Black women in business lack mentorship and sponsorship



While there are some opportunities for women to start and grow a business, they are still being held back by the lack of sponsors and mentorship. The latest MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (Miwe) reported South Africa had moved up one place from 2020 to rank 37th in 2021, with a score of 54.9.

SA was ranked 55th on the Miwe in respect of “knowledge assets and financial access”, revealing women were constrained by poor access to finance.

Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance women’s rights activist and communications manager Petunia Thulo said the issue of lack of funding and sponsors for women was a fundamental one and long-term solutions were needed to ensure business longevity.

Majority of black women on the sidelines

Black business women were still in the minority because opportunities which were available still ignored the majority who still needed a “leg up”.

“You use your time and resources applying and then it only reaches the same black women, leaving the majority who needs it the most on the sidelines,” she said.

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“It is not so much about what else needs to be done to help women fill more of the open spaces, because women are already doing it, but the systems in place are engineered in such a way that it makes it nearly impossible to receive a sustainable support.”

Phetile Ntuli from Vosloorus managed a catering business called Kadary catering in the projects, which specialised in catering for governmental departments and the community.

“I have had my business for about 15 years now,” she said. Ntuli said she experienced major financial hardships.

“When running a small business, capital is quite essential. My business operates mainly under the government, however I struggle because payments are not in on time to render the service – only after 31 days once the job is done,” she said.

“It is hard because you need cash to run the business and cover the underlying costs of it, and without the financial support, the business starts to collapse.”

Mentorship is key

Ntuli said it would be better if there was a specific fund or sponsors from the government to help in the beginning of projects. There were not a lot of places which truly supported the longevity of black business women and after all this time it still appeared black businesswomen were the ones to help themselves.

“We know change is needed to reach more people. We do not have old money and we will need to start, as in yesterday, to change the narrative and ensure the coming generation does not have to fight this same battle, we need to start our own funding,” she said.

Gender specialist Joan de Klerk said there was a disconnect between networks and businesswomen. The main cause for the disparity between businesses led by men compared to women was that women had a lower status ascribed to them, which had serious implications for women moving forward, despite present empowerment programmes.

“If the gender stereotypes are not dealt with, we cannot move as fast as we should in our own businesses,” she said.

“Men are seen as leaders who possess characteristics such as authority, power, decision-making and visionaries while women are perceived as communal caregivers and nurturers.”

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De Klerk said even if funds were there, if there was no correct coaching or mentorship, women would not succeed as well as their male counterparts.

“Mentorship is key… You cannot just provide the skill and not mentor them to rise to the level of success,” she said.

– lungas@citizen.co.za