#BeAdVENTUROUS: Venturing Into Male-Dominated Spaces
Want to see Canada do more to support women-led ventures in developing countries?
Starting a business is never easy, particularly if you are a young woman. Many female entrepreneurs face systemic barriers that limit their access to education, finances, assets, professional networks and mentorship, not to mention discrimination that ranges from unconscious bias to overt sexism.
So how can we help break these barriers? And what difference would it make if we did?
Assessing the barriers
About 25 to 33 percent of private businesses worldwide are owned or operated by women, and 8 to 10 million of these are in developing countries. These businesses have the potential to create jobs and contribute to economic growth and prosperity; however, 70 percent of formal women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries do not have access to credit or are credit constrained. Women-led enterprises are also disproportionately concentrated in retail and service sectors where profits and growth opportunities are lower, compared to more profitable industries such as construction, electronics, or software. Why?
In some cases, being a woman boss can come at a personal cost.
“In the different countries we work in, there are some where it’s fairly challenging for women to access financing,” says Elena Haba, EWB’s Legal and Investment Officer. “For example, women sometimes need men to facilitate access a bank account or credit, or to use land as collateral. Due to discriminatory laws or cultural norms, women who are unmarried or unlinked to a husband or father may not have access to finance.”
As a result, women entrepreneurs may find it challenging to scale up their businesses, hire more staff, and invest in tools and assets that would make their work more effective or increase their impact.
Sexism, harassment and cultural norms guiding relationships between women and men can also create barriers to women’s business development and leadership.
“In some cases, being a woman boss can come at a personal cost,” says Elena. “You’re less likely to be seen as a desirable marriage partner, and if you reach out to men for mentorship or professional networking, whether you’re single or married, this can be misinterpreted. And it can be difficult to find women mentors as there are not many who have established businesses and leadership positions. Part of EWB’s role as an investor is to create these safe spaces where women who are just starting out can interact with more experienced women entrepreneurs so that they can learn and grow.”
Supporting women entrepreneurs benefits everyone through new innovations and services, jobs and economic growth.
While no less talented, women may also have less access to formal education than men, which can affect their competitiveness when applying for funding.
“Because women may have different educational backgrounds to men, we need to be open-minded as investors to those without traditional skill sets and diplomas,” says Elena, “as these expectations create barriers for women to qualify for funding.”
Breaking the barriers
At EWB, we try to recognize these barriers and invest in businesses that address them.
“While there are fewer women leading social enterprises, we’re trying to be intentional in targeting accelerators that are working and connecting with women entrepreneurs,” says Elena.
Bloom Impact, EWB’s latest venture, is a prime example. Bloom links individuals who don’t have access to traditional banking to financial service providers that will lend to them.
“Often there are service providers willing to work with women who face barriers to traditional financing, but there is an information gap, so many women may not know about these,” says Elena. “Bloom Impact is great platform that links SMEs to the financial services they need.”
As the lead on the Strategy and Investment team’s gender strategy, Rithu Rajan, EWB’s Gender Strategy and Investment Officer, is also helping to increase the team’s capacity to find businesses and assess them based on their ability to address gender-based inequalities.
“The aim is to go beyond traditional metrics such as how many women are leading ventures and how many women are employed by these ventures, to look at whether their products are accessible for women, meeting their needs and having a positive impact,” she says.
Ultimately, supporting women entrepreneurs benefits everyone through new innovations and services, jobs and economic growth. But women’s leadership can do more than that – it can also inspire others to dream big and make positive change.
“When men are bold or adventurous, they set a precedent only for men,” says Rithu. “When women are bold or adventurous in pursuing their dreams, they set a precedent for everyone.”
Want to see Canada do more to support women-led ventures in developing countries? Join us in asking Canada’s Minister of International Trade, François-Philippe Champagne, to #BeAdVENTUROUS!