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The Best Countries for Women Entrepreneurs

A new report shows just how far women entrepreneurs, and their advocates, still have to go.
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Governments across the world are vying to create the their own versions of Silicon Valley--super-hot regions that will spur startup growth and economic activity. But when it comes to harnessing the entrepreneurial ambitions of half the population--women--a new report shows that in many countries, even the most basic preconditions for significant entrepreneurial activity are lacking.

The Gender-Global Entrepreneurial Development Index examines legal, economic, and cultural factors that affect entrepreneurship across 30 developed and developing countries. The goal of the report, which was commissioned by Dell and was released at the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference on Monday, is to show governments what they can do to encourage mass entrepreneurship among women.

The lead researcher on the project, Ruta Aidis, acknowledges that within even the least promising environments, some women will become successful entrepreneurs. But for a large population that is on the fence, the political, cultural, and economic environment matters greatly. "We are looking at the potential and promising entrepreneurs who say they are quite sensitive to their conditions," says Aidis.

For the second year in a row, the United States and Australia topped the list, and all of the top-ranked countries are economically developed nations. "They have stable business environments, equal rights for women, access to education and capital," says Aidis. Still, "not enough women know an entrepreneur [a primary predictor of entrepreneurship] or see a business opportunity."

That seeming stasis masks wide disparities throughout the list.

  • Basic rights are still lacking in many of the countries studied. In 22 of the 30 countries considered, married women have fewer legal rights than married men. In 21 countries, women do not have the same access to employment as men. In eight countries women have fewer property rights than men.
  • In 14 of the 30 countries, at least half the female population does not have a bank account, with the disparity between the sexes being the highest in Turkey.
  • Women in emerging markets are more likely to see business opportunities. In the U.S., about one-third of the women surveyed said they had identified an opportunity for a business. (That doesn't mean they actually started one.) In Africa, more than two thirds of women have identified a business opportunity.

There a number of countries that score uncommonly strongly on a few indicators, but are bottlenecked by others, says Aidis.

  • In Jamaica, there are a lot of women leaders, but they work within a discriminatory legal environment.
  • South Korea has a good business environment and access to capital, but very few women in leadership.
  • In Nigeria, many women see economic and business opportunities, but, as in Jamaica, face a discriminatory legal environment.

Even within the highest-ranking countries, there's room for improvement. For instance, a few industries--notably tech--are overwhelmingly male. That makes it less likely that women entrepreneurs will emerge in those sectors. It seems that women entrepreneurs don't need the 'next' Silicon Valley; they could simply benefit from a more balanced version of the first one.

Last updated: Jun 4, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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