Closing the Gender Gap in the Ownership of Family Businesses

Women are less likely to own or control a family business than men.  Photo: ADB
Women are less likely to own or control a family business than men. Photo: ADB

By Christian Flora Mae Soco, Remedios Baes-Espineda, Arturo Martinez, Kaushal Joshi

The pandemic is putting pressure on small enterprises, which are disproportionately owned or controlled by men. The right policies could help close the gender gap. 

Sustaining firms and protecting livelihoods has become a very challenging task for policy makers and societies during the ongoing pandemic. Studies have shown that to get through hard times such as these, families may sell their most precious assets to cope. When this is done, there is a clear gender gap when it comes to the ownership of and rights related to assets. Men are more likely to have the exclusive right to sell or bequeath several types of assets.

In addition to leveraging on assets, adjustments in the operation of enterprises – including self-employment – is another coping mechanism that could cushion families from the negative impacts of economic shocks, but at the same time it could also magnify existing gender inequalities.

Household surveys conducted in 2015 in the countries of Georgia and Mongolia, and the Philippine province of Cavite, which collected data on entrepreneurship with a gender perspective, shed light on this topic, particularly on the question of who owns non-agricultural enterprises.

Data gathered from the surveys revealed that the incidence of entrepreneurship is highest in Cavite, (17.9%), favoring women (19.9%). Meanwhile, the opposite is observed in Georgia and Mongolia where the numbers favor the men. Incidence of entrepreneurship for men and women in the urban areas are generally higher compared to their counterparts in the rural areas, except in Georgia where incidence of entrepreneurship is higher for women in the rural areas (6.4%) than in the urban areas (5.6%).

The majority of owners in Georgia, Mongolia, and Cavite, Philippines are mostly married. It is noteworthy that a high proportion of women owners are widowed, separated, or divorced as compared to being never married; while the opposite is true for men—suggesting an association between marriage and enterprise ownership for women. In terms of educational attainment, more men owners (43.0%) in Georgia attained tertiary education or above compared to women owners (30.5%). Most owners in Mongolia and Cavite, regardless of sex, attained secondary education. Most owners of non-agricultural enterprises are aged 30-49 years old.

An enterprise can be held exclusively or jointly. Joint ownership can be between members of principal couple, other household members, or household and non-household members. This measure indicates who has control over the enterprise. The data shows exclusive ownership by men is the most common form of ownership in Georgia and Mongolia (37%). In Cavite, on the other hand, joint ownership by the principal couple is prevalent (35.7%). Exclusive ownership by women is also dominant at 32.2% and is higher compared to exclusive ownership by men at 22%. In general, the gender disparity in exclusive ownership is highest in Georgia—37.7% of men exclusively owned the enterprise compared to only 20.9% of women owners.

There is a clear gender gap when it comes to the ownership of
and rights related to assets.

On the other hand, enterprises operated by men tend to have larger firm size relative to those operated by women. The average income of women enterprise owners is also significantly lower than those of men enterprise owners in Georgia.  Most of the male and female enterprise owners in Georgia and Cavite are engaged in wholesale and retail trade. In Mongolia, 31.4% of the male enterprise owners are engaged in manufacturing while 35.6% of women enterprise owners are engaged in wholesale and retail trade.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and many workers face the prospect of job loss and could turn to operating enterprise as a coping mechanism, there is a need for policymakers to ensure that it will not contribute to expansion of gender inequalities. Some results from these surveys were encouraging. For instance, response from the owners about the source of income used to start enterprises, did not reveal significant differences between men and women.

In general, more female enterprise owners applied for loans, except in Georgia, where only 18.5% of women enterprise owners applied for a loan compared to 21.8% of men. Furthermore, among those who applied for loan, a large percentage of women enterprise owners reported that their loan applications were accepted.

There are multiple ways policy could help close the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

First, for business to thrive, programs designed to develop the skills needed to successfully operate businesses with high growth potential should be equally accessible for both men and women. Given that men and women tend to operate in different sectors, there is a need to deliver training programs that are dovetailed to the varying needs of male and female entrepreneurs.

Second, as women tend to operate smaller enterprises with limited assets, policies should ensure that women continue to have equitable access to finance and other necessary resources for business operation through grants, loans, and microcredits.

Third, policymakers should explore efficient ways that social protection and other policy measures could be extended to ensure that small scale entrepreneurs can withstand future economic shocks. Smaller firms in particular need fiscal and monetary policy assistance, such as wage subsidy support, subsidized loans and tax reduction credits, along with skills development, to sustain the economic activities and livelihoods in the current situation.