An opinion piece by Zinzi Mgolodela
Allow me to say, it should have been Broad-based Black and Women Economic Empowerment (BBBWEE) instead of B-BBEE. An extra letter in the acronym would not have hurt – it would actually have added value and provided a more deliberate focus. The shortened version – BEE – would then have been BWEE. I am saying this because women and the roles they play give a particular flavour to B-BBEE and take it to another level in many ways.
As a woman, I own my bias on this topic. Furthermore, the BEE scorecard defines “black woman-owned companies” to be any company that has 30% or more black woman ownership. I would far rather this had been the 51% that defines “black ownership”. Whilst I understand the challenge avoided in setting it at 30%, I know that had 51% be the target, women would have taken up the challenge.
My context for this opinion piece is the SMME/entrepreneurship development aspect of transformation.
As a practitioner in the transformation space, I marvel at the way women conduct themselves in business and specifically as SMMEs venturing into participation in mainstream economy.
Doing their homework
Women make a point of educating themselves in some shape or form. I can sense this from my interactions with women entrepreneurs; I can tell that they have done their homework. Not only that, they are not afraid to ask for clarity, which is self-empowering in itself.
What they say about climbing that ladder and kicking it – in my experience we don’t hold on to the ladder, instead we send an elevator down to fetch more women. Right at the beginning of their ventures they are already thinking who else they can empower and build that into their business plan. Once their gut tells them that they have a winning formula, they are ready to pay it forward even before they are paid themselves. The level of generosity experienced in the way many women do business is the kind of transformation that needs to breathe progress into the country.
Triple bottom line from the get go
Women redefine some aspects of capitalism in the communal way they choose to conduct business. The tendency for businesses is to set up, get it running, and only once they have achieved critical mass, consider issues of triple bottom line – I find in the case of women-owned SMMEs, the triple bottom line is embedded at the business planning stage, sometimes, I have to say, to the detriment of optimal profit making.
One of the issues I grapple with as a transformation practitioner is openness and transparency of SMMEs. If an entrepreneur venturing into business does not make him/herself vulnerable by opening up to their shortcomings, our work as practitioners becomes difficult. The advice and support provided to the entrepreneur is as good as the information that is shared and the level of transparency with which this happens. Women do not struggle with this. I understand that it is a world where “dog eats dog” and this makes it very difficult to trust and make oneself vulnerable; but dealing with this dichotomy is sometimes what makes the difference between success and failure.
One of the challenges women have in the world of business is networking. We all know that networking is critical in the opening of doors and our brothers thrive on it. Having said that, women master connectedness – theirs is about deep meaningful connections. It is in connectedness that depth of mutual value is derived, even for business. In the women world of business it is not the quantity of networks that matter, but the quality.
I salute women venturing into business. Bringing nothing less nor more than themselves will give the world of business a textured, much needed flavour.