Despite the low level of entrepreneurship among women in South Africa, they are making progress, particularly in gaining a voice in decision-making at the highest levels.
Recent research shows that the level of female business ownership in South Africa is exceptionally low. According to SME Survey 2014, in terms of ownership, men dominate, with 48% owning SMEs, while jointly-owned businesses account for 44%. Just 8% of South African SMEs are female-owned businesses. Women entrepreneurs and company owners going it on their own are therefore in a small minority in the SME environment.
"There is a massive gender imbalance in entrepreneurship," says Arthur Goldstuck, SME Survey principal researcher and MD of World Wide Worx. "This tells us that women are not given enough encouragement or support to become entrepreneurs."
Previous editions of SME Survey provide another clue for the imbalance. "We've seen in the past that the best training for entrepreneurship and business ownership is on-the-job experience. There is a further implication, therefore, that not enough women get opportunities in the workplace to start with."
The survey did hold some good news for women entrepreneurs; a small business owned by a woman has a better chance of being profitable than one run by a man. A total of 78% of women-owned businesses surveyed were profitable, well ahead of the 70% for men.
Zelna Lauwrens, founder of The Kids Life Studio®, which offers Children's Life Coaching Services throughout Africa, as well as in the UK and USA cites…'letting go' and working 'on' your business and not 'in' it as a major challenge for women, including herself. "I've had to tweak and re-engineer my business model quite substantially over the past five years to meet the changing needs of my clients. I only managed to do this by stepping back and looking from the outside in."
Stepping back to implement change has been crucial to her business journey as has learning at every step of the way. "I've learnt that." to be a success in business, is about having a heart for it. When you stay true to yourself and your purpose, you will find your business not only financially rewarding but also rewarding on every other level."
Genevieve Allen is the local licence owner and franchisor of Sherpa Kids South Africa, an international education brand with a footprint in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Allen is a strong proponent of business ownership. "In my experience corporate South Africa does not believe their female employees are as valuable as their male counterparts and this is reflected in power, position and pay. Within the entrepreneurial sphere the playing fields are more level, albeit not even close to even," she says.
"My view is that women should not pay too much attention as to how they are viewed and rather exploit the competitive advantage of being 'less visible'. We are underestimated and undervalued and this can be powerfully leveraged in business if you understand how you are viewed and what gaps that creates for you."
Allen also identifies a fear of being 'alone' as a stumbling block, saying that working for yourself can be scary at first. "But being independent is very powerful; you are in control of your destiny. Making good decisions, within a context you define, is tough, but rewarding."
That tendency towards a fear of being on your own does seem to point to franchising as a good option for women. As Anita du Toit of consultancy Franchising Plus explains: "Franchising offers ongoing support provided by the franchisor. As many women have to juggle business and family life, they put a premium on the support provided in a franchise system."
Du Toit says women also tend to be detail orientated, which helps them to comply with franchise standards. "Women also tend to be collaborators, which feeds the collaborative nature of franchising where the franchisor and franchisee need to work together to achieve mutual success," she says.
Trish Hardy of Coffee News, a company that publishes a free weekly publication, which is used as an advertising medium by local businesses, echoes this sentiment. "Relationship building and collaboration are key strengths of many of the women I work with. The modern business puts relationships first, and this tends to come more naturally to women," she says.
"I would encourage women to grab the opportunities that come their way in business and remember it's never too late to start!"