Women’s Chamber President Calls for More Assistance for Women Entrepreneurs
One of the primary obligations of Trade Chambers is to assist prospective and current women entrepreneurs to help narrow the gender gap in entrepreneurship said the Vice President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka and President of the Central Province Women’s Chamber of Commerce Mrs. Shirley Jayawardane when she addressed the Bay of
Bengal Initiative on Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Conference on “Women and Development” held recently in New Delhi. India, Sri Lanka,Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and Myanmar are members of BIMSTEC that is mandated to promote regional trade and economic cooperation in the Bay of Bengal countries. Mrs. Jayawardane, who represented the Federation, and also serves as the Vice President of the Central Regional Chamber of Commerce and Director of the Central Province Chamber of Commerce, was one of the panelists on the theme “An Ecosystem Supporting Women Entrepreneurs.”
The Indian Union Minister for Textiles, Ms. Smriti Zubin Irani and the Governor of Goa Ms. Mridula Sinha were the Chief Guests at the conference. The Key Note Speakers were the President, SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Suraj Vaidya and the Afghanistan Ambassador to India Dr. Shaida Mahammad Abdali. The panelists included several top business personalities, policymakers and leaders of trade chambers.
Sri Lanka is the Lead Country in BIMSTEC for the promotion of Technology among member countries. Choosing technology as the theme for her presentation, Mrs. Jayawardane noted that in a rapidly globalizing world technology is a major factor that determines economic progress, including the prospects for women entrepreneurs. However, there is a gender gap in some crucial areas that must be narrowed or closed to help women advance as entrepreneurs. The gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is an example. It is a global gap that is found in most countries, developed and developing. In Sri Lanka it is about 60 to 40 in favor of men.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor special report titled Women’s Entrepreneurship (GEM) published in 2015 reports that in the 61 countries that it surveyed, the ratio of men to women participating in entrepreneurship narrowed by 6% between 2012 and 2014. The Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurship Activity (TEA) rate for women also increased by 7%. GEM also states that now there is near gender parity in the level of education of male and female entrepreneurs in most of the 61 countries. This is encouraging news.
But other findings of GEM suggest that women entrepreneurs yet have some way to go to catch up with their male counterparts. For example in India the percentage of adult (18-64) males wanting to start a business is 12% and women only 9%. In Thailand, another BIMSTEC country, the rate is 25% and 20%. In India the percentage of adult males in “Early Stage” of starting a business is 8% and women 5%. In Thailand the rates are 20% and 17% respectively. The gender gap persists.
Mrs. Jayawardane pointed out that researchers have noted that the presence of a business opportunity is a very strong motivating factor for women to become entrepreneurs. However, they are also more cautious than men in taking a risk and generally favor already established products such as consumer goods. However, women entrepreneurs could also be more innovative than men.
Discussing the policy implications of the observed gender gap in entrepreneurship, Mrs. Jayawardane noted that the findings she discussed offer useful guidance for governments and especially trade chambers to formulae policies and strategies to encourage women entrepreneurs. For example, closing the gender gap in STEM is a priority. Improving access to finance for women entrepreneurs will help harness their spirit for innovation. Trade Chambers should expand networking to encourage women entrepreneurs. Given the fact that team-owned enterprises have better chances of expansion and success than single-owned enterprises, Trade Chambers should also encourage/assist such team entrepreneurship. Finally, it is not enough to assist woman entrepreneurs in the start up stage. They must be supported, subject to a sundown clause, to reach self-sustainability.