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Women in business should engage with other women entrepreneurs and support others by procuring from them, says Ntokozo Majola of Seda. Picture: Pexels/Rodnae Productions
Women in business should engage with other women entrepreneurs and support others by procuring from them, says Ntokozo Majola of Seda. Picture: Pexels/Rodnae Productions

According to the World Bank, Africa is the only continent in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs. In SA, however, women-owned businesses earn nearly 40% less than those owned by men, though more than half the population is female.

A recent Business Day Dialogue on women economic empowerment — hosted in partnership with Accenture SA, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) — explored the factors that are holding women in business back, and highlighted how corporate SA  — both the public and private sectors — can provide the support needed to make women-owned SMEs sustainable. 

This informative panel discussion — watch the recording below — was moderated by TV business anchor Nastassia Arendse.

Women’s responsibilities and a lack of support at home are often major obstacles to running a business, said panellist Lucretia Khumalo, divisional executive: client support and growth at the IDC.

There is no question that the pandemic affected some women-owned businesses harder than others, she said. Many tourism businesses, for example, are owned by women, and these are still suffering, along with the businesses supporting them.

Legal and societal issues may also affect a woman’s ability to grow her business: some marital contracts require a husband’s permission and red tape insists on compliance requirements that some women do not know how to address, said panel member Ntokozo Majola, executive manager: enterprise development division at Seda. 

Another obstacle, she said, is women’s access to markets. Men are more proactive, they lobby and use their networks to access tenders. 

But building an effective network is often difficult for women with family responsibilities, said panellist Zandile Njamela Mampone, supplier inclusion and diversity lead at Accenture SA.

Many women exit the workplace at executive level to start their own business and face a huge gender gap. Another challenge is how to bring informal sector businesses into the formal sector. 

Many businesswomen today have been raised by resilient women, many of whom were themselves entrepreneurs. Their contribution to the economy should be acknowledged and formalised, she said. 

Businesswomen's contribution to the economy should be acknowledged and formalised 
Zandile Njamela Mampone, supplier inclusion and diversity lead at Accenture SA

The one good thing to have come from the Covid-19 pandemic, said Majola, was that it shone a spotlight on businesses in the informal sector.

The department of small business development had already been in talks with other countries such as Brazil to share lessons and information on the formalisation of this sector so it can be accounted for in the GDP. The pandemic accelerated this process and the support given to township and rural-based enterprises, which are dominated by women. 

Support for this sector remains one of the main focus areas of the department, which offers both financial and non-financial support through Seda and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa).  

Seda’s mentorship and coaching programme, for instance, gives women an opportunity to work on their businesses and to network and establish market opportunities among themselves. The programme works in a group format and runs over 10 months. In that time, there should be significant improvements in these women’s businesses at the end of the programme compared with when they started — something that’s measured in terms of new jobs created, increase in turnover and new markets established.

Seda and Sefa are working to improve the quality of their services, added Majola. She urged women entrepreneurs not to give up on failed applications but to analyse what went wrong in their applications and apply again.

An IDC team is always available for feedback if a funding application is rejected, said Khumalo. Along with funding, the IDC focuses on assisting with business plans, legislation, funding preparation and post-investment support.

Mampone also emphasised the importance of women entrepreneurs aligning themselves with right enterprise and supplier development programmes in penetrating the market.

Women deserve a seat at the table and need to be able to contribute to solutions from a female perspective, said Majola. They need to show they are offering value, engage with other women and support others by procuring from them.

For their part, corporates need to treat every business individually and provide customised support.

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