Looking into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how being a woman has helped shape their journey.
Did you know that, according to The World Bank, Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs?[i] Yet, in South Africa, where women constitute more than half of the population, they are far less likely to run businesses of their own. In fact, only nine out of every 100 women in South Africa are actively involved in entrepreneurship.[ii] This is because women-led businesses tend to receive less attention than their male counterparts.[iii] So this month, Stellenbosch Network sat down with four of the community’s top female business leaders to shine a light on what encouraged them to become an entrepreneur and how being a woman has helped shape their journey.
“Working for someone else has its own benefits, but I’ve always been more interested in building something for myself,” adds Lizanne du Plessis. As the Founder and Managing Director of Eco Africa Digital, she oversees both the internal workings and client relationships of the company. “It’s not easy though – as an entrepreneur, you forgo the support systems that come with being an employee, and instead are expected to provide them yourself. This comes with a lot of challenges, choices and headaches which need patience and most importantly passion. You’ve got to be prepared to go the extra mile.”
For Lynne Rippenaar-Moses, the Founder and Managing Director of PR and communications agency, Wrap It Up PR & Communications, the presence of women entrepreneurs at home, mixed with a desire to use her skills to make a difference in society, inspired her to become an entrepreneur herself. “I was influenced in particular by my grandmother, who was a businesswoman at a time when there weren’t many businesswomen. She co-owned a fish shop with my grandfather and was as immersed in the daily running of the business as he was, if not more so. She was very independent for her time and motivated me to use my skills to help others communicate better.”
One of the key challenges of becoming an entrepreneur is building trust with experienced businesspeople, says Fran Vosloo, Co-Founder and Director of Finleys Outsourced Business Services and Finleys Recruitment. “There are lots of good opportunities out there for women entrepreneurs, but it is often challenging to prove to older corporate types that you can do the job properly, especially if you are younger. Many will try to bully you into an unfavourable position and better deal for themselves. This is why it is important to have the right team to back you up – it makes a world of difference.”
Adds Rippenaar-Moses: “Women are often criticised for being too aggressive or too soft, instead of being evaluated on how effective we are as leaders. Women of colour experience even greater challenges because your abilities are also judged based on the colour of your skin. I have experienced sexism and racism, and while challenging the status quo is important, walking away from spaces where I am not valued has been really self-empowering. Sexism, like racism, ‘distracts you from doing your work and keeps you occupied with explaining your reason for being’ – women have more important things to do than explain our worth.”
To deal with these misperceptions of female professional prowess, it is important to be true to yourself, adds Vosloo: “Just be you and don’t try to be anything else. Know your self-worth and what you are capable of, and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know – it’ll only give you more credibility as people will see that you are upfront and honest. You are no less capable as a woman, but no one expects you to know everything.”
But it’s not just in the workplace that women find themselves encumbered – women entrepreneurs also face similar challenges at home when developing their business collides with family expectations and responsibilities. Says Faeeza Arnolds, the founder of Pretti Sweet Treats bakery: “As a woman, we are also expected to take on certain household and family duties, which complicate the balance between one’s work and family life. As a businesswoman, it takes a lot of time to build your own business, but as a mother, it is equally important to spend time with your children and family. It is difficult because you have to do both at the same time. However, I have found that adequate planning has helped me a lot in this area.”
While good organisation is key, du Plessis suggests finding a mentor to help guide you through the process. “In my experience, having someone who has done it all before is hugely beneficial. The value of being able to bounce questions or problems off someone else gives you a bigger overview of your options and outcomes, and is an opportunity to learn.”
To find out more about these women, or to become a Stellenbosch Network member and gain support from a community of female entrepreneurs, go to www.stellenboschnetwork.co.za