Anzisha Prize to Ecosystem: Fight Bias Against Women in Business to Encourage Female Participation in Entrepreneurship

       Ifrah Arab and founder of SuperMom at the 2016 Anzisha Awards Gala 

Meet Ifrah Arab, 20 from Kenya, founder of SuperMom, a last-mile distribution company which employs women and makes sustainable products easily accessible to them in rural communities.  Also just as incredible is Vanessa Zommi, 22 from Cameroon, founder of Afya Tea, a venture which seeks to lower the diabetes rate throughout Africa by creating affordable and accessible moringa products. Both young women became entrepreneurs despite three key barriers: cultural expectations, lack of public awareness of female African role models and conscious/unconscious bias against women as business leaders. At Anzisha Prize, we know young women are just as capable as their male counterparts in business creation because we work with them. However, we have noticed a low entrepreneurship participation rate amongst women.

Three key reasons which keep young women from realizing their potential in the booming vibrant entrepreneurship space in Africa include:

  1. Cultural expectations:Girls are not encouraged as much as boys to generate solutions to problems because of cultural norms. Since men are typically relegated to being the breadwinner in the home, they are encouraged to be problem solvers who find solutions which lead to earning an income. Creating a habit out of problem solving enables young men to hone the practice of entrepreneurship, while women are not encouraged to be as innovative.
  2. Lack of awareness of female business leaders:There are many African women who are entrepreneurs, however young women may not recognize that there are so many women who look like them in the space. It is hard to aspire to become something that one has not seen before, or does not know exists.
  3. Unconscious/conscious bias against women as business leaders: Women are typically viewed and described as too emotional or fragile for the job. Oftentimes one may hold these perceptions of a woman before she is able to prove her abilities. At age 15, when Winnifred Selby went to register Ghana Bamboo Bikes in Ghana, she recalls being laughed at by the staff and being told, “You little small girl, you should be focused on your books.” The perceptions of gender roles and lack of widespread awareness of female business leaders lead individuals to be biased about what they believe women are capable of in the workplace.

Three easy ways the youth entrepreneur support ecosystem can deliberately encourage young women to get involved in entrepreneurship include:

  1. Deliberately marketing your programs to young women.The earlier young women are exposed to the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, the more likely that they will pursue a career in entrepreneurship. Having specific messaging which calls on young women to participate in your programming will encourage them to recognize the programming is for them too.
  2. Tell the stories of African women who are entrepreneurs.Telling these stories will help young women recognize what they are capable of. Some ways to do this is include: 1) introducing young women in your organization to entrepreneurs in the country through hosting panel discussions with distinguished female entrepreneurs or 2) inviting them to business conferences with African women business owners. Other low energy ways to reinforce this include deliberately sharing the stories of successful entrepreneurs such as Njeri Rionge and Folorunsho Alakija versus Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg (no hard feelings).
  3. Encourage your network to work with women business owners. Whether it is finding the young women speaking engagements where they can serve as a panellist or encouraging people in your network to do business with them, deliberate effort on your part, is a step towards transformation in the business space and how it relates to women.

In an Africa with a 1:1 ratio of men to women, we must empower young women to innovate and create jobs as youth unemployment is a challenge that faces them too. As a member of the youth entrepreneur support ecosystem we challenge you to deliberately help young African women consider entrepreneurship as a viable path towards earning an income.