According to the latest WEF gender gap report, while all world regions record a narrower overall gender gap than they did 11 years ago, South Africa has slipped backwards, falling from 18th place in 2006 to 19th in 2017. On the score of Economic participation and opportunity, the country has slipped ten places from 79th to 89th.
“This should not come as a surprise,” says Petra Rees, Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) member and Founder of LEAP, an enterprise development company, “the recent report by our own Department of Labour has shown that 45% of South Africa's economically active population is female, yet just 22% of Top Management positions and 33% of Senior Management positions are held by women.”
Rees believes that promoting more female participation in entrepreneurship is a good way to accelerate the process of meaningfully narrowing the gender gap.
“With the right tools and support, we are bound to see more women take the plunge into entrepreneurship. The City of Johannesburg was ranked 28 out of 50 cities globally in the 2017 Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index, for showcasing skill development and business opportunities for women. While this was a drop from the previous year, it is recognition that we have the necessary tools to support female entrepreneurs.”
For those women considering starting their own businesses, Tebogo Nkosi, female founder of engineering firm Boffin & Fundi advises that “If you don’t step out into the unknown you will never get to see the masterpiece you would have created. That nagging feeling that you wrestle with constantly whether you should or not, is the very reason that you should take the plunge and create your masterpiece”.
Rees agrees. “The support is there, with an increasing number of funding opportunities focusing on lending to women such as the IDF Managers Fund, Women Entrepreneurial Fund, Business Partners Women in Business Fund, ABSA Women Empowerment Fund, The Isivande Women’s Fund, to name a few. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 27% more men than women are aware of what resources are available to entrepreneurs.
Nicola Nel, founder of Atmosphere Communications, South Africa’s most awarded PR agency admits that running a business requires more than access to funding. “While there is a renewed focus on giving new women business owners opportunities to be part of the mainstream economy, one of the core elements which I believe is missing is upskilling on basic business education as well as good business mentors. There are many organisations – such as EO which enables first-stage entrepreneurs of all genders to catapult their business to the next level – that female entrepreneurs can join for this type of support,” says Nel.
“Women need to play to their strength more – they need to organize themselves better,” adds Rees.
Lauren Gamsu, a young female founder of architectural firm Black Sheep says finding a good network to connect and share experiences with like-minded entrepreneurs has been invaluable in growing her business acumen and personal resilience. “Reaching out to entrepreneurial networks, coaches and mentors, as well as attending impactful events like the recent Women of EO event has been a major business advantage to grow my network.”
Rees adds, “We have a rising number of women entrepreneurs joining EO, a clear indication that the tide is turning for female entrepreneurship. In addition, we often see women progressing much faster with their ideas and existing business ventures when they can bounce their ideas off a mentor or a group of experts.”
With the right tools and support available, Lesley Waterkeyn, founder of marketing agency Colour Works says women can build a successful venture by “bootstrapping your business as much as you can – borrow from people who believe in you and your idea. Remember, sales solve everything. Any profits you make, re-invest in your business until you have a track-record and proven concept. Back yourself, stay committed and have a long-term mindset.”