By Kiki del Valle
COVID-19 was a severe blow to employment overall, and unfortunately, women were even more affected than men. According to the International Labour Organization, female employment fell by 5% compared to 3.9% by men during the first year of the pandemic alone. In this context, and in line with the rapid shift to remote work imposed by the pandemic, female entrepreneurship gained momentum in select countries throughout the region.
The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs is a study that reflects the state of female entrepreneurship in the world. Now in its fifth installment, the Index shows the progress and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in 65 economies around the world throughout the past year.
Although the gender gap persists in Latin America and regulatory frameworks do not always encourage entrepreneurship, Latin American women entrepreneurs show determination to pursue opportunities within this space. Compared to their global peers, the Entrepreneurial Activity Rate in Chile and Uruguay is high (more than 1 in 5 women want to start their own business). Even more interesting is the fact that in some economies in the region, entrepreneurship is seen as a business opportunity and not just a necessity.
Still, female entrepreneurship is burdened with some historical biases, including the perception of female entrepreneurs focused on specific industries, or the idea that they are working out of necessity. For instance, in the service area, there are industries incorrectly defaulted to women — such as beauty or cooking — while other focus areas, such as technology, do not achieve an adequate gender balance. Today, we know that women are one of the most valuable assets in the global economy. That is why it is so encouraging to find that in Costa Rica, women entrepreneurs outnumber their male counterparts. They also stand out for their entrepreneurial drive based on business opportunities and not strictly on necessity.
Moreover, the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs reveals that entrepreneurship conditions and regulatory frameworks vary by country, as do educational opportunities, yet the survey shows that Latinas are resilient and optimistic entrepreneurs. Although their access to financing is low compared to access in other countries around the world, Latin American women aspire to continue making a difference in their families and communities through their businesses.
The Spirit of Recovery
The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs is an essential tool for studying the differences of the entrepreneurial sector at a regional and global level. It underscores the need to formulate gender policies that keep the curiosity and spark of the entrepreneurial spirit alive, which is key for our economic recovery.
Going forward, it is critical to continue to invest in education because women entrepreneurs not only make a difference in their communities, but in the global economy especially, as they master the digital tools that define the post-COVID business world. As part of our commitment to creating a world where businesswomen are equally represented and supported, Mastercard is committed to connecting 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025 through training, education, and the tools that enable them to access financing. In this regard, we bring our expertise and technology to several initiatives — the most recent of which includes the launch of the TodasConectadas program as part of our role in the Regional Alliance for the Digitalization of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Equally important is our ongoing efforts to support future leaders in tech. This month, we held our second regional Girls4Tech marathon, a program focused on a unique, interactive, virtual STEM curriculum that aims to impact 5 million girls, ages 8 to 16, in 44 countries by 2025.
For Mastercard, supporting women and growing together is a priority. Throughout the year and especially this International Women’s Month, we’re pushing our networks further, inspiring women and others to channel resilience into innovation, barriers into opportunities, and differences into inclusion.