Creating a level playing field for women in Serbia 

Although views may differ on the level of female representation and leadership in Serbia, there is a shared consensus that there is room for improvement. 

Female entrepreneurship is on the rise in Serbia, and it is driven by various factors that go beyond financial gain.  

A recent survey conducted by Emerging Europe under the She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative revealed that over half of Serbia’s female entrepreneurs were motivated by the desire to earn more money. However, personal fulfilment, autonomy, social impact, and career advancement were also mentioned as motivations.  

Successful Serbian entrepreneurs possess a combination of personal and professional strengths such as persistence (the most cited strength among surveyed entrepreneurs), followed by creative thinking and self-discipline.  

While opinions may vary on the extent of female representation and leadership in Serbia, there is a general agreement that there is scope for improvement. Initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality in the business domain are essential.  


According to the survey, more than half of respondents (55 per cent) were motivated by the desire to earn more money, while 27.9 per cent of them pursued entrepreneurship because it was their long-time dream. In addition, 21.7 per cent of surveyed entrepreneurs aimed to work for themselves instead of working for someone else. 

Other reasons to start a business were to create employment opportunities for themselves (12.9 per cent), had a great idea and solution that would benefit others (12.5 per cent), build a career (7.5 per cent), while 7.1 per cent wanted to prove themselves and show that they could succeed as entrepreneurs. 

The desire to make an impact on society was also mentioned as motivation by a large company executive during the in-depth interview. “My role allows me to act in areas as networking, training and research which is something I like,” she said. “Moreover, especially now, I feel I’m able to contribute to the region as my work also impacts policymaking since I must keep working with governments in charge.” 

Additional reasons were mentioned by entrepreneurs who were interviewed. One SME owner said that the desire for change and the love for a particular lifestyle led her to venture into the food industry. “After being in the corporate world, I wanted a new challenge,” she said. “I wanted to produce something, a real product. I love the Italian lifestyle, thus decided to produce fresh pasta.”  

Another start-up founder believed that the desire to solve a problem or meet a need was her reason stating, “The market of health tech in Serbia appeared to be underdeveloped and it seemed like health tech was a ‘problem child.”  

One SME owner mentioned her motivation was the desire to work on diverse projects and interact with different stakeholders. “Every project is different, hence there are a lot of different projects with different stakeholders and dynamics. You can never get bored,” she stated.  

Social capital opens doors 

Persistence (45.8 per cent) was the most mentioned trait when entrepreneurs were asked about their strengths, followed by creative thinking (32.9 per cent) and self-discipline (31.3 per cent). Furthermore, motivation and initiative were deemed essential, with 28.3 per cent listing them as strengths.  

Interestingly, fewer respondents identified willingness to take risks (6.7 per cent) as a key strength, suggesting that entrepreneurs may recognise the importance of calculated risk-taking, but do not necessarily view it as a defining characteristic of entrepreneurship. 

Other strengths identified by respondents included hard work, confidence, the desire for training, flexibility, and strong ethics. The traits of being a “killer” and multitasking were identified by relatively few respondents.  

During the in-depth interviews, many additional attributes were mentioned by interviewees as crucial for their success. For one start-up founder, being open to change and having “strong communication and networking skills” were key strengths that helped her propel their business forward.  

Another start-up founder recognised the importance of combining her own strengths and weaknesses with others to achieve success stating, “Once you combine your strengths and weaknesses with other people’s strengths and weaknesses, then you can thrive.” 

For an industry association founder, her strength was in the social capital she has gained over time, which allowed her to open doors and make important connections. “I was coming back from a conference and got surprised by the number of people that already knew me – it opens doors,” she said. 

One SME director identified “organisation and communication skills” as her strengths, while another SME senior manager emphasized “communication skills and ability to connect to her team.” In addition, a different SME co-owner recognised her strengths in “product positioning and negotiating skills.” 

For a large company executive, creating diverse teams and focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion was a key strength. She said: “I have a broader understanding of diversity, also encompassing cultural and ethnic elements that are very relevant in the context of the Balkans.” 

In the end, these strengths are what allow entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and succeed in their businesses. As one start-up founder puts it, “When you have your business, you cannot let go. It is your baby.” And having a strong set of personal and professional strengths is what enables them to nurture that “baby” and help it grow into a successful venture. 

Female visibility  

While there seems to be a growing trend towards female visibility and representation in Serbia, there are still obstacles and prejudices that need to be addressed. 

One SME owner believes that female representation is trendy and that there is a lot of representation in politics. However, “in business, big corporations are mostly owned by men, and there are still few women founding SMEs,” she said.   

An industry association founder notes that while there are women in top government positions, they often face bitter attacks on social media, indicating a broader societal problem. “The society awareness [of gender equality] is low,” she said. 

Notwithstanding these difficulties, there are signs of progress. One SME senior manager notes that “female visibility is increasing”, thanks in part to “social media that allows these stories of [successful female entrepreneurs] to be told and to reach new audiences.”  

Similarly, a start-up founder noted that female visibility is strong in urban areas, but that there is a need to share the stories of successful women entrepreneurs in rural areas as well. Lastly, one large company executive acknowledged the existence of several initiatives that support female entrepreneurs and increase their visibility.  

Although views may differ on the level of female representation and leadership in Serbia, there is a shared consensus that there is room for improvement. Therefore, more needs to be done to create a level playing field. 

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