When businesswomen succeed, society benefits

When businesswomen succeed, society benefits

JANE Hia, founder of Singapore's popular Kith Cafe chain, is affable but uncompromising when it comes to doing business.

An industrial designer by trade, the savvy 32-year-old has turned her love of coffee into a successful food and beverage brand known for its laid-back environment, conscientious staff and healthy, imaginative meals.

Ms Hia says her three key values - simplicity, sincerity and honesty - helped her build the brand and turn it into a major success.

Adding to the three Kith outlets that are already thriving, she most recently opened her fourth outlet at Millenia Walk and hopes to grow the business further in the years to come.

Ms Hia's unwavering determination, sharp business acumen and genuine interest in helping others make her an invaluable asset to Singapore's growing circle of entrepreneurs. But the truth is, she's one of the lucky ones.

Women entrepreneurs often exhibit a high degree of innovation in their ideas, but lack the opportunities - and sometimes the voice - to make them a reality.

Many women find they come up against significant social and economic barriers that may delay their plans or prevent them from fulfilling their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Women make up half of the global population and nearly half of the global workforce.

Yet in Singapore, only three out of 10 entrepreneurs are women. It's high time we foster women entrepreneurship to not only allow economies to benefit from the talents, energy and ideas - essentially the productive potential - that women bring to the labour market, but also to improve human development and bring about social transformation.

Generally speaking, women's ambitions and aspirations can thrive in Singapore's diversified culture and economy.

In 2015, the country ranked 9th out of 145 countries for women's economic participation, opportunity and advancement, which means women are active in the labour force, tend to be paid fairly and are relatively well-represented among professionals and managers.

But such encouraging outcomes shouldn't mask the fact that much more can and should be done to reduce the pervasive gender gap in women's ability to contribute to the economy through small business.

A recent survey revealed that women in Singapore are more likely to have their careers advance on par with those of their male colleagues if they work for large multinational companies than if they work for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

The reason? A lack of work-life balance policies, especially those that allow women to take on parental duties while advancing their careers.

As in other parts of Asia, most working women in Singapore remain the primary caregivers - they care for children, the elderly and other dependent household members, prepare meals and do many other unpaid, uncompensated household duties while fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

This "double shift" is a great strain on many women and hinders their ability to rise as leaders in workplaces that lack flexible work arrangements.

Another major obstacle is building business networks and ties in male-dominated business environments that don't always take women-led enterprises seriously, despite their significant contributions to the economy.

For example, in the tech industry, access to venture capital for women entrepreneurs is hard to come by.

One thing is certain - whether they're mothers, sisters or daughters, women in Singapore are intrepid workers, consumers, creators and leaders, and can achieve much more if these and other barriers are reduced or lifted.

MORE INCLUSIVE GROWTH

Increasing business ownership among women can alleviate many social burdens while also adding to the number of women in leadership roles, which helps to make economic growth more inclusive.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), the more women are empowered in economic activities, the more influence they have on household spending and the more families will spend on children's nutrition, health and education.

Healthier, better educated children make a positive impact on their communities as productive adults, an outcome that can only benefit rapidly ageing economies such as Singapore.

A recent survey shows that women entrepreneurs tend to be motivated by altruistic values and outcomes even as they are driven to succeed; many say their firm was started with the primary purpose of improving an existing product or service within their community, while "making a profit from market opportunities" came second.

Women entrepreneurs also tend to use their success to act as role models and mentor women around them.

A key preoccupation for women who own businesses is a desire to give back to other women entrepreneurs; 90 per cent of women business owners report "paying it forward" by mentoring and teaching skills to an average of eight other women, while one in five report that they are or aspire to become leaders in professional groups and associations.

It's clear that when given access to equal opportunities and the right platform, truly empowered women can create jobs, produce innovation, stimulate industries and ultimately lead and transform their environments.

Today, the world once again celebrates International Women's Day - a day to highlight and support worldwide initiatives that recognise women's economic contributions and help them realise their economic potential.

As a company whose mission is to connect the world, Facebook is well placed to be an important part of this movement.

Our #SheMeansBusiness initiative will support women entrepreneurs; celebrate their achievements and empower them to do more.

Every day, we see the amazing ways women entrepreneurs connect, share and grow on Facebook. Globally, 50 million SMBs have pages on Facebook, and the number of new women-owned SMB pages has increased approximately four-fold, nearly doubling in the past year. In Singapore alone, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of new women-owned SMB pages in the past year.

Organisations such as CRIB (Creating Responsible and Innovative Businesses), a non-profit social enterprise and Facebook's local partner in Singapore, empower women to become successful entrepreneurs.

The CRIB society programme helps women entrepreneurs exchange ideas and find inspiration and support from other successful women.

Crib's business incubator programme provides invaluable mentorship from industry leaders, access to funding and a wide range of resources to create successful, viable businesses led by women.

#SheMeansBusiness will connect entrepreneurial women with empowering tools, peers and networks and also raise greater awareness of the importance of women's entrepreneurship for overall economic and social development.

We know Singapore is a great place to do business, but today we are closer to making it a better place for women to do business too.

As Jane Hia's story shows, when female entrepreneurs succeed, we all benefit.

The writers are respectively Facebook head of economic growth initiatives APAC and CRIB Singapore co-founder


This article was first published on March 8, 2016.
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