#EntrepreneurCorner: Time for women to step out of the support zone

Cape Town - In this week’s #EntrepreneurCorner Catherine Wijnberg, the chief executive officer of business development group Fetola, discusses how SA can create a new generation of successful women entrepreneurs in a male-dominated business world. 

She says girl children must be encouraged to take on leadership roles in the home, and female entrepreneurs should not feel boxed in by pre-existing ideas of how leaders should behave. 

"Once they have stepped forward into the entrepreneurial space, it’s very important for women to cultivate their own style. They need to start to believe that the way that they are -  whether it’s considered to be bossy, or whether it’s considered to be a little too emotional – that is their style."

Wijnberg also speaks about the importance of role models, team work, people leadership and being passionate about your job. 

WATCH the full interview: 

Full transcript: 

Moeshfieka Botha: When a man shows strength in business, he gets lauded and applauded. When a woman shows the same strength and assertiveness, she gets told she is bossy. How are we ever going to develop female leaders in the business world and female leaders in the sphere of entrepreneurship, with that attitude and mindset? It must change.

With us in studio today, I have Catherine Wijnberg, CEO of Fetola, a national business development company.

Catherine, it does seem that women have been configured by society to play the support role – and like you mentioned earlier –  and not that of the flag waver. How do we get our females wanting to enter the entrepreneurial space, or those who are already there, to step out of the support light, and into the space that they deserve to be?

Catherine Wijnberg: I think the starting point for creating successful women entrepreneurs is in the home. Starting within the family space, where we realise that we need to encourage girl children take leadership roles.

Once they have stepped forward into the entrepreneurial space, it’s very important for women to cultivate their own style. They need to start to believe that the way that they are -  whether it’s considered to be bossy, or whether it’s considered to be a little too emotional – that is their style. There is something about being authentic that cuts through everything, and an authentic person can lead anything.

MB: Do you think there are any particular obstacles to women owning their authenticity?

CW: I think it comes down to role models. The more successful female role models that we can give to women starting in the business, the better. They need to start to see that there are many different styles, and that there isn’t just one style of being a businessperson. You don’t just want to be your male-dominating, big, strong, paternalistic leader.

There are many other different, softer styles that people can follow. We need to encourage women to find that authenticity within themselves. I really think that is the starting point for them to develop.

MB: There are many opportunities which exist specifically on the South African landscape,  that are more suited to female entrepreneurs, aren’t there?

CW: Definitely! I think South Africa is an incredible breeding ground  for women entrepreneurs. There are so many opportunities specifically labelled for women and it is not only from a government perspective, getting tenders or even corporate supply chains. There are a lot of opportunities that are open specifically for women.

Over and above that, women have a particular style, where their concerns extend to more than just making money. It extends to social and environmental concerns as well. So as a woman, if you want to start a business – start something that you are passionate about. Very often that is broader than just the desire to make money.

MB: I think females are also wired to want to do everything ourselves. We have that syndrome where we need to see that everything is OK, and if everything is not OK – then let me do it myself. This happens from  
the home to work and everything  in-between. How do you think this negatively affects us in the entrepreneurial space?

CW: Again, it comes back to women being wired to be the support team, running around to solve all the problems. As a leader, as an entrepreneur – it’s fine when you start out and have to do everything. Though if you really want to grow a successful business, it’s so important to develop the next stage of business leadership – which is people leadership.

When I start a business – the first person I employ is a bookkeeper, because bookkeeping is not something that I want to be spending my time on. This is where it becomes really interesting, as women are very good in cultivating inspired an enthusiastic teams. 

The thing to do then, is to employ the people that add the value you may feel that you do not have – and who allow you to then focus on the one area you are best placed.

MB: We will be continuing women in entrepreneurship in 2018.

Dear women – know your strengths, but be authentic. One does not have to be male to be successful in the business world.

Did you find this useful? We need your input to identify your most pressing issues. Send us your questions. Our resident coach Anton Ressel or one of our experts will answer as many as possible in future shows. You can also engage with us on Fin24's Twitter and Facebookpages. Look for our hashtag, #EntrepreneurCorner.

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