Source: Business Times, 8 March 2013
By: Wee Le Ting
Social entrepreneurs mostly male, but female presence should not be discounted.
It is probably no surprise that the gender representation in the entrepreneurship
landscape is skewed towards men, but the gender imbalance is even worse in the
social enterprise sector, where empathy is supposed to rule over profitability.
According to a recent research report from Barclays Wealth & Investment
Management, only 39 per cent of employed high net worth females in Asia are
businesses owners or entrepreneurs – a stark contrast to half of the men who are.
In the social entrepreneurship scene in Singapore, the figures are even more dismal:
out of 258 social enterprises, 21 per cent are run by women entrepreneurs, says
the Social Enterprise (SE) Association.
This imbalance in gender ratio, especially in social entrepreneurship, is attributed
by some to the juggling game that women are still more caught up in as opposed to
“Generally, women’s multi(ple) roles take their toll on them when it comes to both
career and starting a business. More can be done in this area to support us in our
passion,” says Teo Mee Hong, executive director of the SE Association.
However, these figures do not necessarily imply a weak female presence in the
social entrepreneurship circle. Says Associate Professor Audrey Chia, co-director of
National University of Singapore Asia Centre for Social Enterprise & Philanthropy: “I
think we have to look beyond just numbers and scale.If you look at, say, the top social entrepreneurs who have been recognised and awarded -for example, by Schwab Foundation or by Ashoka – you will see there are more men than women.
(However), each social entrepreneur is free to choose the cause and communities
to be helped. Women may choose not to go for scale but for deep impact on certain
Indeed, the empathy in women is often what drives them to become social
entrepreneurs. Says Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at NUS:
“Generally, on all accounts, women tend to appeal more to their emotions
(compared with men) because of socialisation, and because of how parents expect
girls to be more sensitive in behaviour since childhood. In adulthood, this translates
into them becoming more attuned to social concerns, and thus, this places females
in good stead for social entrepreneurship.”
In terms of challenges, it is generally agreed that both male and female social
entrepreneurs face largely similar ones.
As Associate Professor Albert Teo, director of the NUS Chua Thian Poh Community
Leadership Programme, puts it: “Social entrepreneurs and social enterprise
managers (whether male or female) must constantly grapple with meeting both the
financial bottom line and the social bottom line – that is, they need to constantly
check that they are indeed running their respective social enterprises with both a
capitalist mind and a socialist heart; these contradicting objectives are often not
easy to reconcile. By contrast, their counterparts in the for-profit, business sector
(whether male or female) need only to focus on the financial bottom line.”
In terms of industries, however, there seems to be a difference. “Very often, in a
business, we say that the team needs a woman’s touch. This is true especially in
the areas of services,” says SE Association’s Ms Teo, who cites examples such as
teaching and consultancy.
Although Prof Teo does not detect any significant patterns in terms of the specific
industries chosen by the two genders, he spots differences in the workers employed.
“Males are more likely to run social enterprises that employ ex-offenders, while
females are more likely to run social enterprises that employ economically
On the issue of a glass ceiling for women social entrepreneurs, Prof Teo thinks it is
not a problem. “Social entrepreneurs and social enterprise managers are currently
quite a rare breed in Singapore. At present, not many are motivated to set up
and/or run social enterprises, which address various social problems either in
Singapore or other South-east Asian countries. When such individuals (whether
women or men) do step forward, most of us look up to them with awe and respect.
We are not likely to diminish the status and standing of female social entrepreneurs
and/or social enterprise managers, vis-à-vis their male counterparts.”
But is either sex likely to be the more successful social entrepreneur? Prof Teo
thinks that neither males nor females are more likely to simultaneously possess
task orientation (that is, managing organisational tasks effectively and efficiently)
and people orientation, in terms of looking after the social needs of the
communities they work with.
And how does one judge the success of a social enterprise? “It’s not just about
money or scale; it’s about impact on the community or the cause,” says Prof Chia.