Private women-led entrepreneurial initiatives in the Balkans first began to appear in the 1990s, in an era when it was rare that women could manage companies or serve as directors. Decades later, lingering prejudices regarding women in the workplace still exist in the Balkans, but times have certainly changed: today, every fourth woman is a director and 20-25 % are entrepreneurs.
Here are 11 top reasons why women entrepreneurs are on the rise in the Balkans.
11. A growing number of female Balkan entrepreneurs creating opportunities for other aspiring women.
Women entrepreneurs in the Balkans are constantly pushing the envelope and shattering stereotypes in the workforce, paving an easier path for other women to follow. For example, Erna Sosevic, owner and CEO of leading B2B online platform Bizbook, is a leading the charge to challenge traditional notions of Bosnian businesswomen and women in the workplace.
10. The Balkans are seeing a rising percentage of entrepreneurs that are women—higher than the EU.
According to Republika Srpska’s Institute of Statistics—one of two entities that comprises the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina—the local business community is seeing a shift to women-run businesses and enterprises. Based on its figures, 48% are women, compared to the EU average of 31%.
9. The support of local accelerators and incubators.
Organizations such as the Mozaik Foundation—a non-governmental organization that aims to boost young entrepreneurship in Bosnia—strive to achieve gender balance in their business incubator participants. The results are staggering: at its start in 2015, Mozaik fellows and incubator participants were mostly male entrepreneurs; in 2017, more than two-thirds were women.
8. Support from both government organizations and NGOs.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in particular has been actively promoting woman entrepreneurs in the region. Last year it hosted a conference called “Women in Business: Opportunities for Growth” in Zagreb; its EBRD’s Women in Business programme in Croatia helps women-led small/medium-sized enterprises access finance through local partner financial institutions, as well as provides business advice from local consultants, training, mentoring and networking opportunities.
7. Balkan women are increasingly transitioning from unemployment to entrepreneurship.
The best solution for unemployment is entrepreneurship—this is especially true of women in the Balkans. According to a report by Women in Adria, an online magazine targeting ambitious businesswomen, out of 763 Croatian entrepreneurs using self-employment measures in 2017, 54.8% were women. More and more, unemployed Balkan women are seizing opportunities to develop their personal careers using self-employment incentives.
6. An elite group of female Balkan executives at the upper levels of leading enterprises.
More and more women in the Balkans are breaking the glass ceiling to enter executive management positions. Some examples include Ljerka Puljić, Senior Executive Vice President of Croatia’s largest privately owned company Agrokor, and Ericsson Nikola Tesla CEO Gordana Kovačević, just to name a few.
5. Balkan women are a rising power in business—as evidenced by the world’s leading consultancies.
Deloitte Albania recently conducted a survey of business executives from the largest companies in the country about the role of women in executive/leadership positions. Their findings were promising: cultures and viewpoints regarding the role of women in society are drastically changing, and more and more—they are seen as being equally successful as men.
4. Perceptions of women leaders are also changing in the Balkans.
According to the same survey by Deloitte Albania, 66.4 % of respondents perceive women in leading positions as highly professional. 40% believe women have good analytic skills and 40.5 % see honesty as women’s main characteristic. They are also seen as being more consistent (31.3%) and engaged (36.1%).
3. Women in the Balkans are pursuing a myriad of different business ventures.
For example, according to data from Romania’s Trade Registry and Ministry of Finance, over 217,000 women are majority shareholders in local Romanian companies and ventures. These range from retail establishments, transportation/storage companies, consulting and management firms, and more.
2. Female entrepreneurs from all walks of life are being supported by local initiatives.
Organizations such as CEED Slovenia work to support women entrepreneurs at all phases in their careers. For example, it launched the “WE Inspire: Women Entrepreneurs Inspire” program earlier this year in partnership with the US Embassy in Ljubljana. The program aims to support all types of female entrepreneurs (e.g., young women, unemployed women at the end of maternity leave or towards the end of their careers, women with disabilities, women belonging to different ethnic groups or minorities and immigrant women) in their business endeavors.
1. Power in numbers will ensure a promising future for Balkan women entrepreneurs.
An increasing number of organizations dedicated to addressing the needs and concerns of Balkan women entrepreneurs are positive signs of a leveling playing field. Some notable groups include the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Montenegro, Bulgarian Association of Women Entrepreneurs, and the Balkan Women Coalition, to name a few.
Though traditionally male-dominated, entrepreneurship is fast becoming the preferred route to economic independence for ambitious women in the Balkans. These are just a several indicators out of many that mark the rise of female entrepreneurs in this region; expect to see more coverage of woman-led startups in the near future.