How to reach out to women entrepreneurs

Employers’ organizations

How to reach out to women entrepreneurs

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The globalization of world economies creates new challenges for countries’ development; their success depending on how smart they are in utilizing their economic and social assets. While most policymakers and academics agree that entrepreneurship is a catalyst for economic growth and national competitiveness, they also need to acknowledge that not all groups in their societies have equal access to this endeavour. When a major part of a population does not engage in entrepreneurship, these economies lose the benefits that would otherwise be provided by new products and services, additional revenues, and new jobs.

Over the last decades, in most countries of the world, women have made a remarkable entry in the labour market and the number of women-owned business has increased substantially. However, the entrepreneurial gap between women and men is still high, both in developing as in more advanced economies even if to different extents.

When women do not participate equally in entrepreneurship, society loses out on the value that can be created by half its population.

Women are undeniably an important untapped source of economic growth.

Indeed, women continue to face major challenges when they take part in entrepreneurial activities: as “entrepreneurs”, they face difficulties linked to the business development process (such as lack of training, difficult access to financial resources), but as “women” they must also overcome other obstacles linked to inequalities between the sexes and prejudices in the environment they work in. These may be “hard" obstacles which are, for example, legal (legal status of women, discriminatory access to property, discriminatory access to justice, additional guarantees for women to access financing, greater difficulty in accessing some public services such as customs, tax departments, etc.) or “soft” constraints linked to reconciling work and family responsibilities, to specific difficulties concerning society's attitudes towards women, unequal early conditions, for example, in education and training, etc. 

Employers’ Organizations, which mission is to advocate for a better business environment  and to provide services to member companies, are well placed to provide solutions to the challenges faced by women business-owners’ and managers. However, empiric evidence from ILO and ITCILO research shows that women entrepreneurs tend to be underrepresented in the traditional memberships of Employers’ Organizations compared to larger enterprises, in traditional and formal sectors of the economy. Additionally, only few Employers’ Organizations specifically tailor the services they provide to women entrepreneurs or develop mutually reinforcing advocacy and lobbying strategies with women entrepreneurs and their associations.

Even if the issue of the disconnect between Employers’ Organizations and Women Entrepreneurs is actual and relevant, it is not a typical filed of intervention of training providers. However, in the last few years, the Employers Activities Unit of the ITC ILO has developed a solid expertise in this field. In cooperation with the Dutch Employers’ Cooperation Programme (DECP), it has notably collected numerous case studies and conducted worldwide surveys on current practices in reaching out to women entrepreneurs.

Project Activities 2011-2014

The ITCILO Programme for Employers’ Activities has organized a number of interregional and regional workshops during which UN/international and business world experts, EOs’ staff and Governing Board members as well as representatives of Women Entrepreneurs Associations have been brought together to discuss and provide practical ideas and tools to face the challenges related to reaching out to women entrepreneurs in their respective countries.

These events include:

  • Interregional experts seminar in November 2011 (Turin, Italy)
  • Training workshop for employers’ organisations in Eastern and Southern Africa in June 2012 (Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Training workshop for employers’ organisations in the Asia-Pacific region in October 2012 (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Training workshop for employers’ organisations of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) in March 2013 (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)
  • Training workshop for employers’ organisations of the Caribbean region in October 2013 (Kingston, Jamaica)
  • Training workshop for employers’ organisations of the Maghreb region in June 2014 (Casablanca, Morocco)
  • Stock-taking conference, 26-28 November 2014
Stock-taking Conference, Nov. 2014

In order to build on the results and momentum achieved throughout the project “Employers’ Organizations and Women Entrepreneurs: How to reach out?”, the ITCILO Programme for Employers’ Activities and DECP organized a Stock-taking Conference on 26-28 November 2014 in Turin, Italy.

The conference was an opportunity to:
  • Be informed on the progress regarding women entrepreneurs’ economic participation worldwide;
  • Take-stock of the results achieved so far by Employers Organizations in organizing women entrepreneurs, voicing their interests and servicing them
  • Be inspired by projects piloted by other institutions working with business organizations and women entrepreneurs
  • Jointly develop concrete guidance tools on a selected number of topics (governance and membership; lobbying and advocacy; services provision) in order to help EOs and Women Business Associations in the future

The workshop included a mix of presentations, panel discussions and group work. All participants from employers/business associations were asked to actively share their experiences.

  • Keynote intervention on a global perspective on women's economic participation today, the progress and the remaining challenges
  • Keynote intervention and good practice examples on the role of business associations in advancing gender equality and the participation of women in economic decision-making
  • Knowledge Fair – Exchanging experiences among participating organizations to the ITCILO project
  • Writers’ workshop and peer review sessions leading to the development of a Guidance Toolkit. The aim of the Guidance Toolkit is to help both EOs and WBAs in their lobbying efforts to alleviate business environment obstacles for women entrepreneurs (lobbying and advocacy); provide tailor-made services to enhance to women entrepreneurs their businesses (services provision); increase the voice of women e

    ntrepreneurs inside their own organizations (governance and membership strategies). On three issues chosen by the participants themselves, guidance notes, video messages and infographics were developed. The chosen issues were:

    • Women in governing board;
    • Access to finance and
    • Training services.