Somewhere in Africa, a woman just strove for excellence. But, what are the common challenges faced by women women entrepreneurs Africa? Chances are high that she has joined the strong surge of women entrepreneurs in dominating the continent with undeniable authority. It’s also likely that her entrepreneurial journey will not be an easy one, simply because of her gender.
While Africa boasts the highest growth rate of female-run businesses in the world, according to the World Bank, women continue to face challenges that are unique to them. From social to financial barriers, we take a look at some of the hurdles that women in the business industry have to overcome on their road to success. To do so, we contacted some African women entrepreneurs to discuss a few of these challenges.
Limited Access to Funding
The struggle to raise business funds is an issue that many startup owners are familiar with, but this problem is even more evident to women entrepreneurs. The lack of financial support is among the greatest obstacles for individuals looking to start or take female-owned businesses to the next level in Africa.
While studies show that women manage their credit better than men, the former still find it harder to obtain funding than the latter. A study by the African Development Bank finds that the financing gap for women in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at above US $20 billion, and younger women struggle the most.
According to the 2014 Findex report, only 30% of women in sub-Saharan Africa have access to bank accounts. This statistic shows the importance of empowering women through financial inclusion.
“As women, we have a hard time accessing funding for our ideas. Like most marginalised groups, we get funded based on our track records, not on potential”, shares Janine Jellars, Founder of TRUE Content, a South African content and social media marketing startup. “Often, in order to get the attention of funders, the burden is on us to prove our concepts beyond a shadow of a doubt. We also struggle to break that ‘old boys network’ and convince funders that ‘women’s ideas’ are worth the investment”.
So why is it that women are painfully underserved by banks, venture capitalists, in addition to other creditors and investors? The answer may lie in the simple fact that the top offices of decision makers are still largely occupied by men, some who may have unconscious bias towards women.
Lack of A Support Network
As an entrepreneur, the importance of having a mentor or advisor can’t be overstated. Growing a business requires constant decision-making, and a mentor serves as the savvy guide that one needs in order to make wise decisions and avoid mistakes.
Finding the right support is another closed door for women business owners on the continent. “This is potentially one of the toughest challenges. I’m currently looking for a business mentor, and I’m forced to get really creative when it comes to the profile for which I’m looking”, says Janine. She makes a point, saying: “How many women, particularly black women, have media businesses that they’ve built independently? It’s quite the ask. It’s a lot easier for up-and-coming male entrepreneurs to find a male business leader in almost any field, as men have dominated most fields. It’s also easier for an established male leader to ‘see himself in’ a young male entrepreneur. As a woman, it is hard to access those relationships”.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for women entrepreneurs. Brenda Katwesigye is the founder of InstaHealth, Ugandan app that connects users to health centres, medical specialists, and ambulance services, and she notes that “lately, it’s becoming easier for women in the field because of corporate initiatives such as the Deloitte Women Mentorship Programme, the MTN in Business Programme, and others. I am particularly speaking from a Ugandan perspective because it has been easy for me to connect with other women, advisors, and mentors through such platforms”.
“Earning respect as a woman in a male-dominated field can be a challenge”, says Brenda. Women often have to fight for equal opportunity in the face of gender discrimination. Brenda knows all too well the sting of sexism and gender inequality in the business world. “There have been many times I have been called a ‘young girl’ or inexperienced, for no valid reason at all. I feel that sometimes women are taken a little less seriously than their male counterparts in the same positions, especially in business”, she reveals.
Janine also shares similar sentiments: “Some of the external factors that you have to fight as a woman include getting paid what you’re owed, being taken seriously, and being treated with respect. There’s also the challenge of being seen as the boss, and being seen as a subject matter expert. This is especially tough when you are a young woman of colour”.
A large number of women entrepreneurs have yet to fully comprehend their own greatness. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report, women are generally more afraid of failure than their male counterparts; this inhibits their chances of starting or running their own businesses. Janine also argues that the limiting fear of failure has a lot to do with how women are raised. “There are internal self-limiting factors. This has a lot to do with how we’re socialised as girls and young women. We aren’t raised to be leaders, to be assertive, to ask for what we want, to understand our value, or to understand the kind of impact we can make”, she explains.
Because there is an understanding that some beliefs women hold about their own potential stems from our cultural, historical, and cultural taboos, a force of African female entrepreneurs that lead with deep insight and high level of self-awareness has risen up. For example, Nigeria’s Folorunsho Alakija, Zimbabwe’s Divine Ndhlukula, and Kenya’s Njeri Rionge are setting the tone for the young and upcoming generations of female business leaders.
“Women need to celebrate their little victories: every sale, every win, every positive contact. Those are the things that keep discouragement at bay”, states Brenda.
Thanks to the patriarchal nature of our society, men are still seen as the traditional profile of a successful entrepreneur. Despite a great deal of legislation surrounding women’s rights in multiple African countries and a push to support women in business, women still face societal constraints that hinder their business potential.
“In the cases where entrepreneurial ambition is still encouraged, I think the best way is for the women to follow their dreams and pay a deaf ear to naysayers. Eventually, I like to let results speak for themselves. Once people see the impact you are making, simply because you started, then slowly the discouragement begins to wane”, Brenda shares.