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Empower women entrepreneurs to shape tech development

Women entrepreneurs: Pictured from the left are Buhle Tshasilanye from Maria Grace Cares, Anja Gregori from Peach Payments, and Ashleigh Butterworth and Taryn Augoustatos, both from Finch Technologies. Photos: Supplied/Ventureburn
Pictured from the left are Buhle Tshasilanye from Maria Grace Cares, Anja Gregori from Peach Payments, and Ashleigh Butterworth and Taryn Augoustatos, both from Finch Technologies. Photos: Supplied/Ventureburn

Women entrepreneurs have made great strides in overcoming gender-related challenges and growing their businesses in an ever-changing economic climate.

According to the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, there has been improvements in rankings for both cultural perceptions of women entrepreneurs (up 9 places to rank 37th) and competitiveness (up 3 places to rank 25th) globally.

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However, despite these successes, South Africa still falls by the wayside when it comes to its entrepreneurial framework indicator, having dropped two places since 2020 (rank 54). This indicator is based on access to infrastructure and ease of access to skilled employees.

In addition to the never-ending gender biases thrown their way, women entrepreneurs also face inevitable issues such as a high tax rate, load shedding business disturbance and a rocky political landscape.

In an effort to help women entrepreneurs thrive in South Africa, Ventureburn asked a couple of powerhouse women for their insights on how to take a step up.

Tech development assists women-owned businesses

According to the Digital Gender Gap, 60% of the global GDP is set to be digitised in 2022. This alone proves how critical it is for women entrepreneurs to get on the digital train. Technology plays an essential role in making sure that business growth is accessible.

Harvard Business Review found that access to tech is not only fuel for business growth but also a key driver in accelerating global gender equality. The UN echoed this sentiment, by making technology a crucial part of its innovation strategy for 2018 to 2021. Women entrepreneurs all over the world are using technology to get a step ahead. However, a missing piece of the puzzle remains skills development.

In South Africa, specifically, action needs to be taken to drastically improve the training and support that is available to women-owned businesses, so that they can access and utilise new technologies.

A sad reality in sub-Saharan Africa is that a majority of women entrepreneurs barely make ends meet, and very often are not found in the formal business sector. These women predominantly operate in the informal sector with very limited opportunities available to increase their profits, and this is where technology can play a significant role.

“Womxn in business usually play many roles in their lives, therefore needing structures that can empower and enable them to create efficiencies,” says Buhle Tshasilanye, founder of the skincare line Maria Grace Cares.

“Another added benefit of introducing tech into one’s business is the changing demographics of the consumer profile – as business owners, we have to stay relevant by meeting the tech-savvy consumer base halfway and in a way that differentiates you from your competitors.

“Mobile phones and digital platforms are already benefiting women entrepreneurs: connecting them to markets, providing multi-lingual training, and facilitating their collective action.”

According to a high-level UN panel, if technology is implemented effectively, it provides an opportunity for growth in this sector. Entrepreneurship is empowering for anyone no matter their gender. For women it’s especially empowering in terms of flexibility, being able to take control of their business journey as well as pursuing whatever other passions they may have. Technology adoption in Africa has also made it easier for women to balance their family responsibilities with their careers and skills upliftment.

“Working in a diverse team and organisation fosters varied solutions to business problems, such as those faced by women entrepreneurs. A team of diverse individuals will also provide you access to greater creativity and broader skill sets, ensuring inclusion across the product development process,” adds Anja Gregori, product Manager at Peach Payments.

On the flip side, another contributor to accelerating global gender equality in the business sector is correcting the underrepresentation of women in tech. South Africa needs more women designing products with women business owners in mind.

Ashleigh Butterworth, a content marketing specialist at Finch Technologies, says “Inclusive product design starts with ensuring that the teams building these products are diverse and truly understand the needs of the end user. Organisations need to ensure that their hiring process both attracts and propels more women into tech roles.”

If you can’t see it, you can’t be it

Role models and mentors are crucial for entrepreneurs, especially for women business owners where there aren’t as many women leaders to look up to. It’s alarming that there were only four women CEOs among the top 40 JSE-listed companies in 2021. In addition to that, only 5% of all listed companies have a women CEO.

So, how do we get more women into leadership roles, and how do more women become thriving and successful entrepreneurs? Every bit of advice, and guidance is essential on your business journey, but role models you resonate with, give you that extra boost of confidence to reach your goals. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, is a phrase that too perfectly fits the women in business narrative – budding entrepreneurs need to be able to talk to women who have gone through and overcome the same challenges as them.

Taryn Augoustatos, CFO at Finch Technologies, says, “You need to start the conversation from a young age – young girls who want to become business owners and/ or leaders need role models, be that SheEOs of large corporates or women who have grown their small start-ups into JSE listed companies. They need to see that these success stories exist, so that they can strive to become one themselves.”

Tips on how to stand out from your male counterparts, how to put together an innovative business plan that investors can’t resist, or simply how to get people to buy into your product – are all valuable questions best answered by people who have walked a similar path to yourself.

There is no doubt that women are integral in driving our economy forward, in order to do this there need to be structures in place that facilitate their success. Providing mentoring opportunities and technological advances are some of the many steps that can help budding shepreneurs succeed.

ALSO READ: The power of she-networking and women-focused funding

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