Study of women entrepreneurs

A US professor is conducting a study of women entrepreneurs in Cayman as research for a book out next year.

study of women

Andrea Smith-Hunter

Andrea Smith-Hunter, who lectures at a New York college, plans to have interviewed at least 30 businesswomen here and have tracked trends by the end of April.

She’ll then develop more detailed findings of this and possibly other samples from Jamaica, St. Lucia and Antigua a month later, before returning to Cayman to conduct interviews with participants in June.

‘Cayman would be the major region because that’s where I’ve got most of the responses,’ said Jamaican-born Ms. Smith-Hunter, an associate professor at Siena College.

‘I’ll come back to interview in-depth some of the women. It’s really looking at diverse perspectives based on this initial questionnaire: women who started right out of high school versus women who went through the mainstream legal market or worked for industry and then started their businesses.’

The findings will form the basis for a book – her third – which is to examine the impact of women entrepreneurs in seven regions across the world.

Along with the Caribbean, they are Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, North America, South America and Western Europe.

Prior research informs her predictions for the results of the study on women conducting business in Cayman.

‘In my readings, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad & Tobago are the three top islands for women entrepreneurs,’ said Ms. Smith-Hunter. ‘They have organisations that support them; these organisations have been established for a number of years. They have women entrepreneurs who’re interested in passing on the lessons they’ve learned.’

The author expects Cayman women entrepreneurs to benefit from a tight family network but to suffer the drawbacks of a location which – although 45 of the world’s top 50 banks are present – is not geared up to funding fledgling initiatives.

‘They have a stronger network here in terms of the extended family,’ said Ms. Smith-Hunter, ‘which will probably help them. When you start your business, that unpaid labour source – an aunt or a cousin or a younger brother – helping you is very important in building the business when you don’t have that much in resources.’

‘What makes a Caribbean woman different from an entrepreneur in North America?’ she said. ‘I think one is probably the lack of access to financial capital. I would think that getting a loan to start your business is more difficult here than in the US. I would expect that to be higher than in other places.’

The role of men in the lives of women entrepreneurs is another subject that Ms. Smith-Hunter will be tracking.

‘I’m not sure that there’s that much male support for their business,’ she said. ‘In Brazil, the men were very supportive of their wives and they saw that as a source of income. In Ghana, they almost dismissed what they were doing.’

The researcher also expects the typical female entrepreneur here to be older than the average 35-to-44-year-old elsewhere.

Nevertheless, she expects that certain sectors which appeal more readily to female start-ups globally would be the same here.

‘I find that women entrepreneurs are more concentrated in retail and the service industry,’ said Ms. Smith-Hunter. ‘That seems to be consistent around the world.’

Although women comprise 47 per cent of the workforce in Cayman, they account for 65 per cent of entrepreneurs, figures from the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau show.

The bureau provides counselling services and networking sessions for budding businesses which in the past two years have provided support to 300 people, 59 per cent of them women.

That trend is something a Government official said reflected a solid Cayman tradition.

‘The traditional society is matriarchal,’ said the Minister for Investment and Commerce Charles Clifford, addressing delegates at the bureau’s Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs seminar on Thursday at the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa. ‘The men went to sea.’

Today, he said, that businesswomen reinvested more in their local communities than did their male counterparts – 90 per cent as opposed to 30 per cent – leading him to applaud their ‘better multiplier effect.’

Although Cayman is a relatively affluent society, in which the average salary is CI$42,000, Ms. Smith-Hunter said poverty often incubated entrepreneurial spirit.

‘You’re more likely to have that drive,’ she said. ‘You’re more likely to have that creativity. You’re more likely to use resources to get ahead.’