Female Entrepreneurship: Why It Matters

According to the IMF, COVID-19 threatens to reverse the last 30 years of economic progress for women. For one, women in general are having to shoulder more childcare and household responsibilities than their male counterparts. In addition, traditionally female-dominated industries like retail, leisure and hospitality have been hit particularly harder than other sectors.

We spoke with Catherine Frideres and Daniela Cedola, Senior Manager and Director at PwC Luxembourg respectively, about the challenges women face when pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors and, more broadly, to achieving the ever-elusive equality and championing other women, especially in times of crisis.

Build a culture of female entrepreneurship

The lack of visibility for women in leadership roles contributes to a culture where young girls are not encouraged to develop entrepreneurial skills or pursue leadership positions. And, this is, certainly, a problem. The rules of cause-effect apply to gender equality matters too.

Not only do women hold a still untapped potential to positively influence economic growth; in the context of this new normal, job markets will require professionals with solid soft skills and among them, a deeper sense of empathy, attention to diversity and communication will be key. Although they aren’t exclusive to one gender, these are characteristics where women stand out.

Historically, however, there has been sector-focused gender underrepresentation. While certain industries have a fairer representation of women, technology, for instance, still remains a male-dominated industry. It’s necessary to bring more women into these under-represented sectors as it is clear that much of the current and future economic development will be achieved through such sectors.

“We’ve run programmes aimed at helping small and medium sized businesses enter new markets. Unfortunately, women’s presence in these programmes has been at an appalling 10%.”

Barriers to female founders and leaders are well-documented and systemic.

While the number of women operating their own business is increasing globally, women continue to face huge obstacles that slow down or even block the growth of their businesses. For instance, there is the lack of capital, social constraints – sometimes subtle but equally detrimental – firmly rooted in the culture, and time limitations. This, for instance, translates into dealing with “domestic” questions such as “who will take care of children and the elder family members?” These challenges organically tend to impact both entrepreneurship and female career trajectories.

“We’ve run programmes aimed at helping small and medium sized businesses enter new markets. Unfortunately, women’s presence in these programmes has been at an appalling 10%. This is not as much as we’d like to see. In some industries like food or creative industries it’s slightly higher, but within most other sectors the female representation is still very weak”, Daniela shared.

Forward-thinking countries, led by Norway in 2003, and followed by Spain, Finland, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Germany and Austria have mandated a quota for women at board levels and we are now seeing the benefits of this.

Concerning this, Catherine pointed out “We need more regulations and conditions that support women to become entrepreneurs. And these mechanisms need to consider the current, real situations in society: single-parent households, the nature and type of dependents being supported, access to childcare post-birth and at school age. These mechanisms are key to improving the female entrepreneurship landscape.”

It is also important to consider how governmental systems are set-up and if the so-called welfare state has been achieved. Are governments there to aid entrepreneurship or suppress it? “It may seem contradictory”, Daniela added, “but countries that have an established social security system can create a feeling of comfort and fewer individuals are motivated or have the need to start-up something of their own. With less developed economies, , informality in the job market is higher and we tend to find a larger number of micro-entrepreneurs because people are forced to fend for themselves”. So in this situation there is the entrepreneurial culture, but not the support to leap from a subsistence economy to real economic development.

“We need more VCs backed by women. In Luxembourg, there is an initiative that reinforces female investment. You do need critical mass to get this moving.”

So, what’s the solution?

As the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) emphasize, creating a culture to enable more opportunities to women requires collaborative and concerted action.

“First, it is essential for governments and industries to come together to encourage female entrepreneurship, enable more women to get into STEM, and provide support, the resources and tools to enhance their business acumen”, suggested Catherine. “Let’s remember, there is still a glass ceiling, sometimes thick, that needs to be broken to enable the ecosystem to be more inclusive”.

Second, continued Daniela, “female entrepreneurs lack certain networks. Fewer women are able to socialise as much as men and this impacts funding and business opportunities. Women need to find avenues to better connect with business partners and this is something we focus on as part of our programs.”

Catherine rounded on the need for creating a more inclusive culture that boosts female entrepreneurship by adding “women must be empowered to leverage the power of technology to accelerate their businesses’ growth. We need more VCs backed by women. In Luxembourg, there is an initiative that reinforces female investment. You do need critical mass to get this moving”.

Changing the dial requires all components of the ecosystem to work together.

Both Daniela and Catherine were emphatic when sharing the idea that “it is not enough for women and girls to have access to be active in the labor market and, therefore, the country’s economy: the types of access also matter. The ability of women to progress into senior and top-management and policymaking roles determines the extent to which women can have an equal voice in the development of systems and rules that affect their lives”.

Indeed, women need access to equal opportunities offered by innovations and emerging technologies to be able to compete and thrive in a highly digitalised post-pandemic world.

And, there is no better time to mobilise our female founders and leaders to rebuild our economy, create new jobs and make a positive impact in our global community.

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