Young Emirati women need more motivation to start their own businesses

A married, fortysomething graduate funded by her family and friends – and making a 27 per cent profit margin. That is the typical female Emirati entrepreneur, according to a report from the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council.

But with only 6 per cent of young Emiratis wanting to strike out on their own and start a new company, according to data from labour market consultancy The Talent Enterprise, experts agree that more needs to be done to encourage young women to become entrepreneurs. Just 9.6 per cent of female entrepreneurs were below the age of 30, the ADBC survey said.

“From a mindset perspective, young women definitely have the skills and strengths to be entrepreneurs,” said Radhika Punshi, a director at The Talent Enterprise. “They’re resilient and determined, and have the social skills – but they lack the motivation.”

Schools and universities need to do more to foster awareness of entrepreneurship as a career option, she says.

“Students should be taught how you build a business plan, how you write an application for funding. Schools need to teach the skills required around putting up money for a business.”

“The lack of female role models is also a problem,” Ms Punshi said. “You can count on your fingers the number of very successful female entrepreneurs not from a prominent family. We need to see more females being honest about where they have failed.”

Bruce Walker Ferguson, head of the Masdar Institute Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is trying to do exactly that. In 1997, the value of the companies founded by living graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was equivalent to the economy of Thailand, he points out.

“Nationals usually have good jobs waiting for them in government. Why take the risk when there is a good job waiting?

“In many Middle Eastern cultures, failure is shameful. It’s seen as a kind of weakness. Ninety per cent of tech start-ups fail – but here, that recognition isn’t widespread,” Mr Ferguson said.

“We’re trying to change the perception of entrepreneurship so that it’s easy to fail in a society where failure isn’t acceptable.

“We’re trying to get students to think of entrepreneurship as a form of education, not as a commercial enterprise. It gives you management experience, financial experience and practice in strategic thinking.”

Stereotypes about entrepreneurs are not helping matters, according to Ms Punshi.

“The stereotype that female entrepreneurs run cupcakes, abaya shops and beauty salons – that has been around for a while,” she said.

“But there are more opportunities for entrepreneurs to do different things in whole a range of industries, including food and beverage, design, social media, PR and communications.”

As the businesswomen survey suggests, women wait until later in life to become entrepreneurs.

That may represent a failure of the employment system, as recent mothers find their workplaces unable to offer them the flexibility and support they need to get back into work, Ms Punshi said.

“It’s probably a result of the private sector not having enough of an ecosystem for working mothers. So family members say, Why don’t you start a boutique at home instead of going back to work for a company?”

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