A platform to support women’s entrepreneurship

June 17, 2021 | 16:53
UN Women is making efforts to upgrade the position of Vietnamese women in the family and wider society. Elisa Fernandez Saenz, UN Women representative in Vietnam, talked with Hoang Oanh about solutions to support Vietnamese women in the startup process.

What is the biggest barrier for Vietnamese women in the process of starting a business?

A platform to support women’s entrepreneurship
Elisa Fernandez Saenz, UN Women representative in Vietnam

In this process women face many obstacles such as accessing financial resources, along with not being equipped with sufficient knowledge and skills such as business administration, financial management, marketing and business strategy, and ICT.

Another serious obstacle, though invisible to some but very serious and real, is that stereotypes and constraints related to gender and family often mean women do not receive support from their families during the startup process. They also spend most of their time in unpaid jobs such as cooking and taking care of children. As a result, women have less time to start a business, build relationships, and participate in training and coaching courses to help them grow their businesses.

Another distinctive factor is that we see a lack of policies to support women’s entrepreneurship. Most of the government’s current financial support policies are aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) but female-owned businesses need to have their own strategies in place to motivate them to participate more in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial processes.

What does UN Women do to support Vietnamese women to help them overcome barriers to be more confident and successful?

UN Women does not have specific support activities, but focuses on structural changes in policy to create the best foundation to support female entrepreneurs and startups in business-related activities.

We will focus on two different levels: The first is to build resources for women in entrepreneurship and the second is to influence policies to support.

In terms of capacity building for women, UN Women works with many partners such as the support employment program with the Vietnam Women’s Academy to develop 10 e-learning modules on entrepreneurship and business development. These modules will be posted on the academy’s e-learning next month.

We also worked with the SME Support Center under the Enterprise Development Agency of the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to build 15 e-learning modules on leadership, management and business development skills. For female entrepreneurs, five modules were posted in January and the remaining 10 modules will be completed by the end of this year.

UN Women also cooperates with the Vietnam Association For Women Entrepreneurs to train female-owned SMEs in smart marketing, change management, business continuity plans, and network development. We also work with the Vietnam Women’s Union to train women to start businesses, support livelihoods, respond to climate change, and support rural women’s entrepreneurship.

In terms of policy, we also support the MPI to develop a new decree to replace the old SME decree, supplement a number of regulations on supporting female-owned SMEs, and consult on resources for development so that business owners can access these sources of support. The MPI is also supported with a new policy to develop a national programme to improve the competitiveness of female-run SMEs by 2025 in Vietnam.

Finally, we support the MPI’s business development agency to develop a gender-responsive tool to assess innovation activities, connect value chains, and improve the financial capacity of SMEs. This will help assess the potential and the innovation process for women to recognise strengths and weaknesses, promote business performance, and help the entrepreneurship process become easier.

Women who hold middle leadership positions here often report that they feel discriminated against in the workplace and are significantly less likely than men to be offered a promotion. How does this experience stack up compared to other countries, and why is this?

Women are becoming more involved and self-employed than in the past, but gender equality has not yet been achieved in Vietnam. For example, Vietnamese women still have lower wages than men when they do the same job, they are also discriminated against when applying for a job, and even when they get a job, they also face great discrimination.

Women also face barriers in family care responsibilities and gender bias in recruitment. For example, many people think that women can only be called successful when they achieve achievements in both business and family. These have created barriers for female workers to compete equally with their male counterparts.

When we compare the direct correlation between investment in women’s capacity and GDP per capita, we find that countries that invest in gender equality and have a higher index of gender equality have better economies and better competitiveness.

Even businesses with high gender equality have better profits and growth, and higher productivity and competitiveness. From there, they create a good workforce, a better working environment, and attract more talents.

Vietnam’s National Strategy on Gender Equality defines that by 2025, about 20,000 women will be supported to start a business. The rate of female directors or owners of businesses is expected to reach at least 27 per cent by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

Since 2017, more than 38,400 women have received support to start a business. The proportion of women holding senior leadership positions in businesses in Vietnam is 39 per cent, according to a 2020 report by Grant Thornton Vietnam.

By Hoang Oanh

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional