Sunday marked the 59th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March and national celebrations in honour of women achievers and the strides made in women empowerment in the past two decades were the order of the day.
At the national Women’s Day celebration in Sasolburg in the Free State, President Jacob Zuma released the first report on the status of women in South Africa’s economy. Compiled by the Ministry in the Presidency responsible for Women‚ the report is a baseline document that promotes gender equality, the socioeconomic empowerment of women and the advancement of their human rights. Pres. Zuma said that there was no doubt that great strides had been made since 1994 to improve the status of women but that “notwithstanding the plethora of progressive legislation, women have not advanced as rapidly in terms of socioeconomic empowerment and gender equality as we would wish‚ and they remain the hardest hit by inequality‚ poverty and unemployment.”
As a force for economic growth, femtrepreneurship has gained momentum across the world and SA is no exception. The bulk of the available data on female entrepreneurs comes from studies in developed economies. In the developing world – and in South Africa specifically – research in this area is skewed towards the informal sector.
SBP’s SME Growth Index is a comprehensive and unique study of the SME community in South Africa. It is a multi-year research project on the dynamics of the country’s under-examined formal SME sector and is geared towards establishing an evidence-based understanding of South Africa’s SMEs.
Now in its fourth year, the SME Growth Index is constructed from a survey of a randomly-selected panel of 500 firms, employing between 10 and 50 people in the manufacturing, business services and tourism sectors. These sectors are deemed to have value-adding potential. The SME Growth Index focuses on established firms rather than start-ups or survivalist enterprises because it is, largely, from established businesses that South Africa’s growth and developmental benefits will be sustained. In a November 2013 occasional paper, insights gleaned from the SME growth index, presented interesting, if not disconcerting, key points about SA’s women-owned companies.
- Women-owned firms are in the minority in SA and are heavily concentrated in the tourism sector.
- Firms owned by women tend to be smaller than those owned by men, both in terms of turnover and number of employees. The average turnover of a woman-owned firm in the study was R8.2m, considerably lower than the R12.1m average turnover among firms owned by men
- Women-owned firms are significantly smaller in terms of employee numbers. The average woman-owned firm employs 23.1 people, while firms owned by men employ an average of 29.6
- Firms owned by women tend to have been operating for a shorter period than those owned by men.
- Motivations for starting a business vary almost infinitely but generally women are motivated to a higher degree than equally qualified men to become entrepreneurs for family-related lifestyle reasons; they are less motivated than men by wealth creation and advancement reasons.
- Women fall behind men in relation to previous specific entrepreneurial experience
SA and the US exhibit similar traits in terms of femtrepreneurship. A recent report on women-owned businesses in the US found that that there are just over 9.4 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.5 trillion in revenues and employing over 7.9 million people. Women-owned firms are found in all sectors of the economy. However, the greatest number of women-owned firms is found in health care and social assistance.
Women-owned firms account for 30% of all enterprises in the US, and are growing faster in number and employment than most other firms. Despite this fact, women-owned firms only employ 6% of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4% of business revenues – roughly the same share they contributed in 1997. When large, publicly-traded firms are excluded, women-owned firms comprise 31% of the privately-held firm population and contribute 14% of employment and 12% of revenues.
While it’s comforting to see that SA and US are, relative mirror images of each other, it’s the continued polishing of the femtrepreneurship mirror, by supporting new and existing women-owned firms, that will ensure that their glistening potency is appropriately reflected.