The business world is complex. The various interconnected factors that determine how businesses run contribute to this complexity. These elements have to do with the entrepreneur as well as the company’s internal and external environments. Gender is directly related to the entrepreneurs themselves. Gender seems to influence certain internal and external factors both positively and negatively. This is irrespective of the enterprise’s stage of growth. Start-ups, early-growth and mature enterprises all face challenges. Here in Africa, it seems female entrepreneurs are facing more challenges than their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs have many stories to tell about the difficulties they face and how they overcome them.
Women were traditionally expected to stay at home and care for their families. Perhaps their entrepreneurial zeal was meant to be channeled into being better spouses, in parenting, meal preparation, and housekeeping, rather than turning business ideas into reality. It’s no surprise that some female entrepreneurs face opposition from close relatives when they decide to start a business. Others have a hard time figuring out who they are. Many women are forced to work even harder in order to balance family and business. Some women who start a business before getting married are concerned about how their future family life may be affected if their business succeeds. These are real worries that I heard from female entrepreneurs when they told their stories during last week’s International Women’s Day celebrations.
Women-owned enterprises have grown in popularity over time. This isn’t to say that female entrepreneurs aren’t up against challenges. Some of the challenges are specific to their business. Female entrepreneurs have had to work harder to obtain finance and compete in the market. Unfortunately, there are still gender inequalities in access to credit and in contracting. Furthermore, female entrepreneurs continue to encounter challenges that all entrepreneurs face. Compliance with regulatory bodies, people, cash flow, product-market fit, and a lack of focus are the main challenges I have observed. Inadequate managerial skills, a lack of a plan, bad financial management, and a lack of customer understanding are minor challenges. Despite these challenges, female entrepreneurs continue to make significant contributions to the business world by overcoming these challenges.
Madam C.J. Walker of the United States was one of the earliest well-known black female entrepreneurs. In the early 1900s, Madam C. J. Walker, who began her career as a domestic worker, formed the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She created and sold a range of black women’s cosmetics and hair care products. Sundial Brands of New York revived Madam C. J. Walker, which was acquired by Unilever in 2017. Madam C.J. Walker faced a challenge when she was accused of stealing a hair care formula from her employer. This was a major challenge that she needed to overcome. In Kenya, Mary Okello is celebrated for her work at Makini Schools. Other renowned female entrepreneurs in Kenya include Dr Jennifer Riria of Kenya Women Holding, Njeri Rionge of Wananchi Online, Betty Gikonyo, of Karen Hospital, Eddah Gachukia, of Riara Group of Schools, and Flora Mutahi of Melvins Tea. I am confident that each of these female entrepreneurs, as well as many others, big and small, has a courageous story to tell. In the entrepreneurial world, it takes a brave woman to succeed!
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via Twitter @KiruthuLucy