An article published by the International Network for SMEs highlighted the importance of women to entrepreneurs. It stated that women form a very big and special market for various goods and services.
Demand for some services and products, for example in the fashion and beauty industry, is driven by female consumers.
The article went on to state the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs. The writer’s opinion is that the challenges were unique and chose to classify them separately.
However, when I went through the list I felt that the challenges were not peculiar to women but applied to both men and women entrepreneurs.
Some included a lack of experience, role models, capital, time, and relevant networks. These challenges are also experienced by male entrepreneurs.
There has been a lot of activism and support for women entrepreneurs globally and locally. The business environment has now become easier for women entrepreneurs.
At the policy and legislation level there have been a lot of changes that have made it easier for women to do business.
One significant change is in government procurement opportunities. The law is such that at least 30 percent of government procurement opportunities are reserved for women and youth-owned enterprises.
This law has made it easier for women entrepreneurs to trade in government supply opportunities.
The private sector has followed suit. Many companies support women entrepreneurs during procurement opportunities. They reserve a percentage of their opportunities for women-led entities.
There are many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that fund and offer capacity building to women-owned enterprises. It is easier for women-owned entities to access capital at competitive terms and rates.
There are many banks that have curated a special package for women entrepreneurs. Women faced the challenges of access to capital due to a lack of collateral.
In many instances, women did not have any land to offer as security for loans. The banks and financial institutions have made it easier for women to be able to access finance without necessarily having collateral.
There are many NGOs that offer capacity building for women entrepreneurs and market access opportunities.
I have been a beneficiary of some of these programmes that did not only offer capacity building but also market access opportunities, either through networking events or direct placement.
As the external business environment has shifted in favour of women-owned enterprises, how is the internal environment supporting female employees?
I have always held the view that equal rights and opportunities also include men. At times, some activists go overboard with their activism and forget to give equal treatment to men as well.
However, there are some issues worth considering in making the work environment conducive to women.
Firstly, is to have in place a gender policy that encompasses several issues. Nobody should be discriminated against on grounds of gender (this includes men too).
In the workplace, there are still some who hold chauvinistic views against women and this should be discouraged through policy.
Many organisations are embracing diversity as a value. This means that there ought to be gender balance in the workplace.
In male-dominated fields, it would be good to employ qualified and competent women as a sign of diversity.
The best gift you can give to your female staff is to put in place practices that support them. Aspects like time off for children, offering crèche for nursing mothers, maternity leave and even gifting will improve productivity.
Ms Mputhia is the founder of C Mputhia Advocates | [email protected]