The FINANCIAL — With over 20 successful women entrepreneurs interviewed in Tbilisi, the majority say they no longer face gender related difficulties when managing their businesses.
“Initially (3 years ago) there were problems of gaining respect among different representatives of businesses in Georgia including banks. The problem was that men didn’t consider us serious enough to have business relationships with,” said Eka Verulashvili, who runs Tea Mania (tea shops) in Tbilisi and Kutaisi.
“Now the situation has drastically changed and Georgian women are surrounded by the same concerns when managing businesses as Georgian men,” she said.
In the past (4-5 years ago) Georgian women were discriminated against or discouraged from doing business, due to gender biases, whereas now they are more concerned with getting access to finance, managing human resources, and meeting market demand, problems which are equal to the ones Georgian businessmen face.
As Brigite Watson, EBRD Business Advisory Services’ (BAS) coordinator for Georgia and Armenia, told the FINANCIAL, attitudes toward Georgian businesswomen have changed and they have now become more active economic participants which is different to when they were viewed traditionally by Georgian men.
“Georgia is in a transition stage in terms of women’s involvement in business. There are a lot of opportunities but at the same time there are problems with getting finance and having predictability/stability in business. Over the past years women have been disadvantaged in so far as Georgian businessmen didn’t accept women as their equal business partners but now things have changed,” said Watson.
“During my 5 years of experience working as a coordinator of BAS I’ve noticed changes in attitude, in the way men view women as their business partners. There’s a stronger fighting spirit of women here in Georgia compared to other regional countries (Armenia and Azerbaijan) in terms of their employment prospects and because of the circumstances they face with managing business and related odds,” said Watson in an interview with The FINANCIAL.
In Business Advisory Services (BAS) – Women in Business Programme, 800 women have already participated with 118 projects already realized and 760 market development activities taken all over Georgia (60% in the regions while only 40% in Tbilisi). The programme was supported by EBRD (the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and other donor organizations with technical assistance worth a total of 810,000 EUR within the two-year programme.
Eka Verulashvili and Marika Bibileishvili who together run Tea Mania, a network of tea shops in Tbilisi, also participated in BAS, to gain technical assistance with marketing and advertising issues.
As they declared in an interview with The FINANCIAL, they no longer face gender stereotype prone difficulties when running a business, which was a serious concern in the early years of their career.
“Now we are more resilient, dealing with different aspects of business in Georgia and are planning to expand our business by opening chains of restaurants (Downtown Tabidze) which is commonly perceived to be a man’s job, but the experience we’ve attained during 5-6 years of being in business in Georgia is sufficient to take such courageous steps,” said Bibileishvili. “The Tea Mania network has been rapidly expanding with over 460,000 USD of turnover and we’re now planning to add new chains in Sachkhere and Kutaisi (on top of the 8 existing shops),” she said in an interview with The FINANCIAL.
Women in rural areas have also actively participated in the BAS programme, hereby gaining confidence of doing business as well as increasing their average turnover by 56%, productivity by 29% and employment by 23%.
Nino Ugulava, who owns consultancy firm Alter Group, also affirmed the changes in gender bias issues with regards to women.
“I’ve been involved in the consultancy business since 2004, and over these years I’ve noticed positive changes in the attitudes towards women in business in Georgia. Whereas previously woman went to negotiations or presented their project together with a man, and the latter was always paid much greater attention/privilege, nowadays I am seeing radical changes in such regards because Georgian women have proved that they are far more business prone/responsible than their male counterparts. If they take on the job, they tend to fulfil it with great success,” said Nino Ugulava.
According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2010 which measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 134 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity; health and survival; educational attainment; political empowerment places Georgia in 88th position, which in 2009 stood in 83rd position. However with the economic participation indicators for women in Georgia has improved, moving from 57th to 54th position, the remaining benefits are still trailing far behind which has led to such adverse statistics for this year’s report (Oct. 12th).