The number of female entrepreneurs in Belgium is still considerably lower than that of men. Nevertheless, female entrepreneurship is on the rise. Angelo talked to two strong, entrepreneurial women and asked them for their opinion on stereotyped ways of thinking within the business world.
According to the most recent figures* (2019), the active labour force in Belgium consists of approximately the same proportion men (53%) as women (47%). With a slight decrease in the number of women compared to 2018.
Remarkable is the 10% increase in the percentage of self-employed women (compared to 2018). Nevertheless, women still tend to prefer the employee system to entrepreneurship.
*Source: Statbel, the Belgian statistical office.
Our interview with Female Entrepreneurs
Dorien (32) has been working in the media world for more than eight years. In 2019 she founded Bossy: a magazine and platform for ambitious women. She also gave birth to her first child during her start-up year: “I chose to set up a print magazine at a time when everyone thinks that print has no chance of survival. I decided to focus the magazine mainly on women. I’ve been declared crazy, but I’m still very happy that I did it.”
Caroline (32) decided 3 years ago to run her husband’s family business Bonrill. She chose to cross over from her background and job as a pharmacist to the typical male world within the meat industry: “I took over the family business in 2017 because I saw a lot of potential in it. The company needed a transformation. That transformation is quite a job. But it doesn’t scare me. Why stay within your comfort zone when there’s so much to do out there?”
Do you notice that there’s a lot of taboo around female entrepreneurs?
Dorien: “It’s more about the mindset. Do men only listen to men? If you walk into a conference room with that thought, chances are you can prove yourself right afterwards. But when you enter the room, trusting in your own strength, knowledge and skills, it’s not about ‘will they listen’. I strongly believe that when you focus on something, it can turn out that way. If you think ‘I’m always unlucky’ then you will attract a lot of ‘bad luck’.”
Caroline: “As a young person in her thirties, I notice that there is much less taboo around female entrepreneurship. I can imagine that this used to be the case much more often. But as far as I’m concerned, we complement eachother and that’s what it’s all about. Certainly within the meat industry, which is quite old-fashioned, I try to make my mark as a new generation. That business really needs it.”
Did you feel you had to prove extra?
Dorien: “I never really felt I had to prove myself because I’m a woman. However, I was asked how I was going to combine entrepreneurship with having a child. My husband never got that question. While it’s his child, too, and we’re both taking care of the child.”
Caroline: “I had to prove myself to my in-laws, especially because I came from a completely different industry. I didn’t have much of a feel for the product in the beginning and I really had to build up my own network. I had to prove myself and so I did!”
Is there a difference between male and female entrepreneurs?
Dorien: “To say that you can draw a clear line between female and male entrepreneurship is perhaps too far-fetched. It’s often about the skills you can deploy. If you don’t have certain skills, you can learn them or, if necessary, hire someone else. However, I have noticed that women (or at least I do) want to be able to do good for everyone more quickly. A pleasant working environment and a good relationship between employees and employers is very important.”
Caroline: “It is sometimes said that women dare to take fewer risks. That’s not the case at all. I am the person in our family who dares to take the most risks. I also think it’s mainly personal and depends on your character and not whether you’re a man or a woman.”
Women choose to start their own business because it gives them more time off. Is that right?
Dorien: “Maybe this is what some people think. But I can tell you right now that it’s not. Running an enterprise is a full-time occupation and vocation. You can’t do this if you don’t go for it. And by going for it, I mean putting in all the time and energy it takes to make it successful.”
Caroline: “You do business mainly because you have ambition and a drive to achieve something. And certainly not because it makes it easier for you to choose when you’re free. I think you can only do that when you’re comfortable. As an entrepreneur, you also take everything home with you. So planning is very important to make sure that you can combine work as well as household chores and/or children. I have two children myself and it has been quite challenging.”
Is female entrepreneurship sufficiently supported?
Dorien: “It’s easy to blame the fact that there are few female leaders on others. But if you want to get somewhere, you have to go for it. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. You should not be guided by what others say or think, but create your own path. Of course it helps that there are role models, that’s why we do what we do with Bossy. We give women with a story a stage. Whether they are known and somewhere at the top or not known and at the beginning of there entrepreneurial adventure. Such examples can make the difference to dare to pursue your own dream that seems so unattainable.”
Caroline: “It’s nice that there are more and more initiatives that emphasize female entrepreneurship. I myself regularly visit Generation WOW, a community of enterprising women. And female entrepreneurship is really on the rise, so I think a lot of women are really eager to do business.”
What more do you want to give to women who think about starting their own business?
Dorien: “It’s important that women don’t think they have to put their careers on hold because they want children, or have to choose. You can have it all, you just have to plan and make sure it’s all achievable and fun. You have to be happy yourself, you don’t have to make someone else happy.”
Caroline: “You have to do something you like. Otherwise you can’t keep it up! You shouldn’t just do it because it looks good or sounds good. You have to do it because you really feel like it.”
Although the figures are still far from equal to the number of men running a business, female entrepreneurship is on the rise. And as is clear from my conversations with the ladies above, they have as much motivation and drive as men. Gender plays no role if you want to run a business. All you need is the will to make your business successful and the will to keep learning and growing!