AS it stands, society at large is not benefiting from the full economic potential of women as women continue to be underrepresented in key industries and executive roles, they face barriers in entry to the formal economy, often suffer from discrimination, and experience challenges in balancing the demands of family and work life.
Additionally, the wage gap between men and women is significant and knows no borders. Research indicates that in the same or similar occupations with near identical background and experience, women still earn approximately 10% less than their male counterparts.
There is a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that when women do not reach their economic potential, the economies of their countries suffer.
A recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. I’m no mathematician, but the calculation is simple: without women participating in the formal economy, our economies do not grow to the extent they could or need to grow.
There are untold benefits for our continent should we really begin to seriously invest in our female employees and women entrepreneurs.
Empowering and educating women is a critical driver to social and economic development on the continent. There is untold benefit for employers to bringing on more women as a part of their workforce. Studies have shown greater access to education and participation by women in male-dominated occupations in Africa could increase worker productivity by up to 25%.
Additionally, a number of studies on teamwork and business strategy reflect that diversity in gender, race, and age of staff result in better decision-making processes and better outcomes.
Women have a unique way of humanizing the cold dynamics of business, and in addition to their core competencies, often bring much-needed “soft skills”, emotional intelligence and empathy to the workplace. It simply makes good business sense to employ women at all levels of the organizational structure.
The increased integration of women in the formal economy has a knock-on effect which elevates the status of women and her perceived value in society at large.
The ability to be in the driving seat and at the helm of decision-making processes shifts patriarchal power dynamics.
A quick scan of societies with high percentages of female participation in the economy reveals that the more influence women hold in the workplace and the more authority their voices hold, the more esteem and respect women tend to be given as a collective outside of the boardroom as well. When women’s contributions are recognized and valued from an economic perspective, a profound social shift and elevation of their status often transpires as a result.
In addition to positively impacting the overall economy and their places of work, the interactions of women in the formal economy also improve the home front as well. Women who are vibrantly engaged in the formal economy not only positively impact the financial situation of their families, but women with more education make better use of reproductive health and family planning information and services in achieving their desired family size and tend to have smaller, healthier families.
In Egypt, for example, children born to mothers with no formal education were more than twice as likely to die as those born to mothers who had completed secondary school.
It is widely known that there is a strong correlation between the level of education a woman receives, her ability to develop herself career wise and her contribution to the formal economy. However, it is also clear that her education and earning potential also influence her health and the wellbeing of her family as well.
Numerous studies have now shown that over the next decade, the global incomes of women will grow from US$13 trillion to US$18 trillion which is more than twice the GDP growth of China and India combined. McKinsey’s “Power of Parity Study” also confirmed that women’s economic contribution to global is around 37% GDP with African women contributing 39% to GDP which is slightly above the average.
These figures strongly suggest that in every corner of the world, when women are players in the economy, their families and their livelihoods are better off. This is encouraging, and we need more data points such as these, particularly for Africa.
While we intuitively know how important it is for women to be active contributors to the economy, there is very little empirical evidence quantifying contributions of women in the African economy and a dearth of reliable demographic data as well.
We have a severe knowledge gap when it comes to reliable data sets providing information geographically and sectorally.
– Which regions of the continent have the most enabling environment for female entrepreneurs and what key ingredients to this success can we share across our borders?
– What specific challenges are women facing in sectors where they are underrepresented and why?
– Which types of roles are women disproportionately not filling and why?
– Where are women making significant contributions and how can we better quantify this output?
– And where are they remaining marginalized and why?
Armed with reliable data, we will be better informed to answer questions such as these and create strategies to increase the power and presence of women, and support them more appropriately.
I would like to share a few findings from research study that my Trust completed a few months ago entitled “A Study to Explore Growth Barriers Faced by Female Entrepreneurs in East Africa”.
The aim of the study was to bridge a bit of the data gap I mentioned earlier and establish the growth barriers faced by East African female entrepreneurs that hinder them growing from micro and small enterprises to medium and large sized businesses and to inform interventions which will unleash their potential. Over 660 female entrepreneurs were surveyed across Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, and many of the findings and recommendations are relevant to the South African context as well. The study found that:
– Female entrepreneurs in our neighbouring region are: * young and well educated, * with 69% falling between 20 and 40 years of age, * and 64% in possession of either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
– They operate across a rich variety of sectors, most significantly in: * retail (17%) * agriculture (13%) and * consulting (11%).
– At least 50% of 600 businesses surveyed stated that they trade regionally and serve diversified markets.