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Q&A with Ruta Aidis: Best Places for Women Entrepreneurs

  • Frances Alonzo

The two top ranking countries for women entrepreneurs in Asia are South Korea and China, according to a newly released study by Dell called The Gender Global Entrepreneurial Development Index (GEDI).

Ruta Aidis is the Gender-GEDI Project Director at the GEDI Institute. She told VOA's Frances Alonzo that the study looks at both strengths and weaknesses of each country, which in turn gives world leaders a peek into what their country needs to do to be more friendly for women entrepreneurs.

AIDIS: The highest ranking were South Korea and China that tied together with South Africa for 11th place. Japan scored in 14th place, tied with Peru. And then Thailand in 17th place. So those you could say are the top four.

Every country has its strengths and weaknesses. South Korea’s strengths are that it has a good business environment, has low business risk [and] a good access to finance in general. It’s a strong area for female entrepreneurs to develop, yet it has very low female startup ratio. Less than three female startups for every 10 male startups. And very low levels of female leadership. Ten percent of all managers and senior officials are women in South Korea. There needs to be more emphasis in the areas that are restricting women from actually starting businesses at the same ratio as men and also providing more opportunities for women to enter leadership positions. Because we see a correlation between women and leadership and also more acceptance of women in executive positions in a country.

China has a high female startup ratio. About eight female startups for every ten. They have relatively well developed capital markets and they have a relatively high percentage of female startups that are introducing new products and services.

What we see as one of the weaknesses in China is that it has a low percentage of highly educated female business owners. Only 28 percent of the female business owners have a college degree. Research has shown that better educated male or female entrepreneurs tend to have businesses that are growth oriented, are more successful and are able to access additional networks, training and knowledge that individuals with lower levels of education aren’t able to access. Another issue in China is, for female businesses, there are very low levels of women using the internet. Only 34 percent. And there is a low percentage of women who are accessing bank accounts. Only 37 percent of women in China have a formal bank account.

ALONZO: What businesses are women starting?

AIDIS: In most countries in the world, we see women crowded in the service sector, health, education, sectors which tend to have low levels of profitability and are very competitive. We do look specifically at startups in the tech sector. And that is low in all 30 countries in our index. Only averaging about one to two percent of female startups in the tech sector. We hope to encourage countries to really address that and devise strategies to open up sectors that have been very male dominated such as construction, mining, transportation, infrastructure and so forth. Even though in a number of countries and also in the Asian region, women are studying fields that could help them start businesses in the tech sector. They are studying science, technology, mathematics, engineering and some computer science, yet women are not starting businesses, and I think the very important question to ask is ‘Why is that not happening?’ Often it’s the attitudes, it’s the macho culture; it’s shutting women out from starting and growing businesses in the tech sector worldwide.

ALONZO: Some of the Asian cultures are very male dominated, and if they are just not very receptive from the start, how would you get this information into their hands and say ‘hey, this can really benefit you?’

AIDIS: That’s a very good question, and I think there has to be an interest from the country’s side. And what we really focus on is the economic argument. A country can say that traditional values are important to us and women are not that involved in the formal labor force or entrepreneurship . But really if you are interested in your country’s competitiveness in the new global age, I don’t think any country can afford to restrict 50 percent of its population from participating and creating innovation and new developments that can help boost the county’s economic growth and competitiveness. So, the point we really want to make is that there should be availability of choice for all individuals in a society. So, not all women want to be entrepreneurs - that’s fine - not all women want to grow their businesses, but they should be offered the opportunity, because otherwise you are basically throwing your possibilities out the window.

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