Gugu Mjadu, Executive General Manager for Business Partners Limited
The outbreak of COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women, leading to what is now being referred to by some as a “shecession.” This finding – supported by the recent South African Women Entrepreneurs Job Creators Survey – (conducted by network Lionesses of Africa) – has put the spotlight on women-led businesses and their set of unique challenges. Despite what appear to be grim prospects, women entrepreneurs have an optimistic outlook on the future and expect to increase their revenue, create more jobs and recover from the effects of many tumultuous months.
Both the public and private sector still have much work to do to encourage female entrepreneurship in the country. Doing so will go a long way in alleviating the country’s current unemployment crisis.
The Job Creators Survey found that 76% of female respondents expect to increase their revenues in 2021, with the vast majority expecting to recover from the effects of the pandemic within two years. As South Africa shows improvement in terms of the growth in women’s entrepreneurial activity, according to the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) findings, progress; albeit slow, is being made towards promoting change and gender equality in this male-dominated arena.
Empowering women to succeed in business is an objective that we take very seriously and encourage other institutions to do the same. Over the last five years, between 33% and 42% of business finance approved annually by Business Partners Limited has gone to female-owned businesses. We set targets for our investment teams which they are measured against on an annual basis and strive to improve on each year. Not only have we found that women make effective leaders and consistent employers, but financial trends have shown that women entrepreneurs are reliable as a group when it comes to maintaining good credit with lenders.
According to the MIWE report, South Africa has also seen an increase in support for small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), which includes the availability of finance, training and development programmes aimed at and designed for women. In addition, research shows that Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rate of women entrepreneurs. This is an encouraging and welcomed trend that will put women at the forefront of a working solution towards better employment prospects for South Africa.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women were exacerbated by the fact that women-led businesses were found to generate less business than their men-led counterparts. Furthermore, it can be said that while many Sub-Saharan African women have the desire to be self-employed and build their own businesses, their entrepreneurial efforts may be rooted in necessity. Characteristically, women are the primary caregivers of children and the elderly, as well as maintainers of the household. The work-from-home scenario further exacerbated the pressure on many women. Therefore, starting and growing a business that is flexible and allows women to earn an income to support their families – while attending to their responsibilities – is an ideal solution.
The urgency with which South Africa as a collective must support women-led ventures is rooted in a deep-seated need to challenge existing gender roles, empower women and advocate for gender equality. It just makes economic sense to support female business owners as women account for 51,2% of South Africa’s population; the cost of ignoring this untapped potential is too dire to contemplate for our country and its struggling economy.
There is a bigger picture that we’re trying to promote, beyond the support of female entrepreneurship as a solution to the unemployment crisis in South Africa. We advocate for this position because once we see the growth of the women-owned business, we will see a societal shift towards respecting women in leadership positions and understanding that their unique experiences and resources are invaluable to the business world. Research shows us that children model their mothers, so this will also influence more young people (both boys and girls) to consider entrepreneurship – thus increasing the potential for future entrepreneurial activity in South Africa. Gender equality is as much of a social imperative as it is a business one, and we encourage South African institutions, particularly business financiers, to consider this viewpoint.
As the spotlight falls on women this month, female entrepreneurship is set to occupy a considerable amount of space in public discourse, and for good reason. Women business owners are prospective employers for themselves, their family and their communities. We’ve seen several reports substantiating the claim that women intend to hire to meet increased demand and to bring essential skills into their business. 2021 has been a challenging year for women in business, however, we believe that South Africa will prove to be a burgeoning birthplace of potential for aspiring female entrepreneurs and the leaders of our future, but only if we provide them with the necessary support and opportunities.