Left to right: Moderator Jessica Robinson, Founder and Managing Director of Moxie Future, Shainoor Khoja, Founder and CEO - Better Business Enterprise Ltd, Saher Al Katheeri, Principal - Mubadala Investment Company, and Amina Mohammed Abdelrahim, Director of Government Communication Department, Ruwad Establishment, at the panel discussion on ‘Money Talks. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Women still face barriers to securing investment or financing for their business because of gender bias, experts told the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit (WEEGS) in Sharjah on Tuesday.

Speaking during a WEEGS session titled ‘Money Talks’, panellists said studies have shown that women continue to be viewed differently than men by ICs (investment committees), especially with regards to venture capitalism.

Jessica Robinson, founder and managing director of Moxie Future, said, citing a HSBC study, that around one in three women have faced challenges because of their gender when pitching their business plans to investors or financiers.

Shainoor Khoja, founder and CEO of Better Business Enterprise, said “bias creates barriers”. She added that she was asked questions about her married life and children — questions typically not put forward to men seeking business funding.

Young men, she said, are usually asked “promotional questions” while women face “preventive type of queries” during IC meetings. Khoja added that “lots need to change”, noting that 88 per cent of decision makers are men, with women underrepresented on corporate boards and ICs.

Women seeking investment in the $1 million (Dh3.67 million) to $3 million range find it especially difficult to bankroll their business plans, though it is relatively easier to secure seed capital from angel (individual) investors.

Only two per cent of venture capital funding goes to women, said Sahar Al Katheeri, Principal, Mubadala Investment Company, citing the HSBC study.

However, changes are afoot, with gender diversity policies being implemented by venture capitalists and ICs, Al Katheeri added, as well as dedicated networking events for women.

Banks too, in general, are reluctant to finance women in the SME (small, medium enterprise) sector, said Amina Mohammad Abdul Rahim, Director, Government Communication Department, Ruwad Establishment.

She suggested, as an alternative, supporting SMEs by earmarking one per cent of government revenue — half of that one per cent dedicated solely for women entrepreneurs.

Women needed in industrial and scientific sectors

Another WEEGS session, titled ‘Shaping Future Economies’, discussed the need for women to enter the industrial and scientific sectors — still dominated by men — as well as the freelancing segment of the economy.

Samah Al Hajeri, Chief Innovation Officer, UAE Ministry of Economy, said: “It is not enough for women to be involved just in traditional businesses. New categories of professions are rising and we don’t have the culture of freelancing here. Working remotely is another avenue that women can pursue.”