Nicholas Khan Roper on Closing the Fintech gender gap throughout MENA

Gender gap

While the start-up business ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is developing fast, the road to Fintech start-up success is harder for women. 

Despite this, a growing number of women Fintech entrepreneurs and business leaders are making their presence felt. But from funding availability to traditional gender expectations in MENA countries, there is a long way to go to close the gender gap for start-ups and entrepreneurs. 

Traditional societal expectations are keeping the gender gap alive

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Women Entrepreneurship Report 2019 there is still a gender gap of 40% in business ownership in MENA.
This gender split between male and female entrepreneurs across all sectors is still notable and is backed up by data at seed-funding stage. 

The State of Pre-seed Startups in MENA report shows that female start-up founders account for just a quarter of pre-seed start-ups in the region. There are regulatory and Governmental changes to legislation to help boost women’s access to funding and support for start-ups. But against this backdrop of opportunity for female entrepreneurs lies the culture of gender inequality. 

Traditional gender roles and attitudes are difficult to break. However, despite these legacy issues, there are many women breaking through as successful brand and business owners, particularly within Fintech. Over recent years, there is a definite trend for younger women in countries like Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to start businesses. In 2019, the GEM Women Entrepreneurship Report says that the highest ever rates of entrepreneurial intentions were recorded for women at 36.6%. 

MENA governments recognise the need to support women in business

Egyptian Minister for International Cooperation, Rania Al-Mashat, said at the Global Women’s Forum 2020: “Women participation is macro critical. It is how you move from thinking about a minority that needs more representation into the economic gains to societies.”

Al-Mashat believes it’s crucial for governments to accurately quantify the economic impact female entrepreneurs in Fintech and other sectors have in order to reshape their policies. In other words, evidence of successful female business leaders across MENA will lead to others taking the same journey. 

Women in Fintech across MENA are stepping out of the shadows and demonstrating their worth to the sector and the economy. For example, Dubai-based Ambareen Musa heads up Fintech start-up Souqalmal.com. Launched in 2012, the disruptive start-up is now the most trusted financial and insurance online platform in the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Forbes named Souqalmal.com second in its Top 20 Most Disrupting Fintech Start-ups in the Middle East and more recently Musa was recognised as one of the “50 Most Influential Women in the Arab World.”

Women in Fintech need to aggressively chase funding 

Musa believes start-up entrepreneurs must be aggressive, particularly at funding stage. She told The Fintech Times that “this is probably where women entrepreneurs need to step up their game a bit.” Women in the MENA region are generally expected to stay at home and juggle family commitments. This tricky balance of priorities can lead to female fintech entrepreneurs missing out at the funding stage. 

Mirna Sleiman, CEO and founder of UAE-based Fintech Galaxy agrees. She says that the key to success is confidence. Both the demand and funding opportunities are there for women in MENA countries, but if confidence is lacking, investment will not happen. She says: “The limits are in our [women’s] minds. If we attract limiting thought, we will have limited behaviour which results in limited impact.”

This is where education plays a key part. The future of fintech and general entrepreneurial success throughout MENA is about inclusion and diversity.

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