The role of women in business has changed significantly in recent years, along with the shift towards gender equality and financial inclusivity both within and outside of the contemporary workplace. As entrepreneurs, women have a lot to offer – not only in terms of their own financial well-being – but also with regard to the welfare of their families, extended communities, and the economic growth of the country, and should therefore be encouraged to pursue their business and entrepreneurial ambitions by society.
This is according to Gugu Mjadu, Executive General Manager of Marketing at specialist SME financier, Business Partners Ltd, who says that entrepreneurship can provide South African women with a viable solution to economic hardship, while also serving as a source of personal empowerment. She references the recent finding of an online survey, Money Stress Tracker, which found that women are among the hardest hit groups within society by the current cost of living crisis.
Furthermore, women were disproportionately affected by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – a reality that has been well-documented across several vital studies. However, despite this very evident disparity, significant progress has been made toward creating a more enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in South Africa.
According to the multinational Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), South Africa is one of only 12 global economies where the rate of women’s entrepreneurial activity increased over the past year. The 2021/22 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Women’s Entrepreneurship Report also found that South Africa was one of only 3 countries within the Middle East and Africa region, where women and men entrepreneurship was close to parity.
For Mjadu, these positive developments are markers of progress and are a clear indicator for industry stakeholders that there is no better time than the present to encourage women to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. “As a career path, entrepreneurship is also one of the most effective means by which to break free from traditional moulds and shatter the glass ceilings many women encounter in professional spheres,” she adds.
Gender equality for the greater good
There are tangible benefits of building a society that is more equal in terms of gender spread in entrepreneurship. A strong case has been made by several studies, for building a more diverse and inclusive sector. As Mjadu explains: “Encouraging women to enter the entrepreneurial arena nurtures an environment where fresh perspectives and creative ideas thrive, leading to the creation of products and services that cater to a wider range of needs.”
Furthermore, women-led businesses are a force to be reckoned with in driving economic growth and innovation, as well as in terms of their ability to address some of the country’s most pressing challenges. In fact, recent estimates expect women-owned businesses that were established between 2018 and 2022 to generate as much as R175-billion a year and create 972 000 jobs.
By establishing their enterprises, women contribute to local economies, generating employment opportunities not only for themselves but also for their communities. In developing regions, women-led businesses can have an even more profound impact by uplifting entire neighborhoods and fostering sustainable growth.
Currently, women-run businesses are concentrated in professional and personal services (37.6%) and manufacturing (22.6%), in terms of the entrepreneurs that Business Partners Ltd has recently funded. As Mjadu asserts, there is therefore much room for improvement in assisting women to break into male-dominated industries and building their confidence as innovators within these arenas.
A platform for change
This is one of the objectives that this year’s Business Partners Ltd Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY) aims to achieve, in its search for businesspeople who have braved the pandemic years and succeeded in building their ventures against all odds.
“When women become entrepreneurs, they redefine industry norms and challenge conventional notions of leadership. As role models, they inspire future generations of women to pursue their aspirations fearlessly. This shift is essential for dismantling ingrained gender stereotypes and cultivating a culture that values diversity and inclusion in business,” says Mjadu.
One of the most shining examples of how women are challenging the prevailing norms can be found in the story of the previous EOY winner, Carmen Stevens. After becoming South Africa’s first black winemaker in 1995, she went on to establish her own winery, which has since become a leading, award-winning, and pioneering brand. Carmen Stevens was awarded the title of Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019 and is an exemplar of the inroads being made by women into industries previously dominated wholly by men.
Encouraging women entrepreneurs to enter this year’s competition, Mjadu explains that apart from the recognition and financial reward offered by the competition, participations also stand to use it as a platform to grow their support networks.
“EOY is an excellent avenue for women to network and collaborate. Engaging with mentors, peers, and investors within the entrepreneurial ecosystem facilitates knowledge exchange, skill enhancement, and access to resources. Encouraging women to take part in this collaborative environment not only boosts their chances of business success but also fosters a sense of community and camaraderie,” she concludes.
Entries to EOY can be processed via the competition website: www.eoy.co.za and close on 31 August 2023.