I think it’s time to unshackle ourselves once and for all from historic prejudices concerning the capability, adaptability and creativity of women required to succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s mainstream our thinking and take a look at the gender breakdown of Fetola’s experience… In our ten years of working with small entrepreneurs in like for like situations we have found no delineation proving superiority of one gender over the other.
Some of the skills required of an entrepreneur are leadership, organisation, numeracy, people-skills, the desire to serve, self-confidence and drive to succeed. Education is important, particularly maths and science – which are needed to understand and manage finances, and which teach deductive logic, which is fundamental to the mental agility needed in entrepreneurship.
Traits and factors that disadvantage entrepreneurs include fear, lack of self-belief, the expectation that others will provide, lack of education and lack of business understanding. These traits can be found among men and women alike, although in a very traditional, paternalistic community more women than men will typically lack self-belief and have low levels of education.
Historical prejudice, and traditional values play an important role in holding women back, and women globally tend to stay one step behind men because this is the way they are raised. As Sheryl Sandberg expresses so well in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead women often hold themselves back. The question remains, how can South African women mainstream themselves to bypass these societal conventions, whilst still remaining true to their cultural heritage?
On the face of it then the argument is clear – men and women have equal abilities given equal tools, but women tend to hold themselves back from success because of their deep underlying belief that their role is child-rearing and supporting their man. Yet, if you observe a woman in the position of needing to support and protect her family, a passionate drive will arise to over-ride these fears. Many a successful business has been started by women who are recently divorced, widowed or who have just become a single mother.
What holds women back are the multiple support roles they play outside the business – as mothers and wives. While men generally have a support team to come home to, women often are that support team. They go home to a second job of running the home. Because this makes running a business harder, and can be a reason for struggle or failure most successful female entrepreneurs have hired assistance in the home or husbands who play this support role.
Let’s think about our relationships in the home going forward? Can there be an end to patronage so that Women’s Month is no longer a necessary thing?
CEO and Founder of Fetola