Female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia comprise only about 61.3 million of the population, representing approximately 9.8% of the total number of citizens in the region. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women are affected more than their male counterparts and endure many challenges and restrictions that prevent them from growing their startups. Effective networking may be key to solving those issues.

Connecting with other professionals opens doors, enhances  businesswomens’ reputations and visibility, enables them to raise more funds, and provides a platform to exchange ideas with their peers. Furthermore, meeting other female leaders boosts their confidence, builds a supportive group, addresses challenges in their industry, and establishes mutually beneficial working relationships.

Female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia raised over 17% of all private funding in 2021

While the benefits are clear, some challenges still have to be overcome. According to the ILO study, women in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have the highest fear of failure rates. Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia lead the way on those statistics, with over 50% of the lady bosses panicking, limiting themselves, and stopping their creativity and innovation.

Other problems include:

  • Regulatory drawbacks.
  • An inability to raise funds.
  • Inadequate market information about their sectors.

Optically, entrepreneurship is male-dominated, and detractors look down upon women’s competency in running successful companies.

So, how should they go about connecting with their peers?

Strategies for building effective business partnerships

To succeed, startups need to work on the product or service, streamline operations, hire the best talent, or team up with other companies through mergers and acquisitions.  

Another way is meeting up with market colleagues, a valuable way of accessing tangible and intangible resources. The tangible resources are money, whereas intangible resources are advice, knowledge, skills, and the ability to identify opportunities. 

Participation in industry events

Attending sector events enables people to discover new communities to engage with. Everyone should have a well-practised elevator pitch before going to an event. This pitch summarises the company’s products or services and outlines its unique selling points (USP). Moreover, leaders should carry printed or digital business cards in case an opportunity arises. 

When the event ends, attendees should keep records of the people they met and their preferences. These notes will make it easier to stay in touch and remember what they like for future meetings or potential additions to the company CRM. 

Joining professional associations and organisations 

Professional associations can create valuable connections for startups. Talking to colleagues from a similar market segment helps to broaden ideas, learn new trends, engage mentors, and ask for referrals. 

Receiving accreditation from an association can provide paid speaking engagements, which are opportunities to meet with the audience later to build relationships and promote the brand.

Leveraging online platforms

The COVID-19 pandemic showed that workers and employers in ASEAN could adjust to novel circumstances. People started hosting meetings online, and no one had to travel thousands of miles to be in attendance. Women leaders can use these platforms, such as LinkedIn, to find and connect with other successful colleagues and learn from them.

Many platforms have communities for users to talk and exchange ideas. It is always possible to establish a relationship with one or many of the commenters. However, further scrutiny is necessary to weed out those not interested in financially beneficial partnerships.

Being authentic

Female founders and leaders must focus on being authentic when meeting each other. Relationships form naturally, but there is a tendency for networking events to disintegrate into situations whereby both are trying to sell to one another. 

According to Kuala Lumpur-based entrepreneur Julie-Ann Sherlock, co-founder of the Metaverse Content Lab and Tres Bella SDN BHD, “Often, people are so eager to tell you their story that they don’t really listen to you, and it is a missed opportunity for everyone. Trying to be heard can be a big challenge, and it is easy to be lost in the crowd if you do not have anything interesting to say.”

Thus, authenticity is essential in forming a genuine connection with other women. As Ms. Sherlock says, “I bring my sense of humour and try to make them laugh. They are more likely to remember someone who has made them smile than if I was just bombarding them with statistics.”

Resolving gender-based entrepreneurial challenges

With many hurdles for female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia to overcome, policymakers must provide training and educational programmes for girls wanting to be business owners. Many more should be encouraged to develop their confidence because they already have a lot of talent.

Also, the direction of Government funding must address gender-based limitations for starting and running a startup. Finally, ASEAN leaders must work on changing the socio-cultural barriers harming women, like perceptions of staying at home, lack of childcare support, or doing unpaid household chores. For the benefit of all, stakeholders should create a supportive environment for all women to pursue their dreams.