Women and entrepreneurship: challenges and advantages.

On 19th of November we celebrated Women's Entrepreneur Day. In the frame of this event, I was invited to speak at the Uzbekistan Business Women association master class. I was so excited to share this news with one of my friends and what I heard as a response makes me puzzle:

“This is completely aberrant to have such a day. Why women would need a special day for underlining their entrepreneurship? Is that some fancy trend or a real need?”

Then, all these questions made me think further about the situation of women entrepreneurs. I looked to the different facts and numbers and added to that my own experience and the experiences of the women from my network. I quickly came to the conclusion that, if there is still people asking this question, we need to speak more about women entrepreneurs, light-up their efforts & successes, support them in developing their activities, help them with fund raising and build up a cooperation all around the world.

For those who continue questioning about the need to highlight Women Entrepreneurship, here are some facts and figures:

As per Global Entrepreneur Monitor women report 2018/2019 the Total Entrepreneurial Activity rate for women is 10.2%, which is about three-quarters of that seen for men. Low-income countries report the smallest gender gap at that level and Europe represents the lowest rate of 6%.

I was surprised to see these numbers, because idealistically as a woman in Europe we are empowered, at least I thought. Then I looked back to my own experience and I understood that the corporate professional life I had before my entrepreneur carrier was keeping me in a sort of “golden cage” with semblance of a sense of job security and stability. And this facade of stability pushes us as parents to recommend to our children to integrate the same type of corporations. And the same circle continues from generation to generation.

More than 40% of men start their first entrepreneurial experience before the age of 35 years old, while for women this percentage lower by 8%. Some people might say that the gap is not big. I would respond yes it is! Starting earlier (being younger) allows some mistakes and still allows to learn from those mistakes to go further to the next adventure and finally succeed.

There is a lot of challenges for us women in professional life and specifically in entrepreneurship. I will list some of them below and share my feeling or experience in relations with them.

Personal level:

Being an entrepreneur might create difficulties in private life. These difficulties are mostly gender specific. Women have difficulties to clearly split their obligations in both spheres, professional and private lives.

We, women, have the feeling that we are “superwoman” and we can control everything. I was myself overwhelmed between my role of entrepreneur and mom/wife. Till the moment I understood that I needed to organize myself and delegate some tasks in order to create a good balance in my life and still enjoy each side of it.

Working environment and discrimination:

Working in male-dominated sectors can be quite a challenge. Some young women entrepreneurs working in construction, agriculture or mining industries still feel this gender discrimination. When I transitioned from corporate carrier into entrepreneurship, I didn’t experience any discrimination or disadvantage on professional level. It probably related to my previous experiences, where as a woman I was not considered seriously or received some insults in the form of jokes. So I adapted myself and adopted some behaviors which were not natural for me, e.g. being more critical and “pushy” with some shadow of aggressiveness in order to create sort of “protective blinder”. Today with experience and many different training I developed my soft skills and feel on equal ground with men.

Difficulties in management of interpersonal relationship:

When we start our entrepreneur activity we start working with our contacts from the personal network, such as friend or classmates for example. I experienced myself some difficulties in subcontracting my friends. Due to emotional relationship I care much more to not disappoint them and giving negative feedback was a difficult exercise. Or when I was working for one of my former employees where I created the emotional connection with some interfaces in that company, I did work much longer hours to deliver the “super, mega top” result. I was completely exhausted.

With time and each new experience I’ve learned to manage it differently and make distinction when I speak to the friend or customer/supplier.

Raising funds:

Usually women start with low capital because they rely on their own savings or savings of their family.

Acceding to the capitals is more difficult for two reasons:

  • Gender gap – less trust in women entrepreneurs’ success

  • Activities - women entrepreneurs, globally speaking, present more in wholesale/retail trade, health/education and social services. They are less present in information and communications technology for example where access to the financing from venture capital (VC) investors and business angels is much easier.

In my activities, I started with my own savings which at the early stage of consulting activities was sufficient. I make grow my capital and then invested it into my brand Merossi. So in this stage I was “auto-sufficient”, but I knew if I wanted to grow my brand I would quickly need to look for external investments and prepare a strong business case and speech for investors. I already investigated into it and there is some interest in my close professional network.

In conclusion, I don’t want to focus only on challenges. Despite continued challenges for women in the business; there has never been best time for us women to realize our dreams. The number of women-owned businesses is growing.

While building our competitiveness women advocate the collaboration. This can be a tremendous asset in the modern business environment.

The successful leaders should have a good level of emotional intelligence. Excellent news, women have high rate of emotional intelligence. It helps to understand better our emotions (as well as others’) and think or react adequately.

Our multitasking competence helps us, specifically in the beginning, to manage all roles that our activity requires.

Women easily ask for help and genuinely help the others. I know myself many women networks where the experiences and knowledges are shared and mentoring program put in place.

Dear women, if you are passionate but still hesitant to plunge into entrepreneurship, I would like to encourage you to go further. Take this adventure step by step by securing each of them in sequences. Ask for help to build up your business plan and anticipate in advance what you will need to reach your target.

We have the right to fail and start again; we should not be ashamed of it. We also have the right to be successful and to be proud of ourselves.

Think big, make your dream come true and realize them!

Dear men, in the modern story you never faced such pressure in regards of gender equality and sometimes I can understand you are lost. Despite this context there are some countries in the World where women still not acceding to the education, work, vote and other activities that make us feel fulfilled. For long years women tried to fix this inequality themselves. I think the solution is in joint effort. In your business organization you should be able to set the targets of gender equality and do all your efforts to reach them. You as a business leader should sponsor female talents. If each business leader men invest in female entrepreneurship and support one woman to develop her business, then we can progress faster. The other hand you can learn from women many aspects of leadership that they are strong in.

Let’s do a joint effort, share the experiences and resources!