New survey reveals what drives and hinders female entrepreneurship in SA

Access to new markets and funding are the biggest barriers to developing or taking female-owned businesses to the next level, according to a South African Entrepreneurship survey by Standard Bank.

Jobs and growth in Africa will be dependent on innovation and entrepreneurship, but the survey of 130 South African female entrepreneurs found that most women are still pressured to pursue a traditional career. Yet, if they do, they are then pressured to be the “perfect business woman and homemaker”.

According to the survey, which was conducted in October to coincide with the inaugural Lionesses of Africa Annual Conference in Johannesburg, female entrepreneurs are seeking more resources (31%), support (24%) and networking (22%). Interestingly, infrastructure, training and technology were not seen as barriers by this group of women entrepreneurs, but this may be attributed to the sizes of their businesses.

Almost all of the respondents had relatively small to medium-sized businesses with less than 20 employees (95%), and of those surveyed 44% had children (40% married with children, while 38% were single with no children and 6% single with children).

The survey found that having support in the form of family and mentors is high on the list for these entrepreneurs.

Jayshree Naidoo, Head of Incubator at Standard Bank, says a work/life balance is widely viewed as the most common tension point that female entrepreneurs experience in their working lives:
“Most women who work and have families, or who want a fulfilling social and work life, struggle to create a balance,” she explains. “It’s a tough act, but one that is certainly possible with careful planning, support from loved ones – most importantly – we need to empower women to stop feeling guilty about perfecting their roles, as mother, wife, daughter, businesswomen etc.”

On the back of the prompted mention of work/life balance, the Standard Bank survey also finds that financial instability is one of the biggest tension points facing female entrepreneurs, along with being time-strapped and not being taken seriously.

Moving to the motivations for entering entrepreneurship, the majority of respondents revealed the main motivation for having a successful business is mainly to make a social contribution to the community (42%), as well as securing a future for themselves and their family (27%). 

“South African female entrepreneurs see investing for a social return and creating social change just as important as investing for a profitable return,” says Ms Naidoo. “They feel that by doing this, longer-term and more patient investments can be made.”

This comes as economies globally grapple with the consequences of short-termism as opposed to the long-term sustainability of businesses.

“Women entrepreneurs are viewed as marathon runners; they take the time to harness and nurture businesses for years - an approach that is favourable for the development of the African economy.  On the other hand, male entrepreneurs are more like sprinters. They build a business to reach its fullest potential and then sell it off for the next opportunity.”

The Standard Bank survey found that being a female entrepreneur takes courage, with those who have fear choosing to overcome it. In the survey, 82% of the respondents agreed that they are “fearless” when it comes to being female entrepreneurs in Africa - and they are fearless because the fear of not succeeding is greater than that of not acting.

The 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey shows that more than half of the working-age population in the 60 economies surveyed, on average, feel they have the ability to start a business.  In a broad sense, however, women are less likely than men to engage in entrepreneurship, but when they do, they are more likely to do so out of necessity. The GEM survey found that in many areas with low GDP per capita, women must find ways to earn extra money to supplement household income and pay for such necessities as schooling, clothes and food to feed the family. Additionally, in many African countries in particular, a family may support another family that has fallen on hard times.

On the contrary, from a South African perspective, most of the surveyed entrepreneurs, who predominantly service the formal entrepreneurship market, citied that their main motivation for becoming an entrepreneur is to follow their passion/heart (54%), while the best thing about being a female entrepreneur is the ability to create their own future (46%). 

“A concern remains that while many women have great ideas, they don’t have all the necessary tools or funding to hire people who have the tools,” Ms Naidoo continues. “Breaking down barriers to infrastructure and access to markets is needed, and this is why Standard Bank stands committed to playing an important role in assisting female entrepreneurs to thrive in Africa, a continent we call home, and drive her growth.”

The specific challenges highlighted in the survey need to be addressed as we build the businesses of the future that will take Africa and female entrepreneurs forward.

“Because we are committed to driving progress on the continent, Standard Bank is dedicated to supporting the development of African female entrepreneurs by being a partner for growth, and celebrates those who are making a difference,” Ms Naidoo concludes.