25 August 2017: Prejudice against women in business and corporate is very real. If you have read Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg, you will know that this is a reality for many women around the world, but according to Mignonette Fair, co-owner of EditA – a one-stop language shop for anyone with a story to tell, women are their own worst enemy in business more often than not. Under the EditA banner, Fair collaborates with Cecilia Mnisi from MMJ Interpretation Services and they are geared towards changing perceptions about women leading successful businesses by being the change they want to see.
“I think the greatest challenge to overcome as a woman in business is small thinking. We don’t believe in ourselves enough and hide behind our “small” businesses. We fight each other for scraps when the pie is actually more than big enough for everyone,” says Fair.Perhaps it’s fear of failure or being risk averse that inhibits women from reaching for the stars, or fear of the unknown, or maybe women don’t yet have enough successful role models who have walked the path of entrepreneurship before them to help lessen the fear. Strong role models are, therefore, very important. “Successful women should mentor and support other women where they can, and more importantly, they should accelerate progress by recommending other women,” adds Fair. “We support women in business and support women through our business. We partner and outsource mostly to women and support other women-owned businesses for other services we need. We also provide free services and contribute to Cornerstone Woman, a NPO that supports women and children that are victims of abuse.” EditA is also part of a mentorship programme where they mentor younger women in business, advising their younger counterparts on lessons learnt on their business journey.
But even if women change the way they think and do business, there still remains huge inequality between men and women in the South African workplace. “Women are still undermined and not trusted when it comes to accessing new markets and financing, there is a general unspoken belief that women are not ready to lead big business,” says Mnisi,. Statistics prove this distrust. Women make up only 15% of local boards and a mere 9% of JSE listed companies have 25% or more female directors.
Ernst & Young’s Think Big report explored the issue through the firm’s key programmes for entrepreneurs and found 5 key factors female entrepreneurs should address in their scalability plans if they would like to grow. One of which is that female entrepreneurs need to think big and bold. Research shows that entrepreneurial success is closely linked to their mind-set. Entrepreneurs must believe it before they can achieve it. Sometimes taking a significant step towards growth can be as simple as taking a step.
Asked what advice they would like to share with other female entrepreneurs, Fair says it all starts with believing in yourself. “You are able. Surround yourself with women who get it and can support you when the going gets tough. Find a mentor that can lead and guide you and ask for help because you are not alone as others have gone before you.” Mnisi agrees adding, “Learn the market and systems of the industry that you would like to venture in, don’t let fear stop you from going after what you believe in.”