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Here's What The F&B Industry Can Do To Support (And Encourage) Its Female Entrepreneurs Now is the time for action. Empowering women is not just a moral imperative, but a strategic investment to ensure the F&B industry's future.

By Lily Hoa Nguyen

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While there are more women building businesses in the food and beverage (F&B) sector, the voice of female entrepreneurs has remained weak in this melting pot of flavors and ideas. This gender-based injustice is not a problem merely from the perspective of women; it is also a missed opportunity for the industry to maintain its creative and innovative seeds. In order to address this, the F&B industry needs to provide greater support and encourage the growth of female entrepreneurs.

For starters, let's consider financial equality- it is crucial to empower female entrepreneurs due to the significant barriers they face in the F&B industry. The traditional explanation of the gender funding gap involves a lack of representation, gender investment bias, and risk aversion. This disparity limits the ability of women to develop their businesses, and it also affects their contribution to the industry, as they do not have equal access to funding.

To solve this, the F&B sector must promote fairness when it comes to funding. We must create an environment where female-led businesses can be evaluated based on their potential and performance, rather than a bias toward their leaders, by encouraging investors to actively seek diverse opportunities, and supporting the establishment of venture capital firms exclusive for female entrepreneurs. Initiatives like She's Next and She WINS Arabia are notable in this regard, as they were created to provide financial support for women-led startups in the MENA.

Furthermore, there is a need to establish mentorship programs to help female-owned businesses build a qualified profile from an investor's point of view. Indeed, mentorship and networking programs are essential in the F&B sector. It can help women reach their targets in leadership roles, aid decision-making, access funding and business opportunities, whilst also enhancing skill development– in particular for new entrepreneurs.

Finding a good mentor and approaching support networks can also create a safe space for female entrepreneurs to share and learn from each other's experiences as well as navigate gender-centric challenges. Moreover, by learning from mentors who understand policies and regulations in the business arena, female entrepreneurs can also reduce the long-term risks and challenges they may face.

The culinary industry should thus create (and promote) women-centric business organizations to assist the process of building and networking events that can help female entrepreneurs to reach out to both mentors and networks as they need. Dubai Business Women Council is an excellent role model in this regard- they are known for hosting talks that allow female entrepreneurs to access such mentors and build networks of their own.

Related: Embracing Gender Diversity In Entrepreneurship Across The Middle East

BREAKING GENDER STEREOTYPES (AND CHERISHING DIVERSITY)

Despite being a dynamic and vibrant industry, F&B cannot be immune to gender stereotypes. Traditional norms often view women as belonging in the family kitchen, leaving managing roles to men. However, it's time to challenge these stereotypes, and create an encouraging environment that accepts and embraces the diverse talents of females.

The F&B sector can break down barriers that limit the entry and growth of female entrepreneurs by adopting an unbiased culture, which means actively diminishing gender bias, supporting diverse role models, and encouraging a society of respect and fairness. This will actively contribute to a balanced F&B industry. It's worth noting here that the UAE government has a special initiative called Women's Economic Empowerment Principles, which are aimed at supporting women-led startups by offering guidance on how to advance gender equality and women's empowerment.

The F&B industry has also often seen the roles and achievements of its female entrepreneurs remain invisible or underestimated owing to the underrepresentation of women in what is a traditionally male-dominated sector. Female entrepreneurs were late entrants when they were able to break the "glass ceiling" just about a few decades ago, and therefore, they have been neglected by the mass media and lack of role models.

To solve this problem, the F&B sector must take action by actively promoting and celebrating the achievements of female entrepreneurs in the industry to attract investors and public attention. This will further help to inspire future female entrepreneurs. For example, the UAE-based entities Tamkeen and startAD, along with the Abu Dhabi Government Media Office, launched the Emirati Women Achievers initiative to highlight female entrepreneurs and increase their visibility. As such, new female entrepreneurs can also be encouraged to pursue their dreams when they see their gender celebrated in the culinary world- this helps reduce their fear of risk and failure. Recognition is a strong tool and powerful motivator for building a community for female entrepreneurs in the F&B sector.

Another key challenge for many female entrepreneurs in the F&B sector lies in balancing their ambition with their family duties. Additionally, the work in the F&B industry requires long hours and demanding schedules. Therefore, the dual responsibility creates an invisible burden for female entrepreneurs. Adopting flexible working arrangements and family-friendly policies such as childcare support can empower female entrepreneurs to pursue their culinary ambitions, without sacrificing their personal lives. By promoting work-life balance, the F&B sector can thus preserve and support the talent of women entrepreneurs.

Now is is the time for action. Empowering women is not just a moral imperative, but a strategic investment to ensure the F&B industry's future. We can unlock a reservoir of creativity, innovation, and culinary excellence by encouraging female entrepreneurs to elevate the industry to new heights. Together, we can build a culinary revolution that embraces the diversity and richness of our global community.

Related: Incentivizing Change: 10 Guidelines For MENA Women In Business

Lily Hoa Nguyen

Owner and Executive Chef, Vietnamese Foodies.

Lily Hoa Nguyen is the owner and Executive Chef of the Dubai-born restaurant, Vietnamese Foodies.
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