New Report: Women’s Entrepreneurship in Syrian-Owned Businesses in Turkey
Eliminating poverty, improving household incomes, and supporting the growth of national economies can be achieved with the full economic participation of both women and men. Women account for 47% of the global labor force participation rate, however nearly one billion women continue to face constraints in realizing their full economic potential. Of these, 812 million live in developing countries. Supporting female entrepreneurs, particularly in high-growth sectors, has the potential to create jobs, increase incomes, and pave the way for greater economic and social reforms.
Despite this, significant gender gaps continue to persist in the entrepreneurial ecosystem; female entrepreneurs operate primarily in the informal sector and are largely concentrated in low productivity sectors. And while all entrepreneurs in developing countries face noteworthy barriers to doing business, evidence shows that women experience more obstacles relative to their male counterparts. Among the main constraints identified are: lack of enabling factors at the initial startup phase such as less access to education and finance, policies and regulations which discriminate against women, and overall social norms which limit female participation in the labor force.
When you consider these factors in the context of the global refugee crisis, the barriers to female entrepreneurship are even higher and women are disproportionately impacted. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are approximately 79.5 million people forcibly displaced due to civil wars, violence, and persecution. Of those approximately 40 million are women, many of whom become head of household due to separation or other tragic circumstances. In Turkey, for example, where 3.5 million Syrian refugees now reside, only 15% of women report having an income-generating job.
In 2017, Building Markets released an assessment showing Another Side to the (refugee) Story. Research found that Syrians had started 6,033 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Turkey since the war began, invested $334 million in capital in the country, and they were employing, on average, 9.4 people. The report also highlighted that women were poorly represented in the economy and comprised only 8% of business owners nationally.
However, evidence is demonstrating that those numbers are improving. Using its existing database of 2,022 Syrian-owned SMEs in Turkey, Building Markets has published a new report to assess changes in women’s entrepreneurship over the last three years, including understanding female employment, management, and ownership in its network of businesses. (Click here to read the full report, Women as Entrepreneurs and Employees in Syrian SMEs in Turkey.)
The first notable difference is that Building Markets now works with 59 businesses with women owners in its network, a significant increase from the initial six we met in 2017. However, most of these women are engaged in low-employment sectors (education and arts, entertainment and recreation). This and other insights underscore that there is far more work to do to ensure there is gender parity when it comes to economic participation.
Ownership:While only a small percentage of SMEs reported to have at least one female owner, 70% of SMEs with female owners reported having a business plan for the following year and 85% reported having business bank accounts. of female business owners in the survey expressed interest in taking out business loans for reasons such as geographic expansion or updating equipment. Of the challenges reported, the largest one was difficulty accessing finance.
Management:Sectors which saw the highest percentage of female managers include human health and social work, education, and arts entertainment and recreation. However, the results found that even in sectors which women are more likely to be employed, they seldom hold management roles.
Employment: Only 501, or less than one third, of the SMEs in the survey sample reported having at least one full time female employee. Manufacturingaccounts for the largest source of job creation, however the fraction of women in this sector is lowest compared to other sectors.
When women can work and unleash their entrepreneurial potential, they can have a significant impact on job creation, economic growth, poverty reduction, and market diversity. Estimates show that reducing the gap in women’s labor force participation by 25% by the year 2025, would create an estimated 100 million new jobs into the global economy.As half the global labor force power, there is no doubt that women are powerful contributors to firms, societies, and economies. Research suggests that when women are empowered to succeed economically they have sizeable productivity gains and influence the success of future generations. Women-headed households are likely to reinvest 90% of their income to their families compared to 30-40% contributed by men. Full and productive female employment has the untapped potential to stimulate national economies, exponentially. In the Gulf region alone, research suggests that if 2 million highly educated women entered the workforce, the regions GDP could rise by 30%.
In the US, women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms, contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy and are directly responsible for 23 million jobs. This trend is no less apparent in developing countries, where the level of female entrepreneurship is also on the rise— about 8 to 10 million formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have at least one female owner.A growing number of countries and companies are seizing this opportunity. In 2017, Uganda (34.8%) and Botswana (34.6%) had the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs globally.In the US, 44% of companies now have three or more women in executive level positions, up from 29% in 2015.
Yet, while there has been a global shift towards creating a more gender balanced world when it comes to economic opportunities, Building Markets’ data highlights that women remain underrepresented in business ownership and employment. There is a continued need for policymakers to examine the constraints women entrepreneurs face so they can be addressed in a more meaningful way. Given the size of the Syrian refugee crisis, which presents both a challenge and opportunity, providing a path for women to engage in the Turkish economy will be essential to the country’s stability and prosperity.