While South Africa’s current female population stands at 30 515 459 (50,5%),1 women constitute but a fraction of both the formal and informal business sectors. Who is to blame for this and why are women still not representing themselves where decisions are being made? Who is acting on their behalf?
‘We can ask all these questions and come up with many different reasons for the disparity. But the truth is that in the new dispensation, we can step out and fix this and as women take our rightful place in the business world and make the difference wherever we may find ourselves,’ says Bernadette Koert, Programme Manager at The Hope Factory.
Is it still a man’s world?
Most spaces have been designed for men, and thus it is still a shock when a woman enters their space. However, women work hard – often harder than men − and they achieve the successes they deserve. They shouldn’t be surprised when they achieve the highs that will bring about the changes required in our economy.
Over the last few years, female-only workspaces have been developed that are helping women slowly overcome these challenges, and it is up to them to tap into the things they need and to thrive as female entrepreneurs. History dictates that women were never supposed to be masters of the business world. ‘We were always supposed to be the lesser/weaker gender and self-doubt has always been one of the biggest challenges faced by the femme-preneur. There are however workshops/programmes available today that create the space we need to tap into to start working on these challenges and doubts,’ says Bernadette.
‘We can work with other women to develop even more programmes that would support and encourage women who wish to step into this space of being an entrepreneur. If we want to become truly successful female entrepreneurs, we will have to overcome our self-doubt.’
The rise of women, ‘femme-preneurs’
Women entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and start businesses for different reasons. Being a woman in charge of a business comes with the usual challenges, but also some unique challenges and difficulties, says Bernadette. Yet, many independent self-starter businesswomen have managed to tackle the corporate world all over the continent and managed to put their kids through school and university and held their families together. Women entrepreneurs tend to be highly motivated and self-directed; they also exhibit a high internal locus of control and are achievement-oriented. Research has shown that women are very good entrepreneurs, as they can maintain a work-life balance.
These facts may vary from place to place and business to business, but women entrepreneurship is necessary for the growth of any economy, whether the business is large or small. Women entrepreneurs have proved to be a strong driving force in today’s corporate world, as they are able to balance motherhood and entrepreneurship.
THF’s business training and development
As a proudly female-led organisation, The Hope Factory (THF) has been training female entrepreneurs for over a decade. Their entrepreneurship training and coaching is a structured programme that aims to equip their participants with the necessary skills set to run their business. Working with many femme-preneurs over the past years, the Hope Factory has picked up just how resilient woman are.
‘It takes perseverance to graduate from a one- to two-year business training and development programme with the tenacity not to quit but push through difficult times, even through a COVID-19 pandemic. To keep up with the fast pace of technology, our participants had to adapt to receiving training and coaching virtually. Some of them had to get training on how to download MS Teams and Zoom to attend a workshop or virtual coaching sessions,’ says Bernadette.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, THF got to see women as innovators, risk-takers, decision-makers and visionaries. Women were able to pivot their businesses and generate different income streams during lockdown to survive. They had families to feed, and giving up was not an option.
Women are nurturers by nature, and so as a team, THF walked a journey with the participants, as some of them lost family members due to COVID. ‘We stood by them, encouraged them, and saw them encourage one another not to quit the programme, as lockdown was hard on everyone. We became a family and even had “family meetings” just to touch base on how everyone was doing. Their well-being is important to us. As much as they are business owners, they remain human. Femme-preneurs are the glue in any programme: communicating positivity, keeping everyone together and leading the way up to graduation,’ comments Bernadette.
She concludes: ‘It gives me great confidence knowing that after completing our programme all our participants have got a good exit strategy − having the knowledge how to access the markets, access funding and reach of their goals. May woman entrepreneurship grow on a personal level and in business beyond what anyone thought it to ever be. May all the successful femme-entrepreneurs pay it forward by leading our youth to a successful future in business, ensuring we are impacting the next generation of businesswomen.’
In closing, Bernadette quotes the late father of our nation, the honourable Nelson Mandela, who said: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.’