Do female entrepreneurs have the same opportunities to access supply chains as men? The panel at the recent Absa Business Day Supplier Development Dialogues discussed this question and came up with suggestions on how to make supply chains inclusive and transformative.

More opportunities for women to be in leadership

Before a woman starts a business or enters a boardroom, they fight against sexism, discrimination, cultural stereotypes and social bias. “Growing up, I was always told that women should exist under the leadership of a man,” says Michal Pillay, a Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity at Absa. “Now I know that this is one of the barriers that women aspiring for leadership positions face in our society.”

Chantal de Kock the General Manager at Fetola faced similar discrimination growing up in the Cape Flats, an environment that is harsh on women. “I come from a family where the majority of male figures were gangsters, I knew from a young age that women were not seen as leaders,” says Chantal.

The panel suggested the opening of opportunities for women to be in leadership positions because they can relate to the challenges and will come up with innovative solutions.

Business roles should not be gender specific

“In the business environment, I noticed that it’s typical for men to discuss business ventures on the golf course or in bars,” says Kgatile Nkala the Executive Manager of Corporate Services for the Transport and Education Training Authority (TETA). This puts women at a disadvantage and there is a need to create inclusive spaces for men and women to discuss business.

To address this challenge, Kgatile and her team hosted business dialogs in community halls that are easily accessible to most women. This solution came from women who overcome challenges of working in a male dominated industry. Ageism and sexism are rife in the business world and women are excluded because of this.

“At the age of 26, I was appointed as a leader in male dominated multinational company. Many people asked me how I did it because it was rare for a young African woman like me to be appointed in a position like this,” Sekai Chiwandamira the Regional Chapter Manager at ANDE Aspen Institute. To overcome the notion that it’s a “man’s world,” it’s important for women to continue breaking barriers and proving that roles should not be gender specific.

Strategic peer network for women

Violet Lupuwana the Founder and Managing Director of Chumile Holding started her business in the male dominated taxi industry. “I challenged the status quo because the transport sector makes billions of rands and I didn’t understand why I could not be part of it,” says Violet.

As much as society, culture and businesses needs to be more inclusive, the onus is on women to challenge male dominated sectors. Violet knocked on doors for four years, before they finally opened for her. In South Africa there are still too many industries that are male dominated and this must change.

“Female entrepreneurs benefit from business support and development initiatives that include mentorship and coaching from women they identify with,” says Chantal.  Peer support amongst women is strategic and effective.

New policies need to be in place

“Corporate have to be intentional with strategic objectives within the organisation to ensure women businesses have access to the market,” says Michal.  She adds that Absa currently spends R1.9 billion on small women led businesses.

There is a need for the implementation of policies that directly impact the socio-economic challenges faced by women.  Without new transformative policies, nothing will change.

Positive female role models

Having positive women role models that stepped out of their traditional roles will encourage others to follow in their footsteps. “As a woman in a leadership position I always encourage aspirant young female leaders to demand to be treated with respect, “says Sekai.

The role of women in leadership positions is to lead with integrity and to use their cultural awareness and emotional intelligence to make informed business decisions.

Key learning points:

  • Women are legitimate, powerful and transformative leaders in industry and in small business
  • Sustainable long-term interventions aimed at helping businesswomen to access supply chains can add significant value and long term advantage
  • Women leaders are able to address challenges faced by other women as they understand exactly what aspirant businesswomen are going through.
  • As funding is constrained for women entrepreneurs, transformative and inclusive funding models can unlock huge growth opportunities.
  • Women need female role-models and mentors to support and coach them to unashamed success
  • Women-led small suppliers need to work together, build powerful networks and show up to claim their space in the supply chain.

To watch the full discussion, click here

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