Empowering women entrepreneurs
No matter where female entrepreneurs are, it can be a challenge to enter the business world. Levelling the playing field and creating a more inclusive start-up environment is essential to ensure growth and bolster economic development. The MENA region, and especially the UAE, have recognized this. The initiatives implemented by regional governments for diversifying their economies from oil revenues have given rise to an array of startups across the MENA region and the UAE.
The UAE has positioned itself as a leader in closing the gender gap in the region. As it continues its efforts towards equality, diversity, and inclusion – it is important to note that entrepreneurs form the backbone of the UAE economy. The government has done well to woo global talent with various visa reforms like the Golden Visa, Freelance visas, stimulus packages as well as retirement schemes. It is a symphony that rings in the right notes.
With Vision 2021, the country successfully recorded 95 percent of its businesses as being small to medium enterprises. A refreshing fact is that at least 50 percent of these are women-owned. These women-led businesses employ about 20 percent of the workforce and contribute to about 20 percent of the GDP. However, according to International Finance Corporation’s report, only 6 percent of private equity and venture capital funding goes to female-led enterprises in this region.
Over the years, the UAE government has consistently introduced a myriad of initiatives to address gender inequality and empower female entrepreneurs and bridge the gap. The entrepreneurial ecosystem has transformed into a relatively hassle-free, success-inducing place for women thanks to the packages of incentives, services and benefits the government is facilitating. Some of these include the rise of women entrepreneur support groups, women entrepreneurs finance initiatives, business setup packages exclusively for women.
For instance, free zones are angling to introduce the most accessible ‘Women Entrepreneur Packages’; the cost of licenses for certain categories of business enterprise has also been reduced and the local licensing authorities are also offering operational flexibility to women-led businesses. Some free zones are even giving licensing packages to those who have lost their jobs or have had to shut down their business operations in the mainland. New entrants are receiving full support from the UAE Government and free zone authorities to tap into all opportunities open to them.
Some other initiatives are the Khalifa Fund for supporting UAE women entrepreneurs by securing funds and providing legal support; UN Women and NAMA Women Advancement who are running masterclasses, workshops and an accelerator for new businesses, the Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC), which provides education, training, and funding opportunities to UAE-based businesswomen and the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE), which holds an annual Women Leadership Exchange Programme to guide women on sustainable leadership practices and offers great networking opportunities. Dubai Economy and DBWC have teamed up for various webinars and workshops to empower female-led businesses during the pandemic too.
For current and aspiring Emirati women entrepreneurs, there are specific stimuli as well. The Cabinet has decided to uplift Emirati women-led small enterprises through microfinancing and empowering their transformation and integration within the SMEs sector while engaging them in e-commerce platforms.
Female Fusion Network is also an active contributor by integrating a business community to support the increasing number of female-founded businesses through mentoring, networking, education, incubating, and achieving funding.
Here are some advantages of working with women-led businesses
Diversity in your network: When you partner with a women-owned business, you are tapping into a vibrant and diverse network of vendors. What I find with Female Fusion Network is that the women entrepreneur community is very tight-knit and helps each other out with advice, referrals and sharing their experiences. You could also get recommended other women-owned businesses you might need for other services.
Bolster the economy: As mentioned earlier, women-led businesses historically receive less funding than those owned by men. Supporting such businesses eventually leads to healthy competition that bolsters the market and levels the playing field.
More collaborative environment: Research has shown that women are more open to a collaborative workplace and better at teamwork due to their traditionally higher emotional intelligence. This creates a healthy team-oriented environment that will easily adapt and corroborate your needs.
The need for supporting the growth of female entrepreneurs and empowering a new generation of women is now. It’s time for businesses to listen, learn and act based on the perspective and passion that female entrepreneurs are bursting with. Gender diversity, especially in the startup ecosystem, can propel the progress of women-owned enterprises, which will eventually bring about fresh ideas, services and products into the market.
About the author
Jen Blandos is the founder of Female Fusion and a seasoned entrepreneur of seven-figure businesses for over 20 years. She has more than 25 years of international work experience, from working with grassroots start-ups to corporate and government entities across Europe and the Middle East. She is a torchbearer for women's empowerment and is a strong advocate for supporting and helping other women set up, run, and grow their own businesses. She is also a capacity building, training and entrepreneurship advisor for UN Women in the UAE.