With an increasing number of women setting up Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the number of female entrepreneurs in the UAE is expected to grow over the next few years, experts said at the SME Congress and Expo.
The three-day conference, which took place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), concluded on Wednesday with the entire day dedicated to discussing women in business.
Speakers discussed the increasing support of the UAE government towards SMEs, and said there are a “huge number of women entering the SME market”.
In fact, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) latest report on the UAE cited a steady increase in the rate of women who are established business owners. While there was a 0.1 per cent increase in 2006, there was a gain of 1.4 per cent in 2011.
The report also said that 80 per cent of Emirati women are nascent entrepreneurs.
Mona Tavassoli, founder and director of Mom Souq and Mompreneurs Middle East, said there is room for growth in the SME market, and expected even more female entrepreneurs in the future.
“The biggest challenges women face is the lack of confidence to take risks; the lack of access to knowledge and mentorship; and lack of knowledge on how to get funds,” Tavassoli said.
To combat that, she suggested having accessible training that would teach entrepreneurs all the details they need to know in order to start up a business.
She added that the fear of risk-taking stems from social pressure against failure, the absence of a solid bankruptcy law, and the high cost of setting up.
Another speaker, Shaikha Hend Faisal Al Qasimi, CEO of Al Qassemi Al Thani Holdings in Qatar, also discussed the rise of women in business.
“The nation and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries in general have always been supporting women. In the older days, men used to be out at sea for months, and women used to run their business. Then with the age of oil, women didn’t need to work and their productivity decreased.
“This has changed now, and the idea of entrepreneurship is like a fever that everyone is catching,” she said.
As for the future of female entrepreneurs, Al Qasimi said she hoped to see them at the Dubai Expo 2020, but agreed that funding and the fear of failure remain the biggest hurdles they have to combat.
Although Emirati women on average work 5.6 hours per week more than men, only 8.6 per cent of the UAE’s millionaires are female, according to research by Booz & Company, and WealthInsight Intelligence Centre.
However, global trends show that the tide is turning, and now over a third of all global firms have female owners, according to the International Financial Corporation.