There is a sharp imbalance among Africa’s self-employed workers. Despite women making up well over half (58%) of those self-employed across the continent, male entrepreneurs are still being given more growth opportunities, along with access to funding and training.
This is reinforced by the recent Profiting from Parity report by World Bank, which revealed that women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa are still earning less than men, averaging at 34% less overall. This, despite sub-Saharan Africa being the only region where women make up the majority of the entrepreneurial population.
With this imbalance laid out in numbers, what does this mean for women planning on setting up on their own in 2021? Is there a way forward?
A Growing Trend
The growing number of female entrepreneurs embarking on their own start-ups isn’t new. However, it’s a trend that has gathered pace in recent years. In 2017, the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs listed two African countries as having the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs worldwide. Uganda and Botswana saw females leading the charge, with both countries taking up almost 355 of the global share each.
While on the surface, these numbers are encouraging, this entrepreneurship is borne out of necessity. Most if these enterprises that make up such a significant share are small businesses and there is little room for growth – especially where funding and training can go to male counterparts instead.
The 2017 MasterCard report echoed this issue: ‘necessity driven women entrepreneurs [who] tap on business segments that are usually non-knowledge or innovation-oriented within their local environment, which effectively allow them to avoid financial, regulatory or technical constraints.’
So, four years on, where do women stand?
Despite there still being an inequality between female and male entrepreneurs in Africa in 2021, women are considered a better investment than men in many ways. Women across the continent have had to innovate to earn money, which is why they are more likely to run start-ups than men. As a result, 5% of CEOs in Africa are women – just over the global average of 4%.
The Tech Gap
While African female business owners and leaders are likely to thrive, there are certain sectors that are still seeing slow progress. One of the major sectors that is seeing a very gradual shift is STEM. According to a report by PwC, there is an imbalance between the proportion of females to males who graduate in STEM subjects in South Africa. Women are underrepresented in maths, ICT, and technology.
This filters through to the workplace, where tech companies continue to be male-dominated. Funding for these tech companies is skewed in men’s favour, with less than 5% of funding for African start-ups going to companies with female leaders in 2019.
The Main Start-Up Sectors for African Women
To redress the balance, education might hold the key. STEM is not out of reach for female entrepreneurs, but it starts in the classroom. For women to go into STEM and be seen as a serious contender in the field, higher education in Africa must celebrate female interest in these subjects.
Another form of education will be around ‘soft skills’. ShEquity is one organisation that is teaching skills such as communication, leadership, and presentation training – all of which are key business tools.
While this will be a slow education process, there are other industries and sectors that are seeing a surge in interest. One of the major sectors to see interest from African women is forex.
Women across the continent are using forex brokers to get involved in trading. They are likely taking inspiration from female traders such as Nelisiwe Masango. She is one of the most successful female South African forex traders and has set up three financial companies that aim to raise financial awareness for women in South Africa.
There is also Nobuhle Catherine Anajemba, Africa’s Richest Forex Woman. She mentors people in forex, binary options, and cryptocurrencies. Botswana’s Reabetswe Shongwe, meanwhile, is one of the most successful women in finance and trading.
For women to advance in entrepreneurship, finance and accessing the forex markets could be the way forward in the coming years. This holds potential for African females, giving an opportunity to become financially savvy and resolve the imbalance between them and their male equivalents.