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‘GCC needs to do more for female entrepreneurs’

Women-in-business

Study reveals unique barriers for women to open businesses.

December 22, 2013 2:37 by



In the GCC region, men are more than twice as likely then women to set up their own business, according to new research by Tahseen Consulting, adding that women face a number of obstacles that serve to depress female entrepreneurship rates.

Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer at Tahseen Consulting and author of the study, says female entrepreneurship rates in the Gulf region are much lower than other countries, including Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and Latin America.

He adds that rates of female entrepreneurship are underestimated in some countries due to female-operated, informal, home-based businesses, which are not captured by official statistics.

“However, traditional beliefs about the role of women and familial obligations remain a barrier to increased levels of entrepreneurship,” he adds.

The study indicates that female entrepreneurs face gender-specific barriers that reduce their abilities to start a business, which persist beyond the start-up stage. While businesswomen networks have emerged in a number of GCC countries – which provide training and support for female entrepreneurs – many of these networks are still in their infancy, and face funding and participation challenges.

The research further notes that women also face unique obstacles to obtain critical resources, such as funding, to grow their businesses.

Many GCC nations have recently developed education programmes to develop young people’s interests and capabilities in entrepreneurship and, increasingly, many focus on women.

However, entrepreneurship and active labour market programmes in the region often lack gender-based design features, monitoring and evaluation systems to make them effective, the study adds.

Across the region, entrepreneurship and active labour market programmes rarely track results disaggregated by gender or follow participants over time to understand how female entrepreneurs’ businesses fare compared with those of men. The study adds that GCC countries require more female-friendly entrepreneurship policies and entrepreneurship centres that cater specifically to women’s needs.

During the recent SME Congress and Expo in Abu Dhabi, an all-women panel told aspiring female entrepreneurs to “look beyond cupcakes”.

During the final day of the conference, the panel of entrepreneurs agreed that the cost of failure is high for entrepreneurs in the UAE, regardless of gender.

“If you look at many other countries around the world, the cost of buying a licence is relatively low. You can start in your back room and get your licence,” says Stevi Lowmass, founder of Essential Soaps and former managing director at networking group Heels & Deals.

“For me to start my manufacturing business, I had to get a licence, premises and a sponsor. You have to sell a lot of soaps to cover that cost. The cost of failure is so much higher here because all of the costs are upfront.”

The panelists also pointed out that the UAE was a great environment for women entrepreneurs to thrive in. Lowmass noted that while she did face challenges when setting up a business, none of them were gender related.

“I have had more difficulties in the UK and South Africa than over here,” she said, speaking to sister publication SMEinfo.me at the sidelines of the event. She added that being a female entrepreneur in the UAE was actually a positive advantage and other women entrepreneurs would agree.



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