Thinking Outside the (Glass) Box this Women’s Day – the importance of female entrepreneurship | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Thinking Outside the (Glass) Box this Women’s Day – the importance of female entrepreneurship

Thinking Outside the (Glass) Box this Women’s Day – the importance of female entrepreneurship

Class of 2012 Graduation
The women of the Allan Gray Fellowship’s Class of 2012.

On the 9th of August 1956 approximately 50 000 South African women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act, or what commonly became known as the pass laws.  Historically, women have always proven to be iconic figures in bringing about change.  Despite this, employment statistics and entrepreneurial activity do not reflect this.

In a 2011 paper titled, Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, author Lesa Mitchell reports that in the USA, women were basically half as entrepreneurially active i.e. involved in starting a business in a given month, as their male counterparts (on average 0.44% men versus 0.24% women in the working-age population.)  Additionally, the overall share of entrepreneurial activity sits at 64.7% for men and 35.3% for women.

Closer to home, the South African early-stage entrepreneurial activity gender gap hasn’t changed since 2002.  According to the South African Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report 2013, the relative proportion of female early stage entrepreneurs has shifted 1% from 41% in 2002 to 42% in 2013. And at the highest level when was the last female winner of the South African EY Entrepreneur of the Year?

Dell in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute released The Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development index for 2014 which is a 30-country analysis of the conditions that foster high-potential* female entrepreneurship.  South Africa was placed 11th in this ranking with a score of 42 (tying with South Korea and China).  In a country that aspires to leadership in gender equality as enshrined in our constitution, this is not good enough.  As a country crippled by unemployment and therefore even more dependent on the well documented benefit of high potential entrepreneurship we cannot tolerate half our population not fully maximising their entrepreneurial potential. Simply, we need more high-potential female entrepreneurs!

The report provides the following recommendations as opportunities for improvement:

  1. Breaking up monopolies in the business environment that crowd out newcomers; and,
  2. Improve the use of and investment in new technologies.
  3. Increase opportunities for and shift attitudes towards women in senior management and decision making positions.
  4. Develop and support programmes that promote female entrepreneurs’ equal access to finance and the resources to grow.

Women have always been told about breaking through glass ceilings and glass walls, however, I prefer the challenge posed by Geri Stengel in the title of her book: Forget The Glass Ceiling: Build Your Business Without One.

As we celebrate this woman’s month and the tenacity and bravery shown by those who marched on 9th August 1956, the challenge we put forward is that we need to grow and encourage not only entrepreneurship, but specifically high-potential female entrepreneurs1 who are actively creating and growing enterprises which are creating sustainable jobs.  With around 55% of the Allan Gray Fellowship being female, the Foundation is ready and waiting to take advantage of this shift. What’s your contribution to unleashing this pool of potential?  I look forward to reading your comments.


1. High-potential Definition: The Gender-GEDI identifies high potential female entrepreneurs as women who own and operate businesses that are innovative, market expanding and export oriented. Through their entrepreneurial activities, high-potential female entrepreneurs not only contribute to improving their own economic welfare but to the economic and social fabric of society through job creation, innovative products, processes, and services, and cross border trade.

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  • Lungile 08/08/2014 at 7:07 pm

    So proud to see the Fellowship engaging with these gender issues. I believe awareness can be the greatest catalyst for changing the status quo, especially in the Foundation. As young women, we have so so much to offer in the entrepreneurial space – It is articles like these that will make us realize that it is time we rose to occasion, put ourselves out there and got our own ventures going. I am looking forward to seeing increased participation from the 55% female fellows over the coming years. We too,like those iconic women of 1956, will make our mark. Our time is now!

    • Anthony Farr 09/08/2014 at 10:55 am

      Lungile – thanks for adding your voice to this matter. Indeed the time is now. Look forward to seeing you and many others rise to the moment.

  • Anthony Farr 26/08/2014 at 11:28 am

    Another interesting global development in support of female entrepreneurship – 19th November 2014 – Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

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