female.

In the past, the inability to acquire a tertiary qualification would mean a bleaker employment outlook for the rest of one’s life, but technology provides the means to close the gap at any life stage.

Related: Do Women Entrepreneurs Face Gender Discrimination?

Technology is a gender equality enabler

Technology provides opportunities to change gender work imbalances in a number of ways. The first is the lowering of barriers to entry. Surveys show that the gender gap in terms of education on the continent has been shrinking very slowly over the last few years, but this can be changed through access to the Internet.

As the Internet becomes increasingly available with the proliferation of smart devices, people are able to upskill themselves, regardless of previous qualifications.

This is important in the world of tech, where job requirements change so quickly that hardly any of the world’s top practitioners are using their qualifications to perform their work.

Tech industry does not suffer from inherent structural inequality

tech-industry-gender-equality

Being a modern industry, the tech world also does not suffer from the structural inequality we see in some other fields. In many other industries, one sometimes sees protectionism of particularly older men’s positions, but tech is a modern industry.

Its leaders should keep this in mind at all times and be dedicated to a balanced workplace. In the developed world, a larger proportion of the top networking engineers across the globe are women. This trend is starting to take hold in a number of African countries as well.

Addressing cultural factors perpetuating gender inequality

When I attended an IPv6 training session in Tunisia, which is aimed at fairly advanced engineers, 95% of those who attended were females. However, I have been to a number of similar conferences in South Africa, and women are hardly ever represented. One therefore may also need to address cultural concerns that might keep women out of the industry.

Related: Information Technology: Is It A Man’s World?

Currently, when we advertise a job opening, the vast majority of applicants are male, so it is not necessarily the employers who are making that choice. I believe most employers would be happy to employ a more diversified workforce.

In order to change the status quo, one would have to look at all the reasons why women are not qualifying themselves as tech engineers in the numbers we would like to see. These could include cultural, political, financial, perception, and many other factors.

A change is needed, and is coming

To address these issues, we believe that a good place to start is for the brilliant women in the industry to become increasingly heard, in order to create role models. I started out in the industry through role models and looking up to people for guidance. As a child, I could relate to older men in the industry, and the same can be true for young women. We are already seeing some work being done in this regard, but more can be done.

Lately, I have seen a massive drive on the coding front, and there are a lot more women entering the coding space, but there is some scope for development on the network and engineering side. In South Africa, I would presume that less than 1% of engineers in senior positions are women. The rest are all men, which is pathetic.

Role models that the youth identify with let them know that there is a path for them in that field. They would ask themselves whether they would feel comfortable doing a particular job, or out of place. The problem needs to be looked at holistically, as it stems from the very beginning. The pipeline is not so much broken as it is non-existent.

It stands to reason that those women who overcame gender equality in order to become successful advanced engineers would not allow the same inequalities to exist in their family should they choose to have one.

Edward Lawrence is the co-founder and Director of Business Development at Workonline Communications. Edward is an entrepreneur with over 10 years of experience in the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) sector. Edward has held directorships of several companies across various industries, including the telecommunications, information technology, marketing, automotive and music industries. Workonline Communications was co-founded by Edward in 2006. The company is a Network Service Provider (NSP) offering wholesale connectivity solutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Funding For Women Entrepreneurs – A Collective Effort

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Jenny Retief

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It is well recognised that women are powerful drivers of economic growth in South Africa, and are vital to the country reaching its full economic potential. Yet women account for only 18% percent of business owners in South Africa, according to the second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), released earlier this year.

The reasons are many, including lack of financial literacy, but one of the biggest constraints facing women entrepreneurs is access to finance. As most women entrepreneurs are concentrated in the informal sector, the majority of them access financing through micro-lending institutions, which offer only limited support. When they are ready to grow into SMMEs, they again face difficulties in obtaining loans from commercial banks.

According to the ‘Inaugural South African SMME Access to Finance Report’, published last year by the online access to finance portal Finfind, the SMME sector provides a “compelling, largely untapped market opportunity for innovative funders”, estimating the SMME credit gap at between R86bn and R346bn.

Finfind’s research showed that many SMMEs that are eligible for funding are still unable to secure it due to their lack of finance readiness, i.e., they are unable to produce the financial documentation required by funders to assess bankability and affordability, in order to approve their funding applications. These documents include up-to-date management accounts, latest financial statements, budgets, forecasts and tax clearance certificates, among others.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was reiterated at the recent African Youth Networks Summit in Tswhane, where the head of Old Mutual Foundation Millicent Maroga stressed, “the key issue is a distinct lack of support in getting the business ready for funding”.

