Women make up just over a third of all Australian SMEs and almost a third of these women are migrants born overseas. However, the experiences of these two groups of female small-business owners (Australian and migrant) are very different. The Australian economy could grow by about $25 billion if we supported more women into the workforce and into entrepreneurship. A key factor in achieving this lies in addressing the gender imbalance in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and expanding the number of female founders and leaders..
Some migrant women start up storefront or product-based businesses with their partners quite quickly post-arrival in Australia, while a significant proportion of women like me get into knowledge work, creating small businesses to change our career trajectories and success. Women like me who work for 10-15 years in the private and public sector, experience the glass and/or bamboo ceiling in these workplaces (apart from the CEO of Macquarie Bank, there are no women of colour in the ASX Top 20 and less than 1.9 per cent in the ASX 200) and decide to take a calculated risk on an entrepreneurial path.
In general, CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) small-business owners are likely to be tertiary educated, have people and commercial acumen and homed by operating in mid-senior roles in Australia – often the age range is mid-30s to early 40s. We trade our expertise in areas like management consulting or change management for a fee – the trick lies in how to scale this and not be a “contractor” type sole proprietor, trading time. Here is where my co-founder, also migrant husband, Vick Pillay, stepped in with his commercial, strategy and business modelling expertise.
Did we go after funding to scale our business? No. And most CALD business owners I have spoken with are unlikely to. We see the struggles Australian born female founders experience and CALD women usually opt to bootstrap and grow organically – just like we did.
I did not want to go after venture capital because of alarming stats like this: The Wade Institute revealed that for Venture Capital early-stage funding of companies in Australia, around 29.4 per cent have at least one female founder, compared to 70.6 per cent of male-only founders.
This felt daunting for me. I also didn’t have the built-in network of philanthropists and old private school contacts (who are now captains of industry) that many of the Anglo females I networked with did. Despite starting our businesses in the same year, the Anglo female founders I worked alongside tended to move faster at winning clients, attaining injections of cash and leasing properties without the ties of venture capital firms.
While it may have taken me longer, I would not trade my journey as we have no debt and we have pushed ourselves to be innovative in our design of services, all with a social footprint that has influenced positive change.
A CALD female business owner’s journey is very different, especially knowledge-based service firms, like ours. We can be an integral part of rebuilding the Australian economy and the expected growth of $25 billion if we are included and supported better than what we have been, or are today. We are the missing talent pool that has flown under the radar. We are commercially stable and less risky than most. We represent the growing diverse customer base that Australia has (49 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have one parent born overseas). Even with migration lagging due to the pandemic, Australia’s population remains just as multicultural and, once borders open, Australia is still a destination of choice for countries like India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Nepal.
Backing small-business owners with links to these countries open up trade and investment and a greater share of the multicultural wallet, which benefits the entire economy.
Div Pillay, CEO MindTribes, Co-Founder of Culturally Diverse Women (CDW