- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Treat us differently but equally!

Belgium, is the worst performers in Europe when it comes to the number of female entrepreneurs. And Europe is the worst of the world. It’s high time that changed.

In Europe, women make up 60% of university graduates. Globally, they are better educated than men. They have 80% of the purchasing power on consumer goods. So women ARE the market. There are almost as many working women as there are men. In the US women exceed men.
The better a woman is educated, the better her chances of working. Female entrepreneurs also tend to come from the richest areas in every country but on average, they earn 20% less than men.

We urgently need to address the issue that women experience in accessing financial capital.
When capital is needed (“real” capital and not micro-credits!) in order to create a company or expand it, there are very few women. The “Female Entrepreneurship Index” (GEDI 2015) reveals that Belgium scores particularly badly when it comes to female entrepreneurship in the sector of technology and that Europe scores badly among growth businesses.

Worldwide, businesses created and managed by women have a lower failure rate than those managed by men. And yet, they are half as likely to be financed than men. A study by DELL this year revealed that in the US, only 3% of startups that had benefitted from venture capital had a female CEO. More generally, female entrepreneurs only receive 4% of venture capital (no figure for Europe).

Female entrepreneurs primarily create their own job and very seldom jobs for others. So they are mostly self-employed sole traders and very few are heads of companies. Female entrepreneurs are especially interested in using their skills but not in earning huge amounts of money. These statements could be considered to be engendering stereotypes, but they are however, confirmed by all European statistics.
Of course, we cannot simply have a model of entrepreneurship that strives only for financial success and for big egos, but the impact of considering female entrepreneurs as if they were men, is that we do not take into account their specific characteristics nor give them the necessary leverage so that they can use their skills and expertise to the benefit of the whole economy.

Two major elements indicate that women are not the same as men

– Women still carry out 3/4 of all unpaid work. In France and Belgium women spend 1.5 hours per day more than their partners on household tasks and family management. That’s around 10 hours a week or 40 hours a month! The result: they sleep less and have less time for leisure activities.

– For centuries, the woman’s role was to bear children and raise the family. They were only considered housewives and mothers. It is only in the last 50 years that women have had the freedom to work in every job at every level. But each of us still bears the scars of that primary responsibility for the family and we feel a lack of legitimacy at work as if it wasn’t “our natural place”. This deep-rooted and often unconscious impression leads to a much stronger sense of guilt than men feel and tends to prevent us from showing, and makes us doubt our abilities.

The CEO of ImagePlus quoted an entrepreneurship guru who says that to be a successful entrepreneur you have to have the mindset of a navy elite soldier or a pirate … I’m not sure that many women see themselves as Jack Sparrow. The majority of us identify more with the beautiful Elisabeth Swann who seduces the pirate and helps in his adventures but doesn’t lead them.
This is indicative of everything that is expected of a talented entrepreneur. The result is that almost all women who provided comments during the survey by Impulse (the Brussels agency for entrepreneurship) highlighted that they were “not taken seriously” by those they spoke to about their entrepreneurial aspirations. When JUMP carried out the only national survey for the self-employed, one woman wrote to us the following: “Treat us differently, but equally”. During the two days of the Brussels Business Days, no one expressed an opinion or proposal to specifically target female entrepreneurs. This highlights the lack of attention for this issue, not that it doesn’t exist.

So what can we do so that our economy benefits from women’s talent?

A whole host of measures are needed, such as…
– A better status for the self-employed that protects, for example, maternity as well as for employees.
– A communications campaign that encourages women to take the path to become an entrepreneur as well as a continued watchful eye on those who have already made this choice. We need “role models” of women of all ages and backgrounds to convince others that “it is possible”!
– An event that brings together entrepreneurs and a website that regroups articles linked to their concerns ( www.womeninbusiness.be is a start).

3 actions to take which are the cornerstones of any action plan:

1. Measure
– If we seriously want to change things we first have to know situation we are dealing with. We need figures on different types of entrepreneurs: such as tradespeople and professionals, and to know clearly how many women own their own companies and are really responsible for managing them. How many do export; how many have employees; their sector of activity; their capital; their rate of bankruptcy…
But we also need to measure the work of all the support structures (especially public services): the percentage of women that benefit from this support; their success rate; how many receive public funding and how much on average, compared with companies run by men…
What will be the increase of the GDP (gross domestic product) and the number of jobs created if women would create as many companies as men? For example, in France if women caught up with men in business, there could be 1 million more companies and between 4 and 5 million new jobs created. What can’t be measured, doesn’t exist!
2. Achieve – Each Minister for the Economy should fix a target to reach for the number of female entrepreneurs and an agenda to make it happen. We have to create the momentum of all actors with accountability of the public body to deliver results, and performance indicators to measure progress and challenges.
When a subject is considered strategic, there are always clear objectives.
3. Train – ALL actors in entrepreneurship should be trained in gender differences in order that they can provide the necessary support without bias nor stereotypes. Women are not like men because they do not have the same collective history and don’t carry the same weight of the family and household chores.

Discrimination is also about treating people equally even if they are in different situations. In other words, treating women like men is holding them back.
Female entrepreneurship is a lever for competitiveness and employment. But it is also a source of empowerment and freedom for women.