Be­com­ing boss

A record 800,000 busi­nesses have been set up by fe­male en­trepreneurs in Spain in the past five years to counter the un­em­ploy­ment cri­sis.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By ASHIFA KASSAM

WHEN it comes to find­ing a job in Europe, not all cit­i­zens are born equal. If you are Span­ish, you have a one in four chance of be­ing un­em­ployed, ris­ing to one in two if you are young.

And if you are a young woman in Spain? The odds of find­ing your­self among the ranks of the un­em­ployed are even higher, at 54.7%.

Now, how­ever, young Span­ish women are find­ing their own so­lu­tions to the cri­sis, dis­cov­er­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial streak that has re­sulted in a record 800,000 busi­nesses be­ing set up by women in the past five years.

Take Al­mu­dena Ve­lasco. She lost her job on a Mon­day. De­spite her 16 years in ad­ver­tis­ing, the eco­nomic cri­sis meant her chances of find­ing another job in the in­dus­try were slim. So, on Wed­nes­day that week, Ve­lasco, 41, ploughed her life sav­ings into start­ing her own ad agency.

Or Izanami Martinez. Af­ter she came up with the idea for Non­aBox, a monthly box of good­ies tai­lored to preg­nant women and new mums, Martinez, 29, found in­vestors, quit her job and launched her busi­ness all in one week. What started as a ven­ture in her liv­ing room has grown into a 22-per­son com­pany that spans five coun­tries.

“In a startup if you have a good idea you can see it hap­pen in two or three days,” Martinez said. “In a big com­pany, you have to go to a com­mit­tee and then another meet­ing, it takes a very long time. It’s kind of frus­trat­ing.”

Twenty years ago Martinez watched her mother go from bank to bank, look­ing for a loan to fi­nance her dream of build­ing a pri­vate school. Now it’s much eas­ier for en­trepreneurs, she said.

“Even since we started three years ago, I see so many changes. There are a lot more star­tups, more ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists ev­ery month and there’s a sys­tem that’s re­ally start­ing to work,” she said.

“The cri­sis al­lowed women to se­ri­ously con­sider be­com­ing en­trepreneurs, some­thing many had never thought of be­fore,” said Joan Tor­rent Sel­lens, head of the Open Univer­sity of Cat­alo­nia’s busi­ness school.

In the past decades Span­ish women have made head­way in gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic sec­tor, but lag be­hind in en­trepreneur­ship, cre­at­ing less than 20% of busi­nesses.

When analysing the same fig­ures dur­ing the cri­sis, Tor­rent Sel­lens stum­bled across a sur­pris­ing re­sult: the num­ber of busi­nesses cre­ated by women had nearly dou­bled dur­ing the cri­sis, to just un­der 40%.

The statis­tic, said Tor­rent Sel­lens, is a sil­ver lin­ing to Spain’s years of eco­nomic tur­moil. As the cri­sis hit the coun­try’s busi­ness com­mu­nity, de­stroy­ing mil­lions of jobs and re­vers­ing years of eco­nomic growth, it forced a re­think of pri­or­i­ties.

So­cial me­dia net­work­ing, prod­uct in­no­va­tion and mar­ket­ing be­came key val­ues – all strengths that many Span­ish women had de­vel­oped on the mar­gins as they sought to move for­ward in the hi­er­ar­chi­cal, male-dom­i­nated world of Span­ish busi­ness.

At the same time, he said, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances put multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions on the same foot­ing as small, so­cially net­worked busi­nesses.

Tor­rent Sel­lens said: “The cri­sis al­lowed women to ask: ‘Why do I have to be a di­rec­tor at a multi­na­tional, earn­ing a third of what my male coun­ter­parts are earn­ing when I can cre­ate my own busi­ness and lead my own project?’ The cri­sis gave them an al­ter­na­tive, their own way of break­ing through the glass ceil­ing.”

In­un­dated with sto­ries of fe­male en­trepreneurs strug­gling to cre­ate busi­nesses with lit­tle sup­port from their friends and fam­ily, Mercedes Wul­lich founded The Women Sta­tion, a co-work­ing space that caters ex­clu­sively to fe­male-led com­pa­nies, in 2012.

“It was ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary to have a space only for women be­cause women en­trepreneurs, in the past few years, have had to over­come ma­jor so­ci­etal barri- ers – whether they be cul­tural or ed­u­ca­tional.”

With its open lay­out and big win­dows, the space is meant to be wel­com­ing, a con­trast to the some­times cold world of busi­ness.

“For many of th­ese women, start­ing a busi­ness isn’t a choice but an obli­ga­tion,” she said.

As Spain’s gov­ern­ment strug­gled to rein in spend­ing, it slashed jobs in the pub­lic sec­tor, once the coun­try’s largest em­ployer of women. Com­pa­nies have also been shed­ding jobs, push­ing Spain’s un­em­ploy­ment rate to 26.3% for men and 27.1% for women.

“The mar­ket isn’t of­fer­ing th­ese women the jobs they need, but they still have to earn a liv­ing,” said Wul­lich.

From the days of Spain’s civil war, when women fought along­side men and were granted cer­tain prop­erty rights, to the rule of Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco, who banned di­vorce and frowned on the idea of women work­ing, Span­ish women have seen their rights ebb and flow.

Franco’s death in 1975 ush­ered in the tran­si­tion to democ­racy as well as a push to put women’s rights on par with western Euro­pean coun­ter­parts.

Re­cently pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to limit abor­tion rights has many wor­ried about a roll­back of women’s rights.

Some at­ti­tudes per­sist, says Al­mu­dena Ve­lasco. When she started her ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness in 2010 she would of­ten at­tend meet­ings ac­com­pa­nied by her sole em­ployee, who was male.

“The clients would only speak to him di­rectly for the en­tire meet­ing,” she said. She learned to stand up for her­self. “Th­ese days they know bet­ter.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ence echoes that of Monica Ceno Elie-Joseph. Thir­teen years ago she opened The Lab Room, a spa in Madrid. “Peo­ple would walk in, take one look at me and say: ‘OK, where’s the owner?’ When I in­tro­duced my­self, they would ask: ‘But who started this busi­ness – your fa­ther? Your hus­band?’”

That’s not to say the new crop of Span­ish en­trepreneurs will have it easy. Spain still falls in the bot­tom half of the World Bank rank­ing on the ease of start­ing a busi­ness. It is 142nd out of 189 coun­tries. Typ­i­cally, it takes 10 pro­ce­dures, 23 work­ing days and costs about 1,100 Euro (RM4,989) to start a busi­ness.

Relief may be on its way. In May, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­proved a bill aimed at fa­cil­i­tat­ing the cre­ation and fi­nanc­ing of busi­nesses. Pro­pos­als in­clude fund­ing, a scal­ing back of red tape and tax breaks for en­trepreneurs.

When Ceno Elie-Joseph speaks to women across Spain, she is of­ten asked if it’s worth it.

“For me, it’s about cre­at­ing a project I love and liv­ing in a city with lots of sun­shine,” she said. “But my best friend owns a hair­dress­ing salon in New York. And he al­ways says to me: ‘Monica, if you were liv­ing in New York, you would be a mil­lion­aire by now.’”– Guardian News & Me­dia

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