If you were to think of a nation with the most confident and eager female entrepreneurs, it’s unlikely that Nigeria would come to mind. But more than the United States, France, China, and many other richer nations, Nigeria is where the highest percentage of women feel they have the skills to start a business and see opportunities to do so. Women in Ghana come in at a close second.
The problem for would-be African startup founders, whether male or female, is that the deciding is the only easy part. “You can start a business, but there’s a lot of corruption. Business regulations are also interfering,” says Ruta Aidis, a senior fellow at George Mason University.
Aidis is project director of the first Global Women Entrepreneur Leadership Scorecard, which looks at the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs across 31 countries that represent a mix of economies and account for about three-quarters of global GDP. The scorecard evaluates data in five categories related to female entrepreneurship: leadership and rights, pipeline for women, access to resources, and the nation’s relative business environment.
Because of its difficult business environment, Nigeria only ranks 23 of 31 countries. Meanwhile, Japan–which has a strong, stable business environment, but where women aren’t in a strong entrepreneurship mindset–ties for 10th place. At the opposite and, India ranks near the bottom at 29th, because women are held back by unequal rights and lack of access to education and the Internet. In Pakistan, which ranked at the bottom of the index, only 3% of women even use a bank account. In all 31 countries, one problem in common is that women lack role models in their lives and are much less likely to know another entrepreneur personally–a factor highly correlated with the likelihood a person will start their own business.
Overall, the United States comes out on top with a score of 71, but that’s mostly due to its overall startup-friendly environment and capital availability, and not to any particular skill at fostering female leaders. Of the startups that raised venture capital in the U.S. in 2014, only 13% had women on their executive team and 3% had female CEOs. Only 37% of new businesses overall were started by women last year.
It’s not only to benefit women that nations should pay attention to this issue. In the U.S. alone, if women started growth-oriented businesses at the same rate as men, there would be 15 million new jobs in two years, says Aidis.
The scorecard was released for the first time in conjunction with Dell’s sixth Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit in Berlin. It’s meant to help nations understand their strengths and weaknesses and where they need to improve–or where they simply need to collect better data.
Aidis believes that while the United States is currently at an advantage with regard to female entrepreneurship, but the scorecard should serve as a wakeup call. China, which ties for 15th place, could easily quickly gain ground as the government works to connect the whole population to the Internet. Already, Chinese e-commerce is booming, and Aidis notes that women make up 50% of merchants on those sites. “If China were to really take women entrepreneurs seriously,” she says, “I could see them leapfrogging beyond some of the high-ranking countries.”