Access to funding, balancing work and family life, and gender disparity are among the many challenges facing women in business, according to female industry experts during a recently held webinar.
Hosted by the Founder Institute, the virtual forum titled ‘Women’s Roundtable: Starting, Growing, Scaling a Business’, “aims to give women a space to share and join conversations on the challenges of male-dominated entrepreneurial ecosystems,” said Dr Hanan el-Basha, founder, empowering business strategist, The Business Doctor.
El-Basha, who moderated the discussion, was joined by Nadine Zerrini, Innovation Fund manager, Harvard University; Astrid Chedid, regional director for LAC and Spain, Annual Investment Meeting; Sophie Smith, founder and CEO, Nabta Health; Dr Luana Ozemela, founder and investor, DIMA; and Sondos Alkhraisha, founder, Educarso.
Citing a report on investment into female-founded companies in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, Smith said that while the region had “a record year” in 2021 with over $2bn in investments, “only a measly 1.2%” went into female-founded companies.
“And about an additional 7% went to co-led companies, which is, from a female-founded perspective, roughly half proportionately what it was two years ago,” continued Smith, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic also had an adverse effect on the ability for women to secure venture capital.
“At the moment, there’s a real problem in the ecosystem with women finding it very difficult to secure funding at the pre-seed and seed stages, which is when, as a business and as a founder, you’d be judged purely based on your potential.
Smith added: “We need to get women through the pre-seeding stages and to make sure that they stick to their guns in terms of how they value themselves and their companies and the amounts they want to raise – the better it would be for female-founded businesses in the region.”
According to Chedid, access to funding is “one of the biggest challenges” for female entrepreneurs. She said the issue has been a longstanding obstacle for women “to the point that it is almost accepted by everyone.”
She further stressed that aside from the financial aspects of running a business, other challenges include managing family and other domestic responsibilities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chedid stressed that sharing information and best practices on internal and external business dynamics are important to prepare other female entrepreneurs for the variety of challenges that women would encounter when running a company.
Citing statistics from the World Economic Forum, Ozemela said it would take “108 years” to achieve global gender parity. In the Mena region, she said gender parity would take “153 years” and “165 years” in North America.
Ozemela said a recent presentation made in Qatar showed that “about 48%” of graduates of STEM fields are women. “We know that it’s no longer a ‘pipeline problem’ – we have the pipeline. But now, how do we effectively tap the talent pool that we are producing?” she asked.
Citing cultural values and age-old traditions, Zerrini said it is very difficult for women to find a career-oriented mindset. “I don’t think that this is encouraged. We do need more role models in the Mena region for us to show that this can be done,” she said.
Zerrini added that there is “a very big disparity” between the male and female gender gap in terms of digital information or digital skilling and up-skilling, AI, and access to the Internet and mobile Internet, among others.
Alkhraisha also added that among the main challenges for female entrepreneurs is looking for the right amount of funding to scale or accelerate the growth of their respective businesses.
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