Advising women entrepreneurs

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Advising female entrepreneurs

Adapted from EVU handbook

The women generally have a more holistic approach to becoming self-employed and therefore also about the kinds of business advice they want. Family life and work life must harmonize, and some of them, for example, want to become independent so that they can work from home. This also means that advisers must apply somewhat different methods in their work with women than they do with men.

Women are generally more cautious, patient and thorough in their planning. Both women with Danish and with ethnic minority backgrounds are generally more open toward receiving advice before they start their own business than are the men. Nor are they so afraid to speak up if there is something they do not understand. Much indicates that their strategy also yields results. Recent Danish research on minority women from Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, etc. negates the conventional assumptions in Denmark about passive immigrant women. The study shows that the women’s shops on average generate more sales and more than double the earnings as their male countrymen. Several advisers also believe that the minority women are generally more law-abiding than men.

The younger women are better at establishing themselves outside the traditional immigrant branches (e.g., pizzeria, kiosk and greengrocer) and they have more employees than their male colleagues. Only the Somali women in Denmark have yet to enter business life in full force. The minority women typically enter service businesses such as hairdresser, beauty shop, crafts, specialty shops, legal office, accounting, etc.

There are very many differences in the proportion of female entrepreneurs among the ethnic groups. The percentages vary from 10% to 50% among the different nationalities. It is especially the younger women with education who do well. However, several barriers exist for ethnic minority businesswomen. For many of them, there are obstacles in makig the transition from a life on welfare benefits or as a homemaker with children into independent business. This is especially the case for the single mothers (Shahamak (2006).

Work is being done to seek out women’s networks, both in formal and informal context, in order to speak about the potential benefits of entrepreneurship. Some women not only need information about the topic, but they also to build up their confidence that it is possible to be independent as a woman and that they can manage on their own.

The holistic approach can also involve the rest of the family, without whose support it is most often impossible to start up a business. It can therefore be an advantage to involve the family in the advisory process, especially the husband. It can also be beneficial to work with several women together, because many of the challenges and barriers they face will be the same. Many speak very openly about their social problems. Thus, a psychosocial counselling element may enter into the advisory methods in relation to women, something that we do not observe in the same way among the men.

One of the methods in the work with the reserved and modest women is also to increase awareness of the differences in gender and bodily culture. Many of the women, for example, find it difficult to convince a Danish bank adviser about their business needs if they are unable to make eye contact and assert themselves convincingly. The bank adviser perhaps reads the posture as a lack of selfconfidence, even though it may only be due to the fact that their cultural norms prescribe that women should be reserved. It can feel very ground-breaking to alter this context, and it is therefore good to practice this encounter through role-playing in a secure setting.

The desire to be part of larger social communities can also be integrated into the choice of business form. Hence, activities are being carried out within the framework of the Social Fund with several projects focusing on female entrepreneurs of ethnic minority backgrounds and on the start-up of different forms of cooperative businesses.