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Women entrepreneurs struggle to get a fair share of investment funding to grow their businesses. Photo /123rf
Too many Kiwi women entrepreneurs struggle to get funding or just find time to work the hours needed to establish a new business. Jane Phare talks to the head of a university-based centre aimed at supporting female entrepreneurs in a male-centric business world.
Twenty-odd years ago when associate professor Dr Christine Woods did her PhD on women entrepreneurs in small businesses, she wondered whether her subject choice might simply resolve itself.
Surely, she thought, equity and equality would take place naturally and such academic study would become redundant. But although two decades later much has improved, there’s still an awful lot that hasn’t, she says.
Now, in her role as the inaugural Theresa Gattung Chair for Women in Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland, Woods hopes to speed up that progress. Among the challenges she sees are access to entrepreneurial finance for women, access to established networks, and the ongoing issue of “care” responsibilities.
Setting aside jokes about women being good at multi-tasking and accusations of stereotyping, she still gets constant feedback that, typically, a businessman preparing for an overseas trip packs his case, sorts his laptop presentation and grabs his passport.
For many women in business it’s not that easy, with child care, after-school activities, running a household, housework and caring for older family members, Woods says. Those gender expectations of women are still alive and well.
“He packs his briefcase and goes. She does 101 different things and then goes.”
Woods aims to engage in three areas in her role: Academic research to support post-graduate students working on women in entrepreneurship, teaching, and engaging with the broader community.
Entrepreneur and mentor Theresa Gattung has pledged $2.5m over 10 years towards the chair and its base, the Aotearoa Centre for Enterprising Women.
Gattung hopes the business community will offer additional financial support and already the Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation has provided funds for research. Gattung has indicated she may also increase the amount she has pledged.
This month, the centre will launch an MBA course on women in entrepreneurship and next year Woods will begin teaching a new undergraduate entrepreneurship course. In addition, the centre has funded postgraduate students to continue their research.
Gattung’s goal has always been to improve the odds for Kiwi women to achieve in business, leadership and governance, and make New Zealand an easier place for women to do business.
In 1999, aged 37, she was appointed as CEO of Telecom New Zealand, the first woman in that role as well as an NZX-listed company. But where, she asks, 23 years later, are all the female CEOs and board chairs, and why does venture capital for women’s businesses run at a fraction of the total?
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