Thursday, August 24, 2006

Encouraging women (and girls) to become an entrepreneurs

I wrote this entry while I in the middle of a conference session. August is women’s month in South Africa and there is a lot of discussion about the role of women in business taking place. Government departments and companies are also talking about initiatives they started to encourage girl-children to succeed in their chosen careers.

At the time I’m writing this blog entry, I’m at the South African Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Network’s annual conference in Sandton.

I attended because I wanted to do a story about how this organization would help women start ICT-related businesses. What was the Department of Trade and Industry doing to provide women entrepreneurs with incentives to start businesses? What was SAWEN’s role and who was invited to join this august organization?

While I found the ideologies shared at the conference admirable, I found the proceedings rather dull. It was useful content that would translate into a good article, but the majority of the audience seemed to me to be ordinary women who are either struggling to grow their businesses, or those who aspire to own businesses.

If I were them, and I have been them many times, what I would want to know is, where and how do I get resources to get started? Granted, government has a lot of initiatives that provide financing/incentives for small business people, and there are even programmes designed specifically for women. But understanding what these programmes are about in order access the money is very complicated. I wished the conference organisers had printed material that provides further information on these matters, so that participants can read up on them once they get home.

Your daughter’s entry into the business arena

But the event did get me thinking about the fate of the girl child in Africa, especially in business. According to statistics quoted by the minister of Agriculture, while women make 52% of SA population, only 41% are part of the official workforce. Only 16.8% of women are in executive management positions, 11.5% are directors of companies and 6.4% in positions of chief executive / chairperson of board.

Dismal figures, isn’t it? That’s how the world of business, where your daughter hopes to succeed one day, is like today.

So what are you going to do to give your daughter a better than average chance to succeed? As a writer, I think stories that reinforce positive images of women in business would help.

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