Guest post by Chema Gargouri, Country Director, WES Tunisia

Let us start from the beginning and ask the following question: what are the main qualities and skills of a successful entrepreneur? The answers are diverse, but there are common components that define what makes an individual capable of establishing, managing and leading a venture to success. Some experts name nine qualities, while others sources mention only five. And, in some cases, the list can be as long as 25! The most common qualities, however, are motivation, creativity, resilience, patience and strong will. As for skills, it ranges from the ability to manage, network and raise money to being a good communicator, ethical, disciplined, open minded and a self-starter. And the lists for both qualities and skills can go on.

Thus, the most logical second question would be: what are the qualities and skills that women do not have? Based on my four years of experience managing the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program, my answer is simply that there is no single quality or skill set that women do not have. Consequently, if women entrepreneurs are fewer in number compared to their male counterparts, if their enterprises are smaller in terms of size, if their businesses are not performing and have limited growth potential, the reason is less related to the women entrepreneurs’ qualities and skills and more connected to their own perception of their character and skill set.

In fact, when talking to the women entrepreneurs who participate in WES, whose profiles are as varied as the regions they represent, women entrepreneurs in Tunisia, and possibly in neighboring countries, do not recognize their own skills and abilities, and thus do not value what they are doing or what they are capable of doing. It is then extremely important to offer Tunisian women dedicated “spaces” that provide support to facilitate their decision to be entrepreneurs, raise their awareness of their skills and qualities, build their self-esteem and guide them during their entrepreneurial journey. More than a gender-based approach to enhance women’s entrepreneurship, the WES program has created trusted “spaces” that allow women to establish and grow their business ventures.

While women in many countries and cultures have struggled to gain more physical, intellectual, and economic independence, successful businesswomen are the best response to the misperceptions around women’s abilities to perform in business. In addition to the adoption of gender-targeted policies to support women’s entrepreneurship, which still do not exist in Tunisia, these policies should “recognize women entrepreneurs as a heterogeneous group in need of different types of support”*. The WES program already recognizes this heterogeneity. By being an inclusive program, WES works towards adapting its services to the needs and requirements of women while, at the same time, taking into consideration the limits and difficulties in each environment where these women are trying to emerge.

*Dzindo, Djana (2014). Women’s Entrepreneurship in North Africa. In Sasha Toperich and Andy Mullins (Eds),  A New Paradigm: Perspectives on the Changing Mediterranean (p. 173). Center for Transatlantic Relations.