Absa’s SME Index for Q2 2014 reveals a marked shift in the South African labour market for women. The percentage of women who are self-employed has dropped from around 53% in 2008 to just over 44% in 2014. The number of employed women increased by 12,6% over the same period, indicating a sizeable shift to employment for women in the labour force, as only 1,8% more men were employed over the period.
The number of self-employed men has increased by 8.2% from March 2008. By contrast, over
150 000 women have left self-employment for employment or for unpaid care and domestic work over the past six years.
Economist Mike Schüssler, who works on the Absa SME Index in partnership with Absa, says “This probably reflects a shift where women are now working in traditionally more male orientated jobs such as motor mechanics. As competition eases in the informal retail sector, it is also likely that the chances of worthwhile profits will actually increase.”
The number of employers in the South African economy declined by one thousand over the last quarter with an annual percentage decline of 4,6%, reflecting the tough operating environment. In eight of the last fourteen quarters, the Absa SME Index shows that the number of employers has been within ten thousand of the three quarter of a million mark. While the number of employers changes, the underlying trend is flat in nature as the number of employees grows.
Encouragingly, the number of employees per employer has increased from 10,9 employees per employer to 13,1 employees per employer since 2008.
Schüssler points out that this is an indication that those employers who have survived protracted turbulent economic conditions in South Africa are once more growing employment opportunities.
Women employers have declined by 14,2% since the start of 2008, with the majority of the decline taking place during the last quarter of the recession (Q3 2009). Women employers seem to have been far more vulnerable than men in a recessionary environment and have closed more businesses.
Although male businesses also declined, this was less severe in percentage terms. Women employers have decreased from 25% of all employers at the start of 2008 to 21,1% in Q2 2014. This could be an indication of enterprise consolidation as women did not leave the labour force.
Women make up 44% of all people in employment in South Africa; slightly lower than the 45% figure of 2013. In South Africa women make up 37% of all entrepreneurs. This is not unusual as women make up about 42% of entrepreneurs in richer countries but only around 33% in developing countries for which figures are available.
Happy Ralinala, Head of Absa Business Banking, says “As women are also typically the main caregivers in families, no country in the world exists where the percentage of women in business (or work in general) makes up more than the percentage they constitute of the adult population. In South Africa only 0.9% of all women adults are employers while 3.3% of men are.”
The biggest number of businesswomen in South Africa is in the retail trade. These 254 000 (304 000 in 2013) women form the backbone of the informal economy and often have to provide a living for their families.
The second largest number of female business owners is in the clothing industry, followed by economic and professional organisations (including trade unions and business organisations).
Women are increasingly contributing a larger percentage of taxable income every year, indicating that they are becoming more involved in the workforce and productive sectors of the economy. Although less women are now self-employed, the fact that more women are obtaining an education and becoming employed shows up in personal income statistics which also reflect that more women are entering higher paid employment.
From 2008 to 2013, the numbers of women with degrees increased by 18% while the number of men with degrees only increased by 8%. At present only 15% of women have a tertiary education. While this number is low, it is interesting to look at the fields which female entrepreneurs are working in. About 18% of women with a tertiary education have qualified in a business degree or diploma.
Ralinala concludes “The flux of the labour market shows that women are gaining in employment overall but are losing out in the micro business of self-employment. The Absa SME Index has previously pointed to a dire need for more entrepreneurs in South Africa however fostering a culture of entrepreneurship amongst women specifically is proving to be even more critical. We desperately need to support and encourage the growth of women starting and successfully sustaining their own businesses.”
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