Women Entrepreneurs are fighting Bias and Barriers

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), SMEunited has paid tribute to women entrepreneurs and their contribution to the European economy and society. 

The group, representing SMEs, said women entrepreneurs across Europe “invest their valuable time to represent SMEs at local, regional, national and European level.”

According to their recent survey, the European Investment Bank stated that women-led firms achieve higher environmental, social and governance scores while supporting the upskilling of their employees more by investing in training. 

The experience of SMEuniteds’ female board members shows, it is said, that women “contribute and grow in their own businesses.”

At the same time, there is still room for women to set up their own businesses. Statistics show that only one in three (34.4%) entrepreneurs in the EU is a woman. The figure is even lower for start-up entrepreneurs: less than 15% of them are women. SMEunited advocates suitable conditions for women to take up their spot, by providing child and elderly care, and support services, fighting gender stereotypes and gender segregation in education and the labor market. 

Its Vice-President for Social Affairs Maria Helena de Felipe of CEPYME (Spain) shared her story.

She said,“After graduating from law school and having worked for two big companies in the labor business legal department for about four years, I thought that starting my professional legal business firm could be a  great opportunity for professional and personal growth. Together with my best university friend, I set up “Fes Business Consulting” in March 1991. 

“During these years we have experienced so many circumstances, successful and difficult ones. Our main concerns were how to find talented employees and keep them on board, and the delayed payment from clients and administration. Nearly 10 years ago, we changed our business model and focused on working with the type of clients with whom we feel more comfortable. Why? Our experience showed that a win-win relationship creates synergies that have opened doors to participate in other professional and institutional opportunities. 

“Of course, I have been combining my attention and heart towards my family, friends, professional and institutional life, for the last three decades, with a very high level of activity. I have been trying to balance them all.  It has not been an easy task, but certainly, all these experiences have given me nourishing and reliable relations, friends and family around the world”.

Marianna Panebarco, Vice-President of SMEunited and CNA Nazionale (Italy), is convinced that it’s worth becoming an entrepreneur, even if you did not dream about it.

She said, “Being an entrepreneur was not my first option, not at all! When I was 25, I didn’t have very clear ideas about my future. I definitely wanted to find a job that would allow me to travel the world. Immediately after receiving a degree in foreign languages, I embarked as an entertainer on a cruise ship. Meanwhile, my father, a cartoonist, had funded Panebarco & C. to produce multimedia edutainment products. 

“I was a partner from the beginning,  but I persisted: I will never, ever work with my father! Then one day (after changing numerous and not very stimulating “probationary” jobs) I realised that I could literally carve out my own place in the family business, bringing my personal know-how and helping the company grow and go international.

“Since then, I have never regretted this choice. Now I run the company with my brother and my sister, and we proudly and happily produce cartoons. It’s not all a bed of roses, but the great thing is that the three of us together managed to recreate the magic of the time  we played together as children.”

Véronique Willems, SMEunited Secretary General, emphasizes that the organisation will continue to stimulate female entrepreneurship and employment: “Our member associations implement many initiatives at the national and local level, supporting women entrepreneurs through awareness raising, networking, mentoring, and training activities. Exchanging best practices and bringing practical knowledge to the European level must incentivise women further.”

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