There is no ‘glass ceiling’ holding South African women back from success in business today. The real hurdle to overcome for business success is one’s own attitude, say successful local businesswomen.
Ahead of the #BuyaBusiness Expo and Small Business Expo, successful women entrepreneurs participating in the events were asked to reflect on what challenges women face in business today. The key issues, they said, were achieving home-work balance and overcoming perceptions that they might be emotional or too apologetic in their business dealings. Successful women in business know what they want to achieve and set out to get it, they say.
For Melissa van Hoogstraten, owner of the well-known Melissa’s stores and food and lifestyle products, success means a balance between a happy marriage, raising three ‘divine’ children, and a growing business. Mark & Melissa van Hoogstraten opened their first Melissa’s store in August 1996 in Kloof Street, Cape Town. “The first shop was really just something to keep me busy,” she says. “I was only 23, newlywed and I wanted to do something that encompassed my passions.” Melissa believes that starting a business at an early age, without having worked in a formal corporate job, worked in her favour: “We had very little to lose at the time, so we could afford to take risks.”
Mark and Melissa worked side by side to grow the business; each bringing their own unique skills to the partnership. With three children now aged 14, 15 and 16, balancing family with the demands of running a fast-growing business can be a challenge, but it’s one the Van Hoogstratens share equally. “We believe family has to take priority, because you have only one opportunity to raise your children well,” Melissa says.
Running your own business is tough, whoever you are, Melissa notes. “Everyone in business makes mistakes and has to learn from them. It’s always new, unknown territory. I haven’t found any challenges unique to my being a woman in business. It’s about how you put yourself forward – if you are good at what you do, and therefore you are confident, people will respect you.”
Brenda Botha, owner of cosmetic businesses Make-Up Designory (MUD) SA and Cosmetic Corp, launched her businesses after gaining years of experience in the South African cosmetics industry. “The work experience I gained in the industry helped me a great deal,” she says. “I saw where businesses typically made mistakes, and resolved not to repeat them in my own business.”
Although she works in an industry traditionally dominated by women, Botha says she has encountered challenges specific to her being a woman in business. “Often it is in the small things, like dealing with shop fitters. People just don’t take you seriously.
“I have had to become a lot tougher, more forceful, and less apologetic in business. It’s about not asking for permission, being unemotional, saying exactly what you want, and being prepared when you go in to a meeting,” she says.
Genevieve Allen, MD of Sherpa Kids South Africa, a franchised Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) business, is one of only a handful of female franchisors in South Africa. Genevieve considers herself to be part of a “game-changing” generation of women who are empowered to make credible choices about marriage/partnerships, children and careers – and a combination of these elements. She believes the key to accessing choice is education, and that perseverance unlocks opportunities. “My passion for the fields of education and human development are based on my own life experience. No one can ever take your education away from you and your honed skills with people will always build more connections with new people and empower you even further as a as a woman,” she says.
For entrepreneurial women, interested in starting or growing a business can meet and engage with like-minded entrepreneurs at #BuyaBusiness Expo and the Small Business Expo and Small Business Expo. These expos offer one-stop franchise and business opportunities, business tools, information and networking for anyone considering starting their own business, and for those already in business and looking to expand. The expos will be staged at the Ticketpro Dome in Northriding Johannesburg from the 8th -10th September 2016. For information, visit http://www.reedexpoafrica.co.za/smallbizexpo/ or www.reedexpoafrica.co.za/buyabusinessexpo. The Small Business Expo is proudly supported by Eskom.