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Anyone who’s attended a South African startup event in the past few years is all too aware of the fact that there’s still a massive gender disparity in the space. A 2013 survey by the Silicon Cape initiative revealed that among tech startups, some 80% of people involved in the space are male.
That’s slightly worrying given that, on the whole, female entrepreneurs are closing the gap on their male counterparts. According to the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, some 58% of South Africa’s entrepreneurs were men and 42% women.
The report also suggests that, “female entrepreneurs are generally more satisfied: on average they exhibit higher scores on subjective well-being and work-life balance. Taking this information, a more even gender balance in entrepreneurship could imply a better work-life balance for society”.
It makes sense therefore that the South African tech scene should be encouraging as many women to start businesses as it possibly can. While initiatives like the website Women in Tech and Black Girls Code are helping celebrate the people currently there and look after the future, it seems possible that there may still be a gap in providing support for those looking to actually get into business.
One possible way of providing this support is through mentorship programmes involving existing female entrepreneurs.
The numbers around mentorship speak for themselves – research has shown that 80% of entrepreneurs who have mentors working alongside them survive long term, versus only 45% who don’t have a mentor. By ensuring that women who enter into entrepreneurial pursuits are supported through either formal or informal mentorship programmes, we can increase the success rate of women-owned businesses and then encourage more women to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits.
One organisation looking to increase the number of women starting their own businesses is the Hope Factory, which claims to have mentored 144 businesses in Port Elizabeth and 43 in Johannesburg, seeing an increase of 65% in the profits of the Johannesburg businesses.
“Mentorship is so important for the long-term success of a business – and the development of the business owner. We believe that more mentorship programmes are needed to help encourage women to take up the entrepreneurial challenge,” says the group’s CEO Annie McWalter.
While mentorship could certainly play a big role in increasing the number of female entrepreneurs in the tech space, it’s worth noting that it’s not a magic bullet and it still remains down to the space as a whole to make itself more amenable to women playing a role.