In Egypt, while a few women are venturing into entrepreneurship, they struggle to overcome numerous challenges.
Entrepreneurship as a desirable option is growing in Egypt. According to a 2021 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report, 75.6% of Egyptians positively perceive entrepreneurship, ranking the country as number 14 among 47 countries, higher than the global average of 68.7%.
Despite this positive outlook, women entrepreneurs struggle, which includes limited access to training, finance, and social support. Egypt ranks 134 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Gender Gap Report, indicating a significant gender gap.
Stomach this, if you can: Women comprise only 19.7% of board members in Egypt, the lowest among 47 countries. They also face significant challenges in starting and running businesses. Their total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rate is 31.3%, approximately less than half of that seen for men. And wait, it gets more sickening.
Among Egypt’s established companies, women’s participation is meager, with only 14.3%, less than one-third of men’s.
This lack of female participation in Egypt’s economy is a missed opportunity, as they bring unique perspectives and skills. Research indicates that women-owned companies deliver more than twice as much per dollar invested. In fact, Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank says 95% of his returns come from companies led by women.
Rania Ayman, Founder and CEO of woman-focused social and business development organization Entreprenelle, says that the lack of women entrepreneurs can largely be attributed to the country’s culture.
“Women entrepreneurs are often held back by their families, friends, and spouses, despite having great potential.”
Women are often discouraged from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams by being told: “We’re not going to be chasing you around police stations if something happens.” “If you take out loans, you might be arrested.” “You won’t be able to get married.”
Nour Emam, Founder and CEO of Mother Being, says many women’s struggles in the entrepreneurial sector go unnoticed. “Gender roles are still very rigid in our region, so it is much harder for women to break free from these traditional gender roles.”
“When women have a brilliant business idea, people around them often don’t take it seriously. They see it as a hobby or a passion project rather than a legitimate business that can be scaled up. This can be discouraging and undermining,” said Nardeen Ayoub, founder of Womanhood, a femtech company.
AN UNWELCOMING SPACE
Apart from societal pressures that hinder women from reaching their full potential as entrepreneurs, many do not feel heard in the workplace. Many female millennials working in corporate environments feel disengaged and generally unsupported in their roles at large, predominately male organizations.
“In male-dominated meetings, I often feel like I must shout to be heard, while my male colleagues can speak quietly and still be respected. I must work much harder to earn the same basic respect that a man in the same position would receive automatically,” says Ayman.
Ayoub speaks of a similar experience with investors. “You may face skepticism and discrimination from investors. Your ideas are not taken seriously, and you may be more likely to be challenged.
Despite examples of success, women continue to face many of the same challenges when raising capital.
Ayoub says that investors are only willing to invest in female-oriented businesses if they are in traditional sectors. “Investors like what they can understand: fashion, e-commerce, and beauty. And since most investors are male, they are more interested in sectors they perceive as stable, such as fintech.”
Zeina Mandour, Venture Investments Manager at DAR Ventures, says that less than 5% of the startups she has dealt with are women-owned. She explains that the product being female-focused can largely affect its success among investors.
“If the product/service is female-focused, and the founder is pitching for funds where the majority are men, it is hard to convey the message and the need since they don’t understand it.” She adds that the lack of female investors also affects the rate of successful female-based businesses due to investment decisions being driven by gender bias and stereotypes.
FEAR OF FAILURE
According to GEM, fear of failure inhibits around half of the Egyptian population (48.2%). In 2021, fear of failure in Egypt was the highest among GEM countries compared to the global average of 45%.
According to Ayman, women’s fear of failure is way more prominent and causes many setbacks for female entrepreneurs.
“Women also aren’t confident; they don’t feel that they are enough, and again, that’s largely due to the culture in which they grow up,” she adds.
Ayoub speaks of her experience leading women empowerment programs. “I always see that women lack financial or personal support.”
She explains that a community pillar is more important to female entrepreneurs, but outside perception creates an internal struggle for women, leading them to self-doubt. “Despite the support you might receive from your family, friends, and partner, you’re still inclined to think that you will not succeed because of what’s been ingrained in us culturally.”
STARTING A CHANGE
Nardeen tells aspiring female entrepreneurs to push through despite people’s perceptions of them and the importance of finding a support system. “People will not believe in you; not everyone will be cheering for you, but you need to navigate through your community and friends to find people and mentors and create a good support system for yourself. It is essential not to do it on your own.”
“Your customers are your best critics; sometimes what you perceive as “negativity” or “discouragement” can be good advice that pushes you in the right direction,” she adds.
Emam tries to enact change by starting with her organization. As a company focused on women’s healthcare, she needs to ensure that her organization is women-led, with 95% of our employees being female and 70% of upper management also being women.
Talking about closing the gender investment gap, she said: “We need to see more women investors keen on investing in women-led businesses.”
Mandour shares a similar sentiment, saying that the market is skewed towards men and needs an equilibrium through more women representation. She advises entrepreneurs to focus on the following when seeking an investor.
Founder background: Investors want to know that the founder has the experience and expertise to execute the startup idea.
Market size and competitive strategy: Investors want to see that the startup is targeting a large market and has a plan to compete effectively.
Product offering and business model: Investors want to understand the startup’s product or service and how it will generate revenue and profits.
Egypt’s startup ecosystem has a long way to go before it reaches equality, but it’s important to move forward and continue the momentum to see significant, long-term, sustainable progress.
Loading the player...
What’s chef Kelvin’s favorite place to eat in Dubai? Find out