Stronger together, stronger with support 

Cultural norms and biases may be influencing the success of at least some female entrepreneurs in Armenia.   

Armenian female entrepreneurs face numerous challenges when starting and running a (new) business, according to a recent survey conducted by Emerging Europe under the She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative. Obtaining financing, high competition, and building teams were identified as the top three obstacles by entrepreneurs.  

Additionally, cultural norms and biases were found to play a role in the success of Armenia’s female entrepreneurs, with gender discrimination and perception in local culture being cited as notable challenges. 

Yet, success has been attained by Armenian female entrepreneurs through their hard work, confidence, creative thinking, motivation, and initiative. Professional networking was deemed crucial, as well as support from family and colleagues. Education also played a critical role in their entrepreneurship endeavours. 

As the business world rapidly evolves, Armenian entrepreneurs recognise the importance of continuously developing their skills to remain competitive. 

Breaking down barriers  

When asked about the challenges they encounter while starting and running a (new) business, Armenian female entrepreneurs reported their top three challenges. These were identified as obtaining investments/financing (45.8 per cent), facing intense competition (37.5 per cent), and struggling to find suitable workers and build effective teams (25.8 per cent). 

Additional important barriers encountered included unfavourable business conditions, difficulty in sourcing high-quality suppliers, a lack of appropriate legislation supporting businesses, bureaucratic hurdles, administrative complexity, and limited access to financial/payment decisions/funds. Each of these challenges is reported by over 15 per cent of the respondents as a significant concern.  

Other notable challenges identified, although to a lesser extent, were gender discrimination (5.8 per cent) and the perception of women entrepreneurs in local culture (five per cent), indicating that cultural norms and biases may be influencing the success of at least some female entrepreneurs in Armenia.   

A series of in-depth interviews with SME founders, managers, and start-up owners confirmed that gender-based biases and stereotypes can make it difficult for women to be seen and heard as equal participants in the workplace. 

One SME founder noted that in board meetings, she often feels ignored and dismissed by her male colleagues, who assume they know more about her company than she does: “In the board meetings, you say something, but they don’t listen. Your voice…even though you are a founder of the company…they are bankers and financial guys, so they think they know it better.”  

Another SME founder spoke about how women are socialised to be agreeable and not to assert themselves: “Women are brought up to be very agreeable, to not fight, to not insist in your point of view too much. It is easy to make you comply with what others are thinking.”  

One start-up owner shared her opinion that gender discrimination is cultural and rooted in how girls are brought up. “Women are educated to be followers of male leaders”, she said.  

These gender perceptions and biases can also affect the perception of women’s leadership capabilities. As one SME manager noted, people still struggle to believe that a woman can hold a high-level position: “People still cannot believe that a woman can achieve this role. We always need to prove. ‘You are the CEO, you’re a woman?'”  

This gender-based discrimination is also apparent in the tech industry. While there are many female engineers in software development, there are few women in leadership roles. A start-up owner noted, “When it comes to the businessperson/leaders, you will find only three to five females in the entire industry.” 

Furthermore, gender discrimination can occur when looking for investments or partnerships. A start-up owner said, “For me, it is hard to communicate with engineers. The company can be led by a woman, but the person in front must be a man, in some countries.”  

One start-up CEO noted, “It is harder for women to raise funds, it is harder in Armenia, it is harder in Silicon Valley.”  

Family ties 

Our research indicates that Armenia female entrepreneurs have a diverse set of strengths, with hard work being the most common response in our survey (24.2 per cent). Confidence was the second most common response at 22.5 per cent. Creative thinking and motivation and initiative were also highly valued at 21.7 per cent.  

In addition, the survey shows that many entrepreneurs value their ability to establish connections (20 per cent), indicating that building strong professional relationships and networks is crucial for their success. Other commonly mentioned strengths were persistence and innovation, empathy, willingness to take risks and the desire for training.    

That having a diverse range of strengths is critical for success was also highlighted during the in depth interviews. One entrepreneur highlighted her previous experience in Silicon Valley, technical education, and interpersonal skills as her strengths. These attributes have shaped the way she thinks and allowed her to form strong relationships with clients and colleagues alike.  

Another business leader emphasized her communication skills and ability to understand the strengths of others. “My profession is a strength,” she stated, “and has allowed me to develop a lot in terms of communication skills.”   

A start-up CEO spoke of her analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as her ability to motivate and inspire others. She stressed the importance of being a great communicator and motivator, especially as a female founder. “It’s important that partners, team members, and customers get inspiration from you,” she said. “A great combination of engineering background, project management, and soft skills has helped me achieve my goals.” 

For another entrepreneur, growing up in a family of business owners was a major advantage. “Taking risk and responsibility, not being afraid of failing or wrong business decisions – these things are in my blood,” she said. She also stressed the importance of remaining calm in high-pressure situations and having a constant drive to push forward. 

Throughout the interviews, the importance of support was also emphasized. One SME manager noted that support should come from within, and that it’s important to have high expectations of oneself. She also highlighted the importance of support from family and team members. “It’s important that team members trust you,” she stated.   

Another business owner recognised the luck of having a family that supported her education and career aspirations, while acknowledging that not all families provide the same level of support.  

Indeed, the survey reveals that education is important for Armenian entrepreneurship. Most of the surveyed female entrepreneurs (around 60 per cent) have either obtained a Bachelor’s or vocational education/college degree. A relatively smaller proportion of respondents have completed a Master’s degree (19.2 per cent) or only have a full secondary education (15.0 per cent).  

Staying ahead of the competition  

Many respondents feel that obtaining additional financing (41.7 per cent) is the most important skill they need to manage their businesses more effectively and to remain competitive in the ever-changing business world. Additionally, digital marketing and managing social networks are also seen as crucial skills by 36.7 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed.   

Other skills that respondents feel are important for better business management include e-commerce and online operations (27.5 per cent), strategic management and planning (22.5 per cent), and the development of international business (18.3 per cent).  

It is worth noting that a smaller proportion of respondents also identified the improvement of payment efficiency, financial planning and management, human resource management, networking, and cross-cultural communication as skills that they would like to strengthen in the future.  

Additional skills were mentioned by interviewees. One SME manager highlighted the need for “in-depth knowledge in technology” to keep up with the constantly evolving landscape of digital tools and platforms. 

Meanwhile, a start-up CEO emphasized the importance of delegating more effectively to manage her workload and avoid getting bogged down in details.  

Another SME founder recognised the need for improvement in financial and management skills, and the importance of having a solid foundation in these areas for the success of her business. Additionally, a business owner highlighted the desire to improve coaching skills and emotional intelligence to better navigate the stresses and challenges of running a business.  

Largely, the survey results and interviews demonstrate the need for continuous learning and development to improve business management and stay ahead of the competition. As one SME manager stated, “To be a good entrepreneur, you need to have the capacity to learn and evolve with your business.” 

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