America lags behind Uganda and Bangladesh for women who own businesses

A new report on female entrepreneurship around the world shows countries like Uganda and Bangladesh producing higher rates of women business owners than the United States.

Mastercard released the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017 just ahead of International Women’s Day. The report highlighted how women are faring in business across the globe.

The index used “12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators” to examine 54 economies, which reportedly make up 78.6% of working women internationally.

“Entrepreneurship” was defined broadly: “any attempt at new business or new venture creation, which may include, but not limited to self-employment, creation of a new business organization, or expansion of an existing business.”

Based on the findings, the nature of a woman’s involvement in business may depend on where she is: her location can affect both her successes and challenges.

The United States ranks 10th in business ownership for women 

The country with the highest percentage of female business owners is Uganda, at 35%,  followed by Botswana, New Zealand, Russia with 33%, Australia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Spain. The United States ranks after Spain, with around 31% of all business owners being women. (Which means, of course, that 69% of American business owners are men.)

Poor working conditions don’t stop women from being business owners

Two lower- and lower-middle income countries emerged as places with some of the highest percentages of women business owners overall, even though they reportedly didn’t have the best working environments or financial systems.

If you guessed Uganda and Bangladesh, you’re right.

Uganda had the highest percentage of women business owners, at 34.8%, which, the index says, is “suggesting that women are as likely as men to start a business activity, and have started one for a maximum of three and a half years. They have also been active over the past 12 months seeking to borrow or set aside funds to set up a business.”

Apparently, there is also a “healthy” amount of “social acceptance” of women entrepreneurs. The country was, however, classified as low income.

But this hasn’t come without its challenges.

The index found that “women entrepreneurs at the micro level” in Uganda don’t have much “access to financial services” or financing because many don’t have credit history, so they can’t take out loans.

Another nation — classified as “lower middle income” — is in a similar situation.

Bangladesh also had a high percentage of women business owners, at 32%, according to the index, but women in business face certain obstacles there: among them, “very little acceptance and encouragement from society,” which hinders women from getting many leadership roles.

But there’s good news: change is coming.

The “the unique traits of being very high risk takers and having undeniably outstanding resilience to hardships and natural calamities is helping to drive the entrepreneurship landscape (and high women business ownership representation) in this market,” the index said.

Where women are winning in business, and have high support

Women entrepreneurs tended to do best in specific places.

Five of the top 10 markets with the highest overall index scores, according to Mastercard, are: New Zealand (74.4), Canada (72.4), the United States (69.9), Sweden (69.6) and Singapore (69.5), according to the index.

Women thrive in these places because they tend to have healthy, small- and medium-sized “business communities,” they can conduct business relatively smoothly, and their governments function at a high standard, as detailed in a press release.

These conditions have contributed to women’s success in the working world, but structural problems still hold women back in business, a Mastercard executive said.

“The prevalence of ambitious, resourceful women should be regarded as a prime business opportunity. As society addresses existing cultural bias, we will do our part to help create those conditions that will strengthen and fuel the foundation for personal and economic growth,” said Mastercard Chief Financial Officer Martina Hund-Mejean in a statement.

What this means for business

Women around the world are benefitting from entrepreneurship, but even in 2017, it may feel like just the beginning.

“By increasing access to critical networks, our study shows that women are more able to recognize their full potential, achieve their goals and ultimately accelerate more inclusive growth. We have a fantastic opportunity to address cultural and organizational issues and further empower women leaders,” said Mastercard International Markets President Ann Cairns said in a statement.

Societal forces are sure to have an impact on how women do business in various communities in coming years. The authors of the Mastercard study seem to suggest that those societal forces can change.