Interview: Khedidja Belhadi
How can gender inequality be reduced amongst senior executives in the private sector?
KHEDIDJA BELHADI: Algerian women have come a long way in terms of pushing for political, social and economic reform, taking decisions, creating enterprises, and making investments. There is, to some extent, less stigma and fewer misconceptions with regards to female access to high-level positions. This has been helped in part by the government increasing the participation of women in the electoral process and at the national assembly. Despite penetrating segments of the business world, Algerian women still have a long way to go to maximise their contributions within the private sector. Entrepreneurship has yet to be fully used as a means to overcome cultural and social barriers. Indeed, those women who can truly be considered entrepreneurial still only represent a small proportion of the total population. Whilst comprising half of the population, women account for just 3% of company managers in Algeria. It is therefore paramount to promote all voluntary initiatives by companies to increase this level of participation. There is a clear need to boost communication and training activity and, perhaps more importantly, to strengthen women’s participation in the education sector amongst both domestic and international universities as well as in terms of recruitment.
What can be done to encourage female entrepreneurial activity in small businesses?
BELHADI: The government has long sought to encourage entrepreneurship within the private sector and amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), regardless of gender. However, bureaucracy is limited by the inertia factor; women face higher barriers due to ingrained social and cultural norms. Government-led strategies have therefore only proved partly effective in delivering change outside of state bureaucracy. Better guidance and training is one aspect to realising increased female entrepreneurship. Schemes to encourage and assist women to create businesses or be self-employed within industry have not fully developed yet. Discouraging factors are, in fact, still cumbersome. One way to generate a more innovative mindset is for improved cooperation between education and industry, but, of course, we first need to boost overall female participation.
We always welcome dynamic and enthusiastic women, and we often see them proposing very interesting projects. Many, however, are not taking the necessary steps to realise their potential and overcome the difficulties when it comes to implementing their projects. Providing women with business training at both the university and post-university levels is essential. Indeed by empowering them with knowledge and skills, they will be in a stronger position to manage business projects more successfully. Training is an important tool for employability and long-term sustainability of businesses that women undertake.
What are some of the challenges and advantages to encouraging more women-owned businesses?
BELHADI: he benefits of increasing growth amongst female-owned SMEs is clear. Promoting female entrepreneurship is connected in large part to broader economic growth and democratisation. Civil society groups can be powerful tools to support wide-ranging government initiatives through both financial and legal backing, and also offer higher visibility and improved technical guidance by pooling firms or projects.
Female business owners essentially face the same problems as all members of the private sector in Algeria. Entrepreneurs in general are limited by restricted local markets and lack the necessary springboards for international expansion or trade. Connections with global customers, identification of new markets and participation in international business events are crucial for entrepreneurs if they are to position themselves in the broader international business community. Changes are needed both in Algeria and across the wider MENA region to encourage intra-regional trade and investment.
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