Education is crucial to empowering female entrepreneurs, and that education can be both formal and – increasingly – informal.
Level of education has a direct impact on the level of success for female entrepreneurs, as those with a higher education tend to run larger businesses.
For female entrepreneurs, therefore, improving their skills and gaining more knowledge is of the utmost importance.
But for many female entrepreneurs, accessing education is often a significant challenge. Networking and leveraging previous experience can help overcome such challenges.
Then there’s gender inequality – which persists, especially in rural areas. Media support for young women’s education is essential. However, educating both genders can change traditional attitudes towards education and gender roles.
Sharing knowledge and learning from each other is critical for female entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and advance in their careers. Moreover, they want to make a positive impact on society and using entrepreneurship can be a potent instrument for generating social change and promoting community welfare.
Why education matters
In a survey carried out by Emerging Europe in connection with She’s Next Empowered by Visa, female entrepreneurs were asked about their educational levels. 29 per cent of them said that they had completed a bachelor’s degree, 27 per cent vocational training, and 22 full secondary education. In addition, 13 per cent of the respondents had a master’s degree and only two per cent a doctorate.
Also very low was the percentage of start-up founders and SME owners with merely elementary or uncompleted secondary education, at five per cent.
Results show that female entrepreneurs with higher education had larger businesses. For example, 26 per cent of those with a doctorate had businesses with eleven or more employees. On the other hand, 43 per cent of those with only secondary education stated they were individual entrepreneurs. Moreover, 49 per cent of those without secondary education said they had no employees, and family and friends were helping them run the business.
Prospects for the future also encompass education as there are several skills female entrepreneurs would like to improve or learn. Concrete tools to help obtain additional financing and further electronic marketing and managing social networks skills were the most mentioned, by 47 and 37 per cent of respondents, respectively.
Also often mentioned were knowledge of electronic trade and online operations (24 per cent), development of international business skills (21 per cent), and strategic management and planning tools (18 per cent). Only five per cent believe that they do not need any additional skills.
The role of informal education: networking
Lack of education and access to education are significant challenges that female entrepreneurs face in their journey. However, networking and leveraging previous experience can help overcome such challenges.
Our survey results indicate that lack of education remains a significant obstacle for female entrepreneurs. Insufficient financial education, for instance, can lead to the undervaluation of products, as acknowledged by an SME owner who noted: “People do not value their product properly, maybe it is a lack of financial education.”
However, access to education is not as straightforward as other commodities, according to a business leader, who stated: “It is all about education. It is not like water. You are thirsty, and you just drink water. You must know where to buy it.”
Many female entrepreneurs express a keen interest in joining an international community to learn from each other and share best practice. The level of interest among our respondents ranged from 74.8 per cent to 96.8 per cent, with higher levels of education showing a greater interest in joining the international networks.
Moreover, the lack of formal education in management, marketing, and production technologies can present challenges for entrepreneurs. For example, a start-up founder lacking management education faced difficulties with team management, stating: “I think a lot of mistakes were made when hiring people… that was quite difficult.”
However, networking and leveraging previous experience can help overcome such challenges, as emphasised by an SME owner: “I do not have a formal education… [but] I had some contacts from my previous career that I could ask for help.”
Battling gender inequality
Gender inequality persists in education. Girls, especially in rural areas, are still being encouraged to prioritise marriage over pursuing a career. Access to education can also be a problem, again particularly in rural areas.
Furthermore, achieving higher education or pursuing it at all differs among regions, with a preference for men. As a business enabler stated: “Achieving higher education or pursuing higher education differs among regions. Overall, there is a preference for men, for young boys pursuing higher education than young girls… This obviously plays a role in women’s rights to education and access to education.”
Considering this, a large company manager emphasised the importance of media support for young women’s education. “It is important that everything is in the media to support young women and their education because, in some parts of the world, women do not have a say,” she said.
An SME owner also agreed that education is crucial but emphasised that both genders should be educated, not just females, stating: “I think it is also important to educate. We are on a female agenda right now, but I think we must educate both genders [include men].” Men should be included in this conversation to change traditional attitudes towards education and gender roles.
Empowering female entrepreneurs is more than just a noble pursuit, it is a step towards bringing positive change to society. One start-up founder has a plan to do just that. “I would love to see myself doing more for empowering females and my end goal is to have a venture capital firm that will fund female founders,” she said. Her belief is that enabling the potential of female entrepreneurs can bring significant changes to both individual countries and the world.
This vision aligns with a growing trend of female entrepreneurs that seeks to create social impact and affect positive change. “Now, I think I am at the position where I am ready to share knowledge. I want to give back [to the community],” said a large company manager.
The benefits of sharing knowledge and experience go beyond individual entrepreneurs. When asked about the importance of sharing knowledge, most of our respondents indicated that it is crucial to resist challenges and grow. Interestingly, the importance of this practice appears to increase slightly with the level of education attained — 87.1 per cent for respondents with doctoral degrees and 82.9 per cent for those with higher education.
Entrepreneurship can also be a powerful tool for creating social impact. “I want my organisation to produce something that is going to be used by many people and that is going to contribute to the social welfare of the country and the region,” said one start-up founder.