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Picture: UNSPLASH/CHRISTINA WOCIN
Picture: UNSPLASH/CHRISTINA WOCIN

Do female entrepreneurs have the same opportunities to access supply chains as men? The panel at the recent Absa Business Day Supplier Development Dialogues came up with suggestions on how to make supply chains inclusive and transformative. 

Before women start a business or enter a boardroom, they fight against sexism, discrimination, cultural stereotypes and social bias. “Growing up, I was always told that women should exist under the leadership of a man,” says Michal Pillay, a senior manager of supplier diversity at Absa. “Now I know that this is one of the barriers that women aspiring for leadership positions face in our society.”

Fetola GM Chantal de Kock faced similar discrimination growing up in the Cape Flats, an environment that is harsh on women. “I come from a family where the majority of male figures were gangsters. I knew from a young age that women were not seen as leaders,” she says. 

The panel said women can relate to the challenges of leadership positions and will come up with innovative solutions.

“In the business environment, I noticed that it’s typical for men to discuss business ventures on the golf course or in bars,” says Kgatile Nkala, the executive manager of corporate services for the Transport and Education Training Authority (TETA). This puts women at a disadvantage and there is a need to create inclusive spaces for men and women to discuss business. 

To address this challenge, Nkala and her team hosted business dialogues in community halls that are easily accessible to most women. This solution came from women who overcame the challenges of working in male-dominated industries. Ageism and sexism are rife in the business world and women are excluded because of this. 

Sekai Chiwandamira, the regional chapter manager at ANDE Aspen Institute, said: “At the age of 26, I was appointed as a leader in a male-dominated multinational company. Many people asked me how I did it because it was rare for a young African woman like me to be appointed in a position like this.”

To overcome the notion that it’s a “man’s world”, it’s important for women to continue breaking barriers and proving that roles should not be gender specific. 

Violet Lupuwana, the founder and MD of Chumile Holdings, started her business in the male-dominated taxi industry. “I challenged the status quo because the transport sector makes billions of rand and I didn’t understand why I could not be part of it,” says Lupuwana. 

Without new transformative policies, nothing will change

As much as there is a need for society, culture and businesses more inclusive, the onus is on women to challenge male-dominated sectors. Lupuwana knocked on doors for four years, before they finally opened for her. In SA there are still too many industries that are male dominated and this must change. 

“Female entrepreneurs benefit from business support and development initiatives that include mentorship and coaching from women they identify with,” says De Kock. Peer support among women is strategic and effective.

“Corporate have to be intentional with strategic objectives within the organisation to ensure women businesses have access to the market,” says Pillay. She says Absa spends R1.9bn on women-led small businesses.

There is a need for the implementation of policies that directly have an impact on the socioeconomic challenges faced by women. Without new transformative policies, nothing will change.

Having positive women role models that stepped out of their traditional roles will encourage others to follow in their footsteps. “As a woman in a leadership position I always encourage aspirant young female leaders to demand to be treated with respect,” says Chiwandamira. 

The role of women in leadership positions is to lead with integrity and to use their cultural awareness and emotional intelligence to make informed business decisions. 

Key learning points:

  • Women are legitimate, powerful and transformative leaders in industry and in small business;
  • Sustainable long-term interventions aimed at helping businesswomen to access supply chains can add significant value and long-term advantage;
  • Women leaders are able to address challenges faced by other women as they understand exactly what aspirant businesswomen are going through;
  • As funding is constrained for women entrepreneurs, transformative and inclusive funding models can unlock huge growth opportunities;
  • Women need female role models and mentors to support and coach them to unashamed success; and
  • Women-led small suppliers need to work together, build powerful networks and show up to say their space in the supply chain.

To watch the full discussion, click here >

To join the 2021 Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards, an initiative of Arena, Cold Press Media and Fetola, and be part of this dynamic network of people changing the future of SA visit www.sdawards.co.za or email info@sdawards.co.za today.

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