Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Why do we still make it so hard to be women entrepreneurs?

‘For many women entrepreneurs, the future still remains quite grim’

‘For many women entrepreneurs, the future still remains quite grim’

Ashish J. Thakkar
Group Chief Executive Officer, Y9
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Gender Inequality

The only thing harder than being an entrepreneur is being a female entrepreneur. Despite all the blood, sweat, and tears that get poured into a start-up by its founder, statistics indicate that women entrepreneurs still start their companies with 50% percent less capital than their male counterparts. This needs to change, not only because I believe in gender parity, but because I know that what’s good for female entrepreneurs is good for the global economy.

According to a recent report published by the Boston Consulting Group, women now control about $39.6 trillion (about 30%) of the world’s wealth, and by 2020, women have the potential to control over $72 trillion globally. This trend depicts a clear picture – the appetite and justification is there for women to gain more financial and economic power. We just need to mirror that change within the SME sector by encouraging business leaders to capitalize on the potential of women entrepreneurs around the world.

For many women entrepreneurs, the future still remains quite grim. Although, women continue to lead the way in launching start-ups, women in the United States only receive only about 7% of venture capital funding, 5% of federal contracts, and 5% of conventional loans. This pattern we’re seeing in the US is indicative of a much larger global issue where women entrepreneurs continue to be marginalized.

Women entrepreneurs lack the right funding support
Women entrepreneurs lack the right funding support

If we deny women the opportunity to fulfill their economic potential – which essentially means that we exclude half the world’s population – the global economy will continue to suffer. It is vital to foster supportive ecosystems that embrace and capitalize on the economic potential of women. I firmly believe that both men and women are essential to cultivating such an environment.

Men for women entrepreneurs

Mara Foundation, a social enterprise set up to support young and ambitious entrepreneurs in Africa, was born out of my own experience of starting a business from scratch at the very young age of 15 years old. Over the years, we have made great strides to develop the next generation of young and women entrepreneurs and business leaders. Mara Women, a subset of the Mara Foundation, is specifically designed to provide advocacy and crucial mentoring support to female entrepreneurs that has, so far, been lacking on the continent.

When women are positioned to hold leadership roles within organizations, they will be able to make significant contributions to economic growth, and carve a path to become mentors for the next generation of women leaders. Their continued mentorship will facilitate an exponential increase in the number of women who hold executive and non-executive roles in the boardroom. Because I was fortunate enough to have strong female role models in my life (my mother and two sisters), I am acutely aware of the positive impact women can have on families and communities. Consequently, the Mara Foundation is committed to supporting strong mothers, strong sisters, and strong female role models, to help build a better tomorrow.

My undeniable passion for supporting women entrepreneurs is exemplified through the Mara Foundation’s partnership with UN Women. We hope to create meaningful synergies between the two organizations, by providing mentoring, training and business tools to women entrepreneurs. In addition to UN Women’s notable HeforShe campaign, which strives to actively engage men who are committed to a gender equal society, UN Women has established a Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment. This particular platform is a global community set up to share resources and tools for women’s economic empowerment, crowd source feedback on innovative ideas, and connect women entrepreneurs and workers with expert peers, networks and potential partners.

In an effort to harness the power of effective mentorship, the Mara Foundation has also launched a collaborative mentorship platform. The Mara Mentor initiative seeks to facilitate lasting relationships between entrepreneurs and seasoned business leaders in order to create a collaborative entrepreneurial environment. Integrating these two platforms will assist entrepreneurs around the world in connecting with leaders from many fields, including policy-makers, investors and social change-makers. Women entrepreneurs now have a virtual home, where they are able to convene and develop the tools to overcome challenges of gender inequality.

Working closely with the UN Foundation, I hope to continue to build momentum around men supporting women entrepreneurs.

Women leaders investing in women entrepreneurs

In addition to men’s continued support, female entrepreneurs need the support and guidance of other women leaders. One of the major reasons why women entrepreneurs receive significantly less funding from male-led ventures is due to similarity bias. Most venture capitalists are majority male, and they find it easier to invest in other men due to approachability and commonalities.

The simple way to rectify this issue is by encouraging women to get more women on the funding side of the equation. However, to increase the number of women investors, women who already are investors must mentor the next generation of women investors. By increasing the visibility of women in leadership positions, other women can be inspired to take bold steps towards sustaining meaningful change within the private sector and public sector.

Acknowledging that mentorship is crucial to long-term success, the advice and support that mentors provide budding entrepreneurs is invaluable. For instance, Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and Editor-in-Chief of Dot Complicated, is one of the original Mara Mentors, and is acutely aware of the power of mentorship. As she says, “If you are a woman, help foster the talents of other women so that eventually those barriers will be so broken they no longer exist.”

Mentorship has the ability to create dynamic relationships between established and emerging leaders. Additionally, Anne Kabagambe, former chief of staff and director of cabinet at the African Development Bank, is keen on enabling, empowering and inspiring the next generation of women leaders through mentorship. Mobilizing strong female role models such as these is critical to ensuring we establish a persistent and consistent generation of women entrepreneurs.

Future impact of women entrepreneurs

Improving gender parity within the private sector has the potential to facilitate significant global economic gains and advance gender equality across the globe, adding a projected $12 trillion to global growth by 2025. If all women had the We’ve already seen the likes of Alibaba attribute its unprecedented success to having a strong female workforce (47%). Investors can play a critical role in changing the narrative in which a strong focus on women is seen as a part of a long-term growth strategy and future profitability. Investors aside, we as consumers all have a responsibility to play our part in supporting women entrepreneurs – whether it’s through advocating for gender equality in the workplace, or using our own purchasing power to support women owned businesses.

In order to showcase their undertapped potential, I am committed to advocating for women entrepreneurs across the globe. Recently, the US White House hosted its inaugural United State of Women Summit to celebrate the achievements of and bolster support to women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and innovation. It marked an important step forward, as over 6,000 individuals from all over the world participated. The Global Entrepreneurship Summit held just two weeks later marked another milestone as an entire day was focused on supporting female founders.

As part of my mission to continue supporting women entrepreneurs, I recently spoke at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network in Cape Town, South Africa. I strongly encourage other business leaders to use forums such as these to keep the conversation alive and continue to highlight new and innovative ways men and women can promote women entrepreneurs globally. What is beneficial to women entrepreneurs is beneficial to the global economy. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “If you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.”

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