Women behind the Wheel

by Maurtis Bruggink, SELDIA

As all those working in the direct selling sector know, our business is driven by women.  In dry numbers, the latest WFDSA/Seldia statistics show that 87% of the direct sellers come from Venus.  This is a unique characteristic of our sector and any businessman and off course businesswoman who understand this will increase his or her chances of success.

If we want to increase the direct selling sector as a whole, it seems obvious to look at getting more women into our business, as for some reason, they are thriving well under our business model.  Three obstacles need to be removed for this, according to a study prepared for the European Commission in 2008.

Firstly, we need to do away with some more traditional views on the role of women in society.  This may be for example the perception that women are less able to combine family life with professional life.  Or, women are weaker in male dominated sectors such as science, technology and innovation. These perceptions work against women entrepreneurs because they will have to do more to convince their business partners.

Secondly, women have more difficult access to finance because banks are more hesitant to loan capital to entrepreneurs who can get kids.  If capital is provided, women also have to pay higher interest rates.

Thirdly, the European study identifies a number of “soft obstacles”, like the access to business networks and business angels, the lack of training focused on women and women’s perception about themselves. The latter suggests that women lack the necessary confidence, assertiveness and risk-taking attitude.

The study makes interesting reading and we can agree with several of its conclusions, but at second thought, if these are really the main obstacles for female entrepreneurs, why is not more attention given to direct selling?  We score extremely good on any of the issues and should be a likely partner for policy makers.

To start with the soft obstacles, our network based business model allows for women to relate to a network for advice and counsel, foremost from the company of which they sell the products.  The great number of direct sellers and the vast amount of success stories also suggest that there is nothing wrong with the perception of female entrepreneurs.  Nevertheless, we can likely do a better job in convincing more people to get the courage and drive to start an own business as direct seller – men and women.

A part of this should be the provision of training.  The international companies already offer training in different sizes and formats. In addition, a fewl DSAs have started generic, online training programmes. This opportunity should be explored in every country and I see both WFDSA and DSEF taking a leading role in this in the future. As the French DSA has illustrated, there is also much merit in involving government in the provision of training.  Government recognition and promotion of training will persuade more people into the business.

As to access of finance, well, as we know, a direct seller hardly needs any cash to start.  This has made the direct selling business model a global success in countries with very different levels of disposable income.  Women in France, India and Mexico all enjoy the same attraction of starting their own business without touching their savings.  It is our role to point out to governments that they should not limit their promotion of female entrepreneurship to high-tech, innovative and cash consuming projects.  They may look nice in PR terms, but the solution for female entrepreneurship is right there on our doorstep and offering immediate opportunities.

The European study also pointed at the contextual obstacles: the traditional views on the role of women.  Although there is certainly resistance in several societies against female entrepreneurship, the direct selling sector is an illustration that there are opportunities around the world, including in countries were women have more traditional and restricted roles.  The original social network, as we like to call ourselves, crosses borders with almost the same ease as Facebook.  As a result, the world was counting 80 million female direct sellers in 2011, and the number is growing.

As Seldia, we want to show our commitment to female entrepreneurship, its current contribution to the prosperity of the European Union and its tremendous potential for further growth. We launch a programme on the promotion of female entrepreneurship on 12 July 2012 with a luncheon debate in the European Parliament.  Over 100 policy makers and stakeholders will come together to discuss ways of promoting female entrepreneurship.  The highlight of the Seldia programme will be a week long exhibition at the European Parliament on Female Entrepreneurship, at which direct selling will take a prominent place.  This exhibition will take place in the week stating 19 February 2012.  We invite all those who are committed to female entrepreneurship.