Last year I watched the Movie “Suffragate” and I was moved to tears. (Yes even behind this bravado I cry sometimes.) This movie details how British women fought for the right to vote. What was most profound was that some of them were divorced, dismissed from work and even died fighting for their cause. To cut a long dreary story short, the Representation of the People’s Act of 1918 saw British Women over 30 gain the vote.
Gratefully, women in the 21st Century and late 20th Century, women do not need to go through this ordeal to vote. The battles in sub-Saharan Africa are of a different kind. Though social and political battles are ever present, economic mêlées are also prominent in a largely poverty stricken space, where women are largely financially excluded. According to the World Bank, the cost of gender exclusion in the sub region is estimated at US$2,5 trillion.
However, women have made a lot of headway on the Enterprise Development side. By large, a positive enabling policy environment has enabled women to achieve economic independence. The United Nations has a department dedicated to women (United Nations Women) while countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are supposed to have ministries dedicated to women issues.
Most importantly, however, the rate of women entrepreneurship has increased. I am proud to announce that, MasterCard’s Annual Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) ranks Uganda and Ghana and Botswana as the countries with the most women entrepreneurs in the world.
They are all ranked first, second and third respectively on the Women Entrepreneurship Global Rankings. The World Bank Group, also notes that women entrepreneurship has made “significant contributions to poverty alleviation”. Research has also indicated that the number of women-owned enterprises is growing by 4 percent every year since 2017.
In addition, according to a World Bank Report on Women Gender and Enterprise Development in sub-Saharan Africa, by Francisco Campos and Marine Gassier, “Women in Africa are more likely to be self-employed than to be wage workers because opportunities for employment are limited”.
However, despite these positive achievements, I would like to contend that there are certain practises and “tinges” that are gender related that make women their own worst enemies in terms of business development and they lag behind their male counterparts.
According to an article by Abdulwahab Bin Shmailan, writing in the “Journal of Entrepreneurship and Organisation Management”, key differences range from; decision making processes, business focus, propensity for risk, management style and sectors involved in.
Men tend to focus on the economic reasons for making money and women on the other hand tend to mix philanthropy and profit.
In terms of management practices, men tend to be more task and result oriented while females focus on building relationships. In general, men have a propensity for more risks while women are generally risk adverse. Men are also more willing to fail in business, a condition that women struggle with.
According to Professor Ethan Mollick, a management professor at Wharton; “When it comes to thinking up new ideas upon which to start a business and having the skills to turn a start-up into a success, men and women begin on a level playing field.”
However, somewhere along the lines, men tend to do better than women. Professor Mollick, also notes that, males have a fundamental belief that they can sometimes succeed where others fail.
This kind of confidence is called Greek Style Hubris, the idea of unfounded self-confidence. And according to Mollick: “In order to be an entrepreneur you have to be overconfident. You have to believe that you are better than everyone around you.”
Women on the other hand have lower levels of hubris than their male counterparts and tend to be more humble about their businesses and their achievements. This seemingly lack of self-confidence can be detrimental to their growth.
Well, SODECO went into the streets to uncover this female versus male business success phenomena. You have guessed right!! My male SME respondents rubbed their hands with glee. Finally they had met a woman who understands them and that women “should really stop trying to be like man”.
Women sniggered and pouted on this one though I met a few like Chipo Mashingaidze who called a spade a spade, and posted a very powerful video on our whatsapp group, on how women shoot themselves in the foot over the way they handle business. The whole group went silent!!!
Through my various interactions and observations with women with my Foundation Attara, which I solely founded to develop women businesses at grassroots level, I have picked some unsavoury tendencies by women that constrict them from growing their businesses. This research is unique to the Zimbabwean context and was meant to add to the body of knowledge on why women enterprises lag behind their male counterparts.
According to Simba one of my mentees, this is a “dirty conversation that needs to be said”. (A dirty conversation is that conversation which people are afraid to indulge in but are itching to have. It normally leaves a lot of disgruntlement and controversy in its wake.)
Poor network systems
Although there are a few women business networks in Zimbabwe such as PROWEB, they tend to be poorly knit pockets of social gatherings rather than beneficial entrepreneurial webs. At grassroots level these networks are virtually non-existent. Male networks tend to be more useful and stronger.
In full, PHD means “Pull Her Down Syndrome”. This syndrome comes in many facets. The first form is when women totally refuse to divulge useful information that will help each other. My sisters within the Cross Border Traders (CBT) take the trophy for this one. Picture this scenario, a first time CBT strikes a conversation in the bus with a veteran.
They promise to help her navigate around that fearful city of Johannesburg. However, when they reach Johannesburg, the veterans disappear and leave her stranded. — Petty competitions and denigration of each other’s businesses.
And my most favourite, the refusal to just congratulate and encourage another woman are also key attitudinal weaknesses. Petty jealousies and unnecessary competition are also other symptoms of this disease.
The Mrs versus the Ms Syndrome
Marriage is a big thing in Africa. Once, when I was working for an SME association, I conducted a workshop and handed some forms to be completed thereafter by participants. One married woman, however, burst out and surreptitiously told the whole audience that “she had to give the forms to ‘Shewe’ (respectful term for one’s husband)”. This sparked off vicious reprisals by some widows and single mothers who were in the group.
The workshop ended as one big mess. If possible, women should keep their social standings away from the business environment. It’s rare to hear men bragging that they are married. On my part, I sincerely have no problem with “Shewe” giving the go ahead for forms to be signed but if you are to make another woman feel inadequate in a business development workshop because of their marital status then I can be a bit vicious.
The biz-hopping syndrome
Biz-hopping is a phenomena that I am going to delve in, in later articles. The economic situation in Zimbabwe exacerbates this syndrome to some extent. In Zimbabwe, we grew those potatoes in the sack, and then we hoped on to quail birds. (I had 100 of them, beautiful clever creatures which I was reluctant to eat). Some have dabbled in a bit of network marketing, Cross border trading.
These days a lot of women are making juice. Somewhere along the road a woman needs roots. Diversifying within a sector in itself is not much a problem. For example, if one is in the events industry offering a full service portfolio of events such as cake making, catering, décor is not a problem. But one needs to take roots in some sector.
men more for same
work done by other women
Well this has happened to me thrice on consulting assignments. Even so I was the one who had done the bulk of the work. In the same breadth, women still believe that they cannot lead each other preferring instead to have males lead them in some organisations. I know a certain regional organisation that has a majority of male executives on the board with the bulk of its members being female. Chipo Mashingaidze has this observation; “We are scared to genuinely lead because we fear the attention and potential criticisms. To some degree, women are just reluctant to see another woman lead.”
A broiler is just happy being fed and being eaten, and that makes it one of the most “unambitious animals I know”. In the same breadth women are just happy to stay within the confines of their small industries. Again according to Aquilina, women seem to accept being second best. She points out that, When it comes to business our initial efforts are smiled upon indulgently and taken as “pet projects” by most men until the money starts rolling in. In addition Edzai another businesswoman believes that women need to negotiate strongly and earn what they deserve.
In conclusion, I am not saying women should leave the qualities that distinctly defines us, but like the British women I mentioned earlier, the fight is on to build long lasting businesses that will outlast us and are generational. To that end we need to think and act like men. Chipo Mashingaidze dares anyone to “do something bold, put on those high heels and just do it”.
Joseline Sithole is an SME Consultant and founder of Southern Africa Development Consultants (SODECO). For comments write to her on [email protected] or whatsapp +263773634062