Female Entrepreneurship in Latin America

Entrepreneurship has proven to be a pivotal element of economic growth and development, supporting most of the innovations that have promoted economic development and income equality. Therefore, the more entrepreneurial opportunities a country offers its society, the more likely will development be furthered, which will result in more opportunities for a countries populace, thus encouraging innovation. It’s a cyclical process.

Last year, due to the pandemic, many small businesses were closed and reduced their operations. Unfortunately, women entrepreneurs have been more impacted than their male counterparts. The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, which assessed the success of 58 economies in advancing women entrepreneurship, revealed that more than 50 percent of companies led by women in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Italy, South Korea, Russia, Thailand, Uruguay, and Vietnam were negatively affected by the pandemic.

Female entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized in public policy circles. However, there is a massive gap in quantifying the extent of female business ownership and female-owned businesses’ economic contributions. According to research conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, more than 6 percent of the world’s population lives in Latin America, which has some of the highest rates of entrepreneurial activity and self-confidence in entrepreneurial skills, as well as increasing rates of female entrepreneurs.

Simultaneously, as a region, Latin America has one of the lowest historical rates of female participation in economic activity – barely 35 percent compared to an average of over 50 percent in Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. The study fills this gap by analyzing the levels and drivers of female entrepreneurial activity in 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study reveals that lack of profits or funding problems among female-led businesses are responsible for 56 percent of their failures in Latin America. There are also legislative obstacles in Latin America that make it more difficult for women to start a business. In Chile, for example, the marriage law stipulates that a woman must seek permission from her husband before she can start a business. Despite the challenges women face, the growing number of women entrepreneurs in Latin America can be attributed to personal and professional development opportunities that the traditional workforce may not offer. Therefore, it is correct to say that women are part of the minority in the creation of small businesses and startups in Latin America.

The most critical issues and challenges facing women in many Latin American countries are access to capital and technology. Although many adult women are employed, most have not yet reached managerial positions in the workplace. In addition, the percentage of women among administrative and managerial workers is significantly lower than the rate of participation of women in the labor force. The rates of business ownership by women are similar. Access to capital is a primary concern of women entrepreneurs, but capital itself is not enough. Technology and technical assistance have all proved to be more problematic for women outside major metropolitan areas. Policymakers and governments should work to overcome these barriers, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Start-Up Chile is a public accelerator launched in 2010 by the Chilean government to create an entrepreneurial innovation hub in South America. Start-Up Chile has been widely recognized as one of the best acceleration programs globally, and in 2018, the World Economic Forum praised Chile as “the most innovative country for startup entrepreneurs.” 51 percent of the 1,309 companies survived and 39 percent remained in Chile, employing 1,562 people. The S Factory idea arose out of the lack of representation of women in Start-Up Chile’s other startup program – Seed. In 2015, 85 percent of startups were run by men and only 15 percent by women. Keen to make acceleration programs accessible to both men and women, Start-Up Chile launched the S Factory in 2015 as a pre-acceleration diversity program for founders led by women with less experience.

Created in 1972, the Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Enterprises is a private Brazilian non-profit social services entity that aims to train and promote micro and small enterprises’ economic development and competitiveness by stimulating entrepreneurship countries. In 2019, the government launched Sebrae Delas to focus on developing women entrepreneurs and leaders who are passionate about success. The program includes several actions to encourage, support, and strengthen the entrepreneurial culture among women. The initiative aims to promote and professionalize business practices and public policies to improve women’s skills.

Female entrepreneurship should be widely discussed in society. The topic goes beyond women in leadership positions. Gender diversity is a major influence on the development of services and products, directly impacting the companies’ potential for financial return. Entrepreneurship is a path that allows the construction of financial independence and the development of business models designed and tested by women. Without fair development opportunities for women entrepreneurs, we will not achieve gender equality, and the economic value currently lost through this inequality impacts all of society.