Challenges Women Face In Business

“Shetrades is a global movement created to connect more women with the economy.” This is the how Arancha Gonzales, founder of Shetrades started her speech a few Fridays ago at the ShetradesKe Launch. Then she went on to explain how over the last number of years there have been systems put into place to fight violence against women, to put more women in politics, and to educate more women and girls but the missing link in all of this is the economy. There has been nothing placed to address the constraints that limit the ability of women to be part of the economy, and this is where Shetrades comes in.

 Gillianne Obaso of Ma Phoebe's Sauces -
Gillianne Obaso of Ma Phoebe’s Sauces

However what are some of the challenges that are specific to women in the area of entrepreneurship, business, economics, and SME’s? Well, in brief, some of the concerns women raised during the launch is how they are treated by men in the business or economic sphere. Culture has deemed them irrational, emotional, and unfit to run a business with a clear head. So when a man sees a pregnant woman giving a presentation he doesn’t take her seriously. When a job is being posted, priority will be given to the male over the female. It seems that even the government and such public institutions are designed to help the man’s SME over the woman’s.  These are just a few of the points that prove how women economic empowerment is sorely lacking in our society.

Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development seems to understand this as he explained that even with good intentions, while making policies, details are overlooked because of a cultural ‘forgetfulness’ or as he says ‘collective amnesia’. The sad truth is that women are thus always left out, and left behind to struggle to attain the same level of societal respect as the man in the economy world.  To even unlock the full potential of any given society every person who has an idea or desire to solve a problem offered by the society must be given a fair shot regardless of gender.

There are several main issues but here are a few that occur worldwide to the woman in business.

  1. Struggling to own your accomplishments. The communal, consensus-building qualities encouraged in young girls can leave women unintentionally downplaying their own worth. It is ingrained as women to leave some things for the boys so when we succeed at those things we almost feel too ashamed to share our success with the world. Molly MacDonald, founder and CEO of The Mobile Locker Co., a start-up that provides personal storage for events, said she has always found it difficult to convey her own worth as a leader… “When I talk about the company … I always find myself saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, I know I have fallen into this pattern for two reasons: Using the first person to discuss successes feels to me as if I’m bragging, and I cannot shake the idea that if someone knows it’s just me in control, the value of what we do will go down.” Girls need to be taught to own their accomplishments and not to dumb down to avoid bruising a man’s ego.
  1. Balancing Business and Family Life. Work-life balance is a goal of many entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, but mothers who start businesses have to simultaneously run their families and their companies. And in this area, traditional gender expectations often still prevail. In general, men are judged by how well they do in their careers, while women are judged by how well they excel with family, friends, ‘looking their best’ and, if they work, their career. Thus the stakes are higher and it’s almost as if society is waiting for them to crash, burn, and give up the business idea to just focus on the family. The only way women can handle this is to take the challenge head on. Understand that mistakes will be made and that is okay because they are under more obligations. Also know that cultural gender perceptions of a woman’s priorities are not the definition of a woman’s priorities, and she gets to determine what her priorities are.
  1. Being Taken Advantage off. As mentioned previously there’s a lot of stereotyping that goes with being a woman in the area of entrepreneurship. Some may presume, and have presumed that it is easier to ‘handle’ a woman than a man. Thus as a woman you have to be extra wary, watching for predators who think a woman can’t be a valid boss or run a successful business. Women have to be decisive. Let your no be no and your yes be yes in the work field. Women also have to understand the technicalities of their business. They have to be able to defend its validity in any given scenario where it is more likely to be questioned because of its woman-owned status.
  1. Limited Access to Funding. Business Daily shares how not all start-up founders look for investors to help get their businesses off the ground, but those who do know how difficult the pitching process can be. Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned firms. “Women face greater obstacles than men when starting and growing businesses, especially when it comes to receiving angel and venture capital. Though it might be unintentional, men fund people who look and sound just like them, and the consequences are just as harmful as if there was malicious aforethought. Guidelines and organizations must thus be set in place to make funding women a requirement, and/or a priority. Shetrades is one such initiative.
  1. Women supporting women. One of the problems that women can actually do something about is supporting each other in the business arena. Lack of networking opportunities and mentors cause a lot more failure than we know. It’s hard enough climbing the corporate ladder as an individual, as a woman even harder, so why make a woman do it by herself? When one has reached the top of the corporate ladder they should bring down a hand to help lift other women up…
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