Enter initiatives like the Riversands Incubation Hub, a campus north of Sandton that houses over 150 established and start-up small businesses in subsidised premises, with access to business support services. One of its key values to its SMMEs is bridging the gap between them and the many players in the funding space, in particular through its annual FundEX event, a platform giving guidance and helping to match entrepreneurs with funders.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is funding available. FundEX provides practical guidance on what funding is available and what it takes to access this capital. It also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to interact with a variety of funders, including banks, government funders and alternative funding platforms,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

The theme this year is ‘Secrets of Scale’, unpacking what it takes to build a ‘fundable’ business. This is highly pertinent, as much of the complexity in the SMME funding environment is seated in the size of the business, and what stage of growth it is at.

Finfind’s research found that although SMMEs and start-ups may qualify for venture capital funding, funding opportunities for less scalable SMMEs are less promising. “This opens the door for new, innovative funding models to serve this section of the SMME market. Start-ups and micro-businesses represent a significant potential market for innovative funders who are able to develop new lending models tailored to address this growing market,” said the report.

As women proliferate in this space, they need to equip themselves with as much as information as possible about the funding opportunities out there, says Retief.

“The DTI, for example, offers funding programmes, and aggregators such as FinFind and others can help entrepreneurs navigate the more than 400 different funding solutions available in SA. Entrepreneurs can also boost their business by regular engagement with a mentor. Many incubation programmes offer this type of support,” she says.

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

There are also many initiatives to bring resources closer to entrepreneurs. For example, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) offers Technology Stations in diversified sectors, ranging from agro-processing, chemicals, clothing and textiles to tooling. These provide entrepreneurs access to university-level technical levels and specialised equipment at affordable pricing levels.

This speaks to upskilling, a key offering of incubation hubs and critical for women entrepreneurs needing to become finance literate. “At Riversands, we have a team of coaches and mentors who guide entrepreneurs in specific areas such as finance or strategy. Relevant educational material is regularly presented in formal as well as informal ways and reinforced with practical coaching to help entrepreneurs put theory into practice in their own businesses.  This is flanked with professional bookkeeping services provided on a subsidised basis. This allows business owners to build the financial records and systems their businesses need to qualify for understanding,” says Retief.

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Riversands FundEX takes place on August 16. For more information visit: http://www.fundex.co.za

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13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

These 13 black businesswomen are rapidly rising stars. You can learn from their journey and their entrepreneurial advice.

Entrepreneur

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Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.

Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.

These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. 

  1. Boitumelo Ntsoane
  2. Phuti Mahanyele 
  3. DJ Zinhle 
  4. Polo Leteka Radebe
  5. Michelle Okafor
  6. Sonia Booth
  7. Basetsana Kumalo
  8. Sibongile Sambo
  9. Molemo Kgomo
  10. Nkhensani Nkosi
  11. Bonang Matheba
  12. Matsi Modise
  13. Khanyi Dhlomo
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[Infographic] The World’s Most Influential Female Entrepreneurs

Numerous women have enjoyed massive success with the businesses that they started. Some of these are profiled in the infographic below from All Finance Tax.

Colette Cassidy

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jk-rowling

Managing your own business is not easy. Unless you’re willing to stop at nothing to make the business succeed and unless you can balance supreme self-confidence with the cool, analytical head to know the risk that’s a risk too far, your entrepreneurial sojourn will almost certainly be brief and disastrous.

If you can set up your own company and keep it operational for at least several years, you will have proven that you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Even if you don’t turn over a massive profit from the company, being able to stand on your own two feet with self-made earnings is an achievement.

Then there are those whose businesses more than just survive. They grow into multimillion-dollar international enterprises which could make the owners world famous. One such example is JK Rowling. Granted, she might not fit the stereotype of a business owner, but she turned her passion into her life’s work and earned a fortune because of it. Like many entrepreneurs, she had an idea which took her from being in financial distress to owning a globally-recognised brand, namely the Harry Potter series.

Her story is an inspiration to female entrepreneurs everywhere, as the corporate world is still thought of as a male-dominated environment. That perception is rather misleading, though, as numerous women have enjoyed massive success with the businesses that they started. Some of these are profiled in the infographic below from All Finance Tax.

the-worlds-most-influential-female-entrepreneurs-infographic

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

 

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