banking. In the business arena, the picture is still skewed, with women having limited access to financial resources and experiencing difficulties due to the fact that they often have no collateral for the procurement of loans.
Prof Tommy du Plessis, Director of the Potchefstroom Business School at North-West University, at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) breakfast seminar held earlier this year, pointed out: “Our biggest challenge is not starting businesses, it is keeping them alive. Aside from ensuring that we give potential entrepreneurs the right training, we must work on giving them the right attitude. People need to believe that becoming an entrepreneur is an important career course, not something you do if you can’t find employment with a big company.”
Discrimination Is a Historic Fact
The SABPP (SA Board for People Practices) Report states that women have historically, the world over, been subjected to different kinds of discriminatory behaviour, attitudes and (now outdated) policies. “Whether this was intended or not,” the Report says, “this discrimination still hampered their full integration into the work environment.”
The Report mentions several barriers women have to cross when entering the workplace or starting a business. Some of these barriers relate to prejudice, stereotyping and cultural beliefs that also fan out to religious beliefs which, in some cultures, hold that women should not pursue work outside the home.
Owing to apartheid and South Africa’s international isolation, the gender-based social revolution that took place in the West during this time passed South Africa by. In South Africa, racial discrimination tended to overshadow other forms of discrimination. As a result, a rift was created between white and black women, preventing them from uniting and acknowledging the existence of gender bias against them.
Transcending Internal Barriers Comes First
Furthermore, or perhaps even before other matters come into play, women need to overcome internal barriers such as a lack of assertiveness. Moreover, they need to be able to remain self-motivated, to acquire communication skills – which are crucial in the workplace –and to manage employees, along with the other aspects of business. Although statistics indicate that there is a high level of literacy among South African women (87%), this does not necessarily translate into a high level of education.
At a recent MEIBC breakfast seminar in Cape Town, Gretchen Humphries, Fedusa (The Federation of Unions of South Africa) Deputy General Secretary of Operations, pointed out that 61,3% of unemployed people do not have matric, while only 6,2% of employed people have a tertiary qualification, which points directly to the need for South Africa to overcome its skills and education problems if it is to have any realistic chance of addressing the unemployment problem. The skills issue, therefore, is also a basic one.
Apart from the first set of financial barriers, women also encounter lack of support and mentorship, and usually also experience difficulties in the marketing and management areas. In practice, women who run micro-businesses, especially those in remote rural areas, furthermore experience difficulties in developing their own skills. Lastly, in remote areas, establishing a business infrastructure brings with it its own challenges.
Home Turf Also Demands Its Share
In line with global trends, women in South Africa still tend to bear the brunt of household responsibilities in addition to their business’s demands. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2011 Report, women do more unpaid work than men in all countries across the globe. The Report defines this unpaid work as including household tasks that take up time that could have been spent on paid work or leisure.
Yet the SABPP Report states that there was an 11.7% increase in women becoming employers, and a 1.9% increase in women who are own-account workers or entrepreneurs, as measured in the formal sector in 2011.
“A significant increase in women in the informal sector is evident, and it would seem that women are finding ways of earning an income through entrepreneurial activities in the informal sector and work that is flexible in accommodating family and care-taking responsibilities. This emphasises the fact that women show high representation in work with low skills requirements,” the Report points out.
The Report also states that “increases in employment of women of 11.1% in manufacturing and 8,8% in mining prove that women are now getting opportunities in male-dominated work environments”.
A statistic South African women are particularly proud of is that 33% of parliamentarians are women – while the world average is only 19.3%.
Gearing up for the Future
Future projections of population growth in South Africa based on average births per female indicate that the population will increase threefold in the next generation. In fact, from both an economic and job-creation point of view, the demand for jobs will continue to outstrip what South African business can offer at current growth percentages. Add to this the influx of immigrants from all over the world, and the availability of women in entrepreneurial positions becomes a key influencer.
That women have many obstacles to overcome is certain. That they will be able to do so is a given too. But the rate at which this will happen will to a great degree be determined by factors outside of their personal control.
Facing the Obstacles Head-on
The obstacles women face when entering the business arena are similar to, but not the same as, those encountered by men. Any entrepreneur will need a host of particular personal characteristics, of which determination and perseverance rank among the most important. Entering the marketplace after identifying an opportunity to establish a micro or small enterprise takes courage. But careful consideration of the existing barriers and obstacles could mean the difference between success and failure. On a day-to-day basis, it means putting things into place to run the business.
Recent figures show that 75% of the South African population are now banked. This is quite a feat and means that women (who comprise 50,9% of the total population) also now have access to financial services and are using such services more than in the past. However, this relates mostly to personal
Enterprise Development Feature
by Ilse Ferreira