By Dr Eugene Brink
It is axiomatic that female entrepreneurship still lags behind men in South Africa and around the globe.
Cultural barriers and differing responsibilities between the genders are but some of the obstacles to the advancement of female-led businesses. Covid-19 has added another obstacle to the mix.
A 2020 report by Morning Consult made some revealing but not completely unsurprising findings on the roles of couples when both parents work from home. For instance, when asked, “Who is currently most responsible for housework, such as cooking and cleaning?” 67% of female respondents said they were, but only 16% of men agreed. “Parenting during Covid-19 is challenging enough as it is, but it presents unique challenges for women who are parents and entrepreneurs,” says Terry Rice, business development expert.
But all is assuredly not lost and the pandemic could very well lead to a great reset in entrepreneurship, in which women will and must play a major role.
Global and local trends
Globally, Western and advanced nations are still confidently leading the pack when it comes to the empowerment and growth of women entrepreneurs.
The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) has over the last several years shown that countries such as the United States, Israel, Switzerland, Canada and Australia are not even close to being dislodged as the top-performers in this category. These are also countries that lead every conceivable economic ranking and it could be safely assumed that fostering fertile soil for women entrepreneurs is a lynchpin for wider economic progress.
This is not to say that Covid-19 has not had a pernicious impact on female-led businesses. “Women across the world have been disproportionally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – a staggering 87% of women business owners say they have been adversely affected,” reports Mastercard.
South Africa has been hard hit by Covid-19, but retains – more than most developing countries – a strong base of successful and resilient women entrepreneurs.
Local business owner Yashmita Bhana initially studied civil engineering and, following the failure of her first business, she founded Nihka Technology Group. During the lockdowns in 2020, she adapted to provide temporary free access to tech platforms for business owners, including an online finance and proposal writing tool that is integrated to WhatsApp. Moreover, Yashmita helped 50 early childhood development centres to complete online training and liaise with other social projects during the three-month lockdown.
Jennifer Classen started Ngaphaya Y2K10 (or “Beyond 2010”) to initially deliver high-quality industrial equipment and products during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. During Covid-19, she leveraged her infrastructure to assist other businesses, many owned by women, in delivering essential products like hand sanitiser.
These are just some of the stories of women in South Africa seizing the right opportunities and environment handed to them. There are countless more local and international stories of women entrepreneurs not only surviving the pandemic to emerge stronger, but thriving and inducing a multiplier effect.
Reasons for hope
The MIWE 2020 report shows that there is much to be optimistic about, notwithstanding the challenges posed by Covid-19. “Female world leaders such as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the leader of Chinese Taipei Dr Tsai Ing-Wen have presided over some of the most successful efforts in containing COVID-19 while instilling order, assurance, trust and calm,” the report reads.
“With almost half (47.8%) of female entrepreneurs reporting being driven by a desire to contribute to the greater societal good, the impact these leaders have cannot be underestimated.”
Further to this, the report notes that women in business are already adapting well, despite extensive barriers to success. “On the frontline, women business owners are adapting to the new world of work with renewed confidence. 42% have shifted to a digital business model and 34% have identified new business opportunities since the pandemic.”
Mastercard, 23 November 2020, “Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs: COVID-19 crisis could set-back a generation of women in business”, https://newsroom.mastercard.com/asia-pacific/press-releases/mastercard-index-of-women-entrepreneurs-covid-19-crisis-could-set-back-a-generation-of-women-in-business/.
Robert Abare, 17 August 2020, “How South Africa’s women entrepreneurs are leading responses to COVID-19”, https://www.accion.org/how-south-africas-women-entrepreneurs-are-leading-responses-to-covid-19.
Terry Rice, 7 October 2020, “Women Entrepreneurs Share How They Increased Revenue During Covid. And How You Can, Too.”, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/356717.