Is building a business more challenging for women?

Whenever we celebrate National Women’s Month, we remember and recognize many of the great strides women have made in different endeavors, including the world of business. According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), nearly 30% of the 1.08 million registered businesses in the Philippines are owned by women. When it comes to SMEs, which provide over 60% of employment in the country, it’s estimated that one in four are run by women. 

But as we recognize the rising number of women entrepreneurs and what they do for the economy, the progress made is not without everyday struggles. So while this one month is when we highlight many of the barriers women have broken, for the rest of the year women are going over hurdles and picking away at those stubborn barriers. What are they? Business experts cite several major challenges in women’s pursuit of entrepreneurship. We look at some of them and how Common Room makers overcame them. 

Family life vs work life

Even if it’s the 21st century and women are running a third of businesses and contributing to the family income, recent research has shown that they’re still “doing more housework and caregiving than men.” It’s no surprise that for most women, balancing the responsibilities between their professional and personal lives can become overwhelming. 

Nike Nadal-Reyes, the woman behind Nyuki & Co., certainly felt this way when she quit her crocheted accessories business years ago. “At that time, since I had a baby and I didn’t have any help, I did everything.” The mom of three admits in her Meet the Makers interview how managing her time and balancing motherhood and business became such a challenge. “Crocheting is really time-consuming. I got overwhelmed by the demand…there was also friction in the house.”

After she ended up quitting her business, Nike realized she missed not having a creative outlet. She was also miserable. She returned to crocheting accessories for her brand, with more resolve and finding middle ground. “My attitude changed since I [didn’t] want to give this up. Before it was a choice between my kids and my business. Now it’s not a choice anymore. We are more willing to compromise to make it work.” 


Funding, where art thou?

Finding funding to get your business started is a challenge for many entrepreneurs—more so for women. Several reports have shown that women-led business ventures are less likely to obtain funding compared to those led by men. Gender biases play a part. 

A London Business School study, which analyzed several pitch presentations of entrepreneurs to potential investors, found male entrepreneurs were mostly asked how they would grow the company to be a success, while female entrepreneurs were mostly asked how they would prevent their business from failing. The former question would get better results. 

It’s no wonder women get creative and resourceful when it comes to handling financial challenges. You’ve got Roma and Maan making do with P5,000 to start Popjunklove or Cath Limson finding ways to keep her Bedazzled accessories going during the early stages when not having “extras” in terms of capital could have prevented her from continuing her former sideline-turned-fulltime venture.

Being afraid to fail

Striking out on your own has its risks. If you’re a maker or artist, it’s much like putting your work out there. You’re not sure how it’s going to be received. Different studies among different age groups have shown that fear of failure is higher among females than their male counterparts. Whether it’s because women are more influenced by negative feedback or not living up “to the ideal of female empowerment”, it can be an obstacle when you want to build your own business. 

Moving past our fear of failure means questioning many of our previously held beliefs on perfection and letting go of unrealistic expectations, as Hannah Armada of Studio Haebi realized when she had to rebrand and create a new collection. There is no guarantee for success in whatever it is we want to do. The risk will always be there hand in hand with the fear. 

What Hannah did was to try new things that scared her or she had zero knowledge of. And she failed. A lot of times. “I tried to accustom myself to failure so that in a business setting I’d know that it’s okay to fail. It’s a learning process, the whole thing. And you learn from your failures.” 

Not having enough support

To grow your business, having a support system is essential. It can be a mentor or a sponsor, business groups, or even just the right network that you can tap into. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot if you know where to look. 

In a Meet the Makers interview with Lala de Leon of Simoy ng Haraya, the perfumer shared how being invited by DTI for its Kapatid Mentor Me Program helped grow her business during the pandemic. It was a free mentorship program wherein participating entrepreneurs will be paired with a mentor in the same industry. Even with her advertising and marketing background, Lala learned about the other aspects of business, like supply chain production and accounting. 

“It’s like everything you need to know if you will go into a business. There were 42 entrepreneurs, we also learned from each other. If I have a problem I’d go to them, ‘Hey have you encountered this?’ They’d do the same. We’d ask one another. It worked.” Three months after applying what she learned in the program, Simoy ng Haraya started to grow. That was in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, when many businesses were closing. The following year they were even able to open their new HQ!  

While there are still a number of challenges facing women in business—some from our own expectations, others from overlooked gender biases in institutions—the situation isn’t bleak. Being aware of things that have held fellow females back and how they still carried on to carve their own path in business, already lets other women know that they’re not on their own.


Written by Mabel David-Pilar
Mabel has been a writer and editor for many publications, including fashion, shelter, and food titles and a book on the most endangered Philippine trees. She spends most of her time writing, illustrating, stalking Common Room’s online shop, and making ferments. Together with her sisters, she co-created to celebrate fermenting in the Philippines.