Challenging Discrimination: Breaking Barriers for Women Entrepreneurs

In a world where gender bias infiltrates every aspect of society, women entrepreneurs face discriminatory policies that impede their business’ progress. Whether it is through conscious or unconscious norms, these policies reinforce gender inequality by limiting women’s access to economic opportunities that could improve their socioeconomic conditions.

According to the World Bank, over 90% of economies worldwide possess legal structures that discriminate against women. These structures include laws restricting women’s ability to establish and manage businesses. Shockingly, a report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) titled “Investing in Women: New Evidence for the Business Case” highlights a staggering $285 billion credit gap for women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at a fundamental level. Only 46 economies have measures to prevent gender discrimination in accessing credit.

Nonetheless, abundant evidence supports the elimination of gender-discriminatory policies as a means to foster sustainable businesses. Renowned institutions such as the International Centre for Research on Women, McKinsey & Company, and the IFC universally acknowledged that eradicating discriminatory policies would boost revenue, enhance productivity, promote sustainable development, and create numerous positive impacts.

One organization actively working towards dismantling these barriers is ANDE’s Gender Equality Initiative (AGEI). One of the fundamental objectives of AGEI is to support intermediaries in exposing and dismantling discriminatory policies that hinder the prosperity of women entrepreneurs. 

AGEI’s Learning Communities

With the support of USAID, AGEI funds projects aimed at identifying and addressing discriminatory policies through their innovative re-granting facilities. While the cultural contexts in which ANDE operates vary greatly, the solutions to these problems span continents. AGEI’s Learning Communities have fostered space for those pushing forward these solutions to share insight into how communities and businesses can address their discriminatory policies. 

Over the past year, ANDE has hosted numerous Gender Learning Communities, creating a platform for grantees to share their projects, and highlighting findings and key takeaways with members and ecosystem partners across eight chapters worldwide.

In the context of these Gender Learning Communities, several grantees highlighted the importance of adopting a gender lens and conducting gender analysis within business structures and protocols to combat discriminatory policies at the roots. 

For instance, FUNDES, a capacity development provider in Latin America, presented its Procesos Conscientes (Conscientious Processes) project at the LATAM Gender Learning Community. This initiative aims to reduce the gender gap in financial opportunities caused by biases within investment entities’ prospecting, selection, evaluation, and approval processes. FUNDES began by collecting diagnostic data from four financial institutions and then developed a protocol to eliminate gender discrimination from these selection frameworks.

Meanwhile, SWEEF Capital, a women-led impact investment firm in Southeast Asia, introduced the Gender ROI™ diagnostic measurement & management assessment tool. This tool assesses organizational leadership, workforce, value chain, and the society in which the enterprises operate, identifying gaps and enabling improvements in gender equality and economic performance. By examining resilience, opportunity, and inclusion measurements, the Gender ROI™ uncovers the impact of discriminatory policies across all four categories. 

At the Pan-African Gender Learning Community, participants recognized that the unique challenges faced by women in business necessitate gender-responsive solutions. African Management Institute, an AGEI grantee working across Africa, established a support program called Emerge, based in South Africa. Emerge created safe spaces for women entrepreneurs to share experiences while receiving personal guidance on navigating discriminatory policies and approaching funders. They also received assistance in developing sellable or bankable business plans. 

The program explicitly addresses “soft” finance-access skills, such as self-advocacy and negotiation. By fostering leadership confidence alongside enhancing “hard” skills, women entrepreneurs gain the ability to combat and confront discrimination while striving to access finance.

Although these three projects span three continents, the goal remains the same: to tackle the global challenge women face due to discriminatory policies. It is crucial to tailor initiatives specifically to address these policies’ causes and far-reaching effects. 

Through the AGEI Gender Learning Communities, grantees had the opportunity to discuss the impact of their work, receive feedback from other practitioners and stakeholders, and explore potential collaborations.

As the battle against discrimination continues, these efforts are robust examples of organizations and individuals actively working to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. 

By eliminating discriminatory policies and fostering inclusive business environments, we can unlock the full potential of women’s entrepreneurial talent, benefiting individuals, communities, and national economies.

Are you interested in learning more? Visit ANDE’s Gender Equality Initiative for more information about the Re-Granting Facilities and the various funded projects.