The desire to achieve a tertiary education is strong in South Africa as women comprise 57.9% of all students at public tertiary institutions. However, the role of developing their entrepreneurial spirit is sorely lacking as only 2.5% of all women in the formal sector of the economy are employers. This contrasts to 5.2% of men who are employers. The remaining 94.3% of people in the formal labour force are employees.
“We need to find a way to develop the desire of women to become more entrepreneurial in the formal sector of the economy,” says Neville Berkowitz, property economist and adviser to HomeBid, the low commission estate agency. “Our research into the role of women as employers in the formal economy is gleaned information from StatsSA, the Department of Higher Education and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Working, single-parent women make up 52% of all employed women, according to Old Mutual.
The working woman’s role is also to be a homemaker and primary support giver to her children, and this limits her available time and energy to become an entrepreneur. In addition, access to opportunities and finance to start and continue funding a new business is not usually seen as a role that women play in a South African context. The patriarchal society in South Africa has tended to make finance a male-dominated activity, while education for women to help them understand how to handle their financial needs is a huge hole that needs to be filled.
“However, all these obstacles can be overcome. We have plenty of people in South Africa well equipped to look after a home and children, allowing a mother and wife to go to work and focus on developing a business as an employer. Access to capital to start and run a business can be solved if the right business heads in the private sector come together to find a way forward.
“The strength of women as employers, due to their skills, abilities, temperament and communication prowess, needs to be unleashed and solutions found for the current stumbling blocks,” says Berkowitz (63), an entrepreneur with over 38 years’ experience.
Some of the solutions put forward by Berkowitz include specific mentoring for women entrepreneurs by other successful male and female entrepreneurs which can easily be done through correct networking and willingness of mentors to assist these mentees.
The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has made great strides in developing female chartered accountants who now comprise 34.3% of its members.
In the commercial property industry there is the Women’s Property Network – every industry can follow this lead by establishing a network and brains’ trust to assist fledgling female entrepreneurs.
The corporate sector is awash with idle funds, which was some R640bn in 2014, and growing at 14% per annum. This money is sitting in the banks’ coffers as well as in other institutions due to low levels of business and consumer confidence in South Africa. If it was possible to tap into a small percentage of these funds to kick start the increased development of women entrepreneurs, this could potentially create meaningful job opportunities as well. Access to non-bank financing such as angel investor networks and the like could further develop women entrepreneurs.
“The old way of developing women entrepreneurs at a lacklustre rate of one woman in 50 formal-sector workers being an entrepreneur has to change,” says Berkowitz. “We have to make women entrepreneurship a desirable place to be. This new structure must be underpinned by mentoring, networks, understanding of marketing, selling, business operations and finance. The challenge is there for the right people to come forward to make this a reality.